Europe’s Anti-Roma Racism

Roma children laugh in front of the came

Joshua Keating zooms in on Europe’s sudden wave of anti-Roma sentiment:

The biggest international story is that of “Maria,” the blond, blue-eyed girl removed by police from a couple during a raid on a camp in Greece when they became suspicious that she looked nothing like her darker-skinned parents. DNA tests confirmed that the child was not related to the couple, sparking a continentwide search for her biological parents. The couple say the girl was not abducted, that it was “an adoption that was not exactly legal but took place with the mother’s consent.” This could be plausible, though further investigations have shown that the couple had used multiple names to register 14 children in three different cities, perhaps as part of a government benefits scam. Greek authorities have ordered an investigation of thousands of birth certificates issued in the last five years, and three more Roma have already been arrested in a similar case case on the island of Lesbos.

While it certainly seems like something not-quite-aboveboard was going on here, the case has raised fears that the case of the “blonde angel,” as she has been called in the Greek media, could reignite old myths of Gypsies kidnapping white children. When ancient prejudices combine with the tabloid media’s fixation on missing blond children, it’s hard to imagine anything good coming from it.

A backlash against Roma appears to be taking hold, with a blonde Roma girl in Ireland separated from her parents until DNA tests proved her to be their biological daughter. Filip Borev points out that the mixed heritage of Roma can produce fair skin and hair, and that the panic speaks to something deeper:

Don’t get me wrong, blond hair is somewhat a rarity among Roma populations. What is rarer, however, is the “pure blood” or tatcho Romany. Indeed, there is nothing more the Romany like to do than fight among themselves over who is the purest Gypsy, but one only needs to take a glance at Britain’s Romany community to realise there has undoubtedly been a great deal of intermarriage. My genes would best be described as a melting pot – my mother is part Bulgarian Roma, part Romanichal (English Romany), and my dad is part Romanichal, part Irish Traveller – thus, it was hardly surprising when I was born a blue-eyed milk bottle.

The notion of the baby-snatching Gypsy is an old racist stereotype. Since I was born it has been a running joke within my family that I was stolen. My mum’s engagement to a Roma man resulted in three considerably darker-skinned siblings. Among my Roma family I couldn’t have stood out more, but lucky for me I can now hand down the “stolen baby” joke to my younger brother who was born with strikingly blonde hair. In the current environment, however, I must ask just how funny this joke is.

Okasana Marafioti bemoans the long history of discrimination against Roma in Europe:

The stereotype of Gypsies as child snatchers is centuries old, but ask anyone if they can give you a specific incident, and they will scratch their heads. More disturbing historical facts have survived, including records of more than 133 anti-Gypsy laws enacted in the Holy Roman Empire at around 1551, which made being a Gypsy punishable by death, and authorities systematically took Romany kids from their parents and placed them in “proper” homes, a trend that continued well into the first half of the 19th century.

Rachel Shukert adds:

One doesn’t like to descend into comment sections, but a perusal of those on these latest stories is like peering into something out of the Malleus Maleficarum, or Borat. Americans, who for the most part see gypsies as something you dress up as on Halloween when your mom forgot to get you a real costume, express utter bafflement, while Europeans, who never tire of calling Americans out on their racism, insist on the toxicity of these people—their essential, unchanging, criminal nature; it’s who they are, they insist. It’s their culture. They can’t be changed, so they have to—somehow—be gotten rid of. (My favorite thread managed to both laud Hitler for killing the Roma along with the Jews, while blaming the Jews for the Roma not getting any credit for the Holocaust. And also, did you know we’re both capitalists and Bolsheviks? Blah blah blah.)

(Photo: Roma children laugh in front of the camera in a camp on the outskirts of Rome on September 8, 2010. By Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)