Friday, June 24, 2011

Which Nomadic European Ethnic Group Do You Hate, Exactly?

Okay, I've had this conversation now with several people, so I might as well write a quick blog post about it. Y'all, it's racist to talk about "gypsies" stealing your shit.

I get that some people may not realize that "gypsy" is an ethnic slur, but it is. It lumps together a large number of ethnic groups under one pejorative term: Wikipedia will tell you that. I don't care if you've met folk who belong to one of these groups who call themselves "gypsies;" that's called re-appropriation, and they get to do it, and you don't.

I have a bigger beef with the representation of all members of these ethnic groups as "thieves." Look, making generalizations about any ethnic group is generally a bad idea. Even supposedly positive stereotypes are often problematic. So just knock it off. We can talk about how things vary by nation or by culture without relying on stereotypes. "I've heard there's a lot of pick-pocketing in Barcelona" is fine. "Watch out for all the gypsies in Paris" is not.


  1. Along these lines, I wish people would quit using witch derogatively, as this is in fact a recognized term for many people who practice paganism. Who's guiding principle is to first do no harm, to anyone/thing, so using "witch" to describe someone who does heinous things is really false, as well as offensive.

  2. Co-sign. I'm also working on removing "gyp" from my usage. "To jew" is offensive, and so is "to gyp" (the etymology is less decisive, but "gyp" is most likely derived from "gypsy", and no alternative derivations are given). And the horrific discrimination faced by the Roma in Europe beggars belief.

    Italian courts rule that Roma *are* thieves:

    Sarkozy expels Roma from France:

    EU commission on anti-Roma discrimination:

    EC website on EU and the Roma:

    And the Roma are not alone in being marginalized peoples in Europe. There's also the Sami, who are routinely discriminated against:

    Anyone who is surprised at the outpouring of xenophobia and racism against Muslims in Europe simply hasn't been paying attention. It's not new, and it's not getting better.

    And on a similar note, I have a big peeve about people using "Eskimo" as a generic term for indigenous arctic peoples, as the term is overly broad and doesn't recognize the autonomy and agency people have in declaring and deciding their own name. Some Alaska Natives call themselves Eskimo, but in Canada Inuit is the preferred term -- similarly, some indigenous peoples of the US prefer to be called Indians, others prefer Native Americans. It's the responsibility of the person in the outside group to try to use the appropriate term, and to change accordingly when asked/told.

  3. You should try being in Hungary any length of time. The gypsy hate runs deep and broad. When will people learn that a) you have to take people on their individual merits, not their labels (as you say) and b) then when you feel your getting screwed, very likely it's those in the distant mansions doing it rather than the poor folk round the corner.