Before we begin, I must state that I do not expect anyone with the name gypsy in their Instagram handle, blog name/URL, or branding to change their name. What I do expect is self-reflection upon the issue I am writing about. I used to be the angry PC keyboard warrior who would yell and cuss and try to shame others for not fitting into a perfect mold. But I quickly realized, this was for my own ego stroke. “Oh look how woke and educated I am compared to these other people,” I would subconsciously say. It was never fully and truly about helping the world, constructive conversations, and education. I think a lot of it had to do with growing up and probably a lot to do with living abroad now for almost 2 years.
So here is my education, and what you choose to do after reading it will be up to you.
If you google “gypsy definition” the first thing that comes up is Google’s definition. And while yes the second definition is the one we probably are most familiar with, let’s read the first one, “a member of a traveling people traditionally living by itinerant trade and fortune telling. Gypsies speak a language (Romany) that is related to Hindi and are believed to have originated in South Asia.”
If you move on to the next two searches under the definition we see urban dictionary and dictionary.com and they look like this:
Right there, the first line. “While normally considered a racial slur, the word gypsy refers to a person of Romani heritage.” Ever heard the verb “jipped?” Yes, it actually is just as offensive to say as “you j*wed me.”
So what is actually offensive about the word gypsy? A word we have heard almost our whole lives in America as free people who wear pretty boho skirts and lots of beads and head scarves? The Sinti Roma website writes, “When it is used in the context of historical sources, the clichés and prejudices behind this term must always be borne in mind. The term cannot be clearly derived etymologically. It comprises both negative and romanticized imagery and stereotypes which are attributed to extant people”
Well, let me tell you a little history about the Sinti-Roma people. The Sinti and Roma people originally migrated from the Punjab region in India towards Asia and Europe and more recently North America. They arrived in Europe anywhere from 8th to 10th centuries, but the name Gypsy originated in about the early 1500s when Europeans believed they came from Egypt, and the German word for Gypsy was “Zigeuner,” the original Greek meaning “untouchable.” Sinti people refer to the members living in Western and Central Europe, and Roma people lived in Eastern and Southeast Europe; Roma is often tied to the people outside Germanic speaking lands.
Both communities spoke Romani which is a language based in Sanskrit, the class Indian language. And both communities had Christian and Muslim members. By the 1900s both communities were referred to solely as the Roma people and/or as a racial slur “gypsy.”
Up until about the 1900 Roma people were nomads who had a reputation for theft, swindling, and conning. But in pre-war Europe, many Roma people were settled working as craftsmen, blacksmiths, cobblers, and even shopkeepers. Some still continued performing nomadically as singers, dancers, and circus trainers.
By 1939, the year WWII would begin, around a million Roma lived throughout Europe. Half of these people were located in Eastern Europe in Soviet Russia, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. In Germany, there were around 30,000 Roma people, and almost all held German citizenship, and 11,000 of these 30,000 were in Austria.
While the Sinti Roma did not face nearly the same numbers as the European Jews did, they met most of the same terrible fate under Nazi Occupation.
Many German Citizens had social prejudices towards the Roma people as any “us and the other,” type of racism. The Nazis deemed the Roma people to be racially inferior. Under the Occupation, Roma people saw arbitrary internment, forced labor, and mass murder.
I will not go into detail on what the Roma people faced during Occupied Europe, I will provide mainly links below if you are interested in more research, or if you would like to reach out and have a conversation about it.
Unfortunately, like every other group traumatized by the Holocaust, historians are unable to give an exact number of Roma people who lost their lives. Historians estimate that the Germans and their allies killed around 25 percent of all European Roma. Before the war, there were roughly shy of a million Roma people living throughout Europe, the Germans and their Axis partners killed up to 220,000. Let that number sink in. I know it is not the millions of Jews, but one thing I learned in my Holocaust class is after about 5,000 our brains can’t process that many people. 220,000 individuals lives were lost to a group of people who never learn about.
After the war, discrimination against Roma people continued on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Until 1979 Roma victims were not up to restitution, who had been incarcerated, forcibly sterilized, and deported out of Germany for no specific crime.
Even today the word is still used as a racial slur.
My host family in Hungary regularly called “poor” people “gypsies.” And they also loved Ronald Raegan and called Hillary Clinton a “gypsy.”
When my friend Grace and I were in Prague, we went to a small museum, and the tour guide had a weird gate made of PVC pipe that he called his “gypsy alarm system.”
For those who have not traveled to Europe, there is a small population of beggars in major tourist cities who have a very infamous reputation of sedating their children and covering them in dirt and begging for money. From what I understand these people are NOT Roma people.
Now, as I type this history out, I understood this is heavily neglected in our Western Textbooks. I was actually in my SECOND WWII class before I even touched on the Roma people. But I think as travel bloggers we have such a responsibility to promote education of places, cultures, and peoples. And it makes me very sad to see the word connected to bloggers who promote content in Germany, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, and Bulgaria. Maybe I am what some call a snowflake and too sensitive, maybe after I really should, as Ann Coulter said, “grow a pair.”
I don’t have the answers. I really don’t. But the least I could do was use my platform to educate, and probably many of you didn’t even know this history or the racism connected to the word. Again, I am not asking you to change your brand, your name, etc. Anything you have worked hard on. I just wanted to share the trauma and pain an entire group of people faced, whose history is often neglected and romanticized.
Let me know your thoughts below.
Are you interested in more history lessons connected to travel? Or history lessons to be more educated as a person? Is this not fun, glamorous, or sexy for a travel blogger?
I don’t have the answers, but I’m really trying to find my voice in the travel community. And this is my first step.