From my book, Writing the Roma. Fernwood. 2016. https://fernwoodpublishing.ca/book/writing-the-roma

 

Chapter 1. Romani Subjectivities

As power relations bear upon their lives producing certain possibilities for what Roma means, the Roma are not passive in asserting selfhood in public life. They are both object and subject of social policy affecting immigration, welfare, education, national security, multiculturalism, minority rights, and more. Affected by migration, by inter-generational change, by mass culture, and by their own elites, what emerges is a hybrid identity. There is nothing unusual in identifying with more than one social category; using a range of cultural repertoires is a strategy everyone exercises. Roma see themselves as Roma (and/or perhaps as Kalderash, Lovara, Romungro, Bayash, and so on) and as Canadian (and as Christians, and Romanians, men or women, Europeans, middle class, and so on). It is not a matter of the Roma living between two worlds: their own and that of the Gadje (non-Roma). As Lemon has put it, “The Roma live in one world of many overlapping spaces” (2002: 211). (p. 7)

 

I do not wish to imply that Romani identity is nothing more than a hybrid or a fiction contrived by dominant discourse…Disclaiming generalizations at any level, members express differences in gender, or age, or other forms of self-identification. Postmodernity allows for different narratives to be told. Within the same family, members interpret language differently, they interact with technology differently, their attachments to non-Roma may be idiosyncratic, and they have divergent experiences in social institutions. In a European example, “a Roma person in Hungary could engage deeply with a certain Roma culture whilst also engaging in practices that might be considered Hungarian” (Tremlett 2009: 163). Identity elicits “a multiplicity of responses” (M.P. Smith 1992: 513) in a “super-diversity” that moves well beyond ethnicity to include country of origin, legal status, socio-economic status, religion, education, migration, access to jobs, residential patterns, technology, transnational practices, enjoyment or restriction of rights, responses by local authorities and residents, local context, and other components of modern life (Vertovec 2007). These blend together in a non-linear and hybrid form of subjectivity. No congruence within a group or indeed within individuals is expected. The interpretive space is opened up to accept the complexity of Romani subjectivities in the multiple cultures in which they, like everyone else, participate. (p. 7–8)

 

In listening to subjectivities, I heard narratives of tensions between myth and practice…The Roma reflect on Gypsy myths even as they resist their injuries, they practice Romanipe in degrees from orthodoxy to none at all, they identify with the Roma Rights movement to lesser and greater extents. Some preserve a sense of the past and others do not. Some prefer to call themselves “Gypsy” and others prefer “Roma.” Some respect traditional occupations and others do not. Some prefer to align themselves with each other while others seek the support of non-Roma. Some wish to further their education while others avoid such opportunities. Some regard social mobility highly while others are suspicious of it. Some proclaim their ethnicity publicly but others prefer inconspicuousness. Some know about past efforts to mobilize and others are unconcerned. Some want to fight against unjust treatment while others’ priorities lie elsewhere. Some have developed a critical consciousness about the social inequalities for Roma, and others do not engage in such reflections. Some feel a connection to world Romani, but not all do. (p. 8)

 

The Roma cannot be reduced to their ethnicity alone. Like all Canadians…they are just as likely to evoke other categories of selfhood. Complexity is paramount. For this reason, it is crucial to reference Roma communities and not the Roma community, to Roma as a peoples and not as a people, to Romani identities and not identity. No definitive pattern emerges for group identity formation, for community engagement, or for a distinctive cultural practice. Cognizant of the implications of these claims, I observe no blueprint for the Romani social network. In Canada, difference takes on a new meaning, and one forged by the Roma themselves…It is in listening to subjectivities that we hear the Roma working out their own balances of beloved characteristics, shameful stereotypes, indigenous practices, permanence and change, differentiation and sameness. This is not to say that Romani identities are so diffuse as to be nothing at all. It is to say that their complexities should be conserved in social analysis just as they are in everyday subjectivities. (p. 8–9)

 

Researchers have remarked on the problem of accepting a participant community as a monolith (Carroll 2004: 304; Minkler 2004). Communities are segmented by gender, class, ethnic, occupational, political, and other intersecting dimensions. Indeed, such factors may outweigh the shared characteristics of a group identity (Collet 2008). For diasporic groups in particular, differences in migration history and citizenship status in their host country are significant. This has special relevance for Toronto Roma for whom, as Annabel Tremlett (2014a: 832) claims about European Roma, intra-group diversity is just as critical as inter-group diversity. Local Roma residents are impressively diverse in their country of origin, language, religion, immigration status, and practices. Perhaps one way to conceptualize the Roma is not as a group at all, then, but as a multiplicity. Borrowed from French social theorist Gilles Deleuze, the term may afford advantages in reconciling the question of Romani identities. A multiplicity assembles elements without becoming a totality or whole (Roffe 2010). It preserves collectively practiced and subjectively meaningful components of belonging to a group but rejects an assumption of sameness in their quality. (p. 15–16)

 

 

Chapter 3. Myths and Practices

The question, “Who are the Roma people?” has long been a preoccupation of hostile regimes. My exploration of this question is not intended to dictate the nature of Romani identities. My wish is to dispel myths by improving understanding about the Roma, and to revert the inversions of logic that have led to patterns of injustices dealt to the Roma people. By inversions of logic, I refer to how the Roma are frequently understood as naturally nomadic, while ignoring how so many communities in Europe are expelled from their homes. I refer to the way they are often represented as inherently criminal, contradicting their willful discrimination in the mainstream economy and restrictions on legitimate means of making a living. I refer to how the Roma are seen as fixed in time instead of as an enduring ethnic group made complex through modernity, geopolitical change, and systemic racism. I refer to how the Roma are construed as fundamentally different in the same moment that they are excluded from the human community. Whether fabricated by the media, public officials, or people on the street, the myth of the Gypsy permeates social consciousness and reproduces social inequalities. (p. 44)

 

 

Chapter 3. The Myth of the Gypsy Nomad

The will of states to expel the Roma keeps them in a permanent condition of extraordinary vulnerability. “Exclusion and disenfranchisement from normal civil life or a combination of these have been persistent factors in the Gypsy experience. The complex interaction of hope, expectation and fear that these states may occur again remains a persistent feature of Romani consciousness” (Le Bas 2010: 63). Destruction of homes has occurred so frequently that for many Romani groups it has become an expected part of life. For this reason, no attachment to a particular place is reasonable. What emerges is a “nomadic mind-set” (Ligeois 2007: 36) in which long-settled Roma communities may pick up and leave at any moment either by choice or by force in the form of evictions, violence, or economic conditions. The irony is conspicuous. While there are as many attempts by states to destroy Romani society by enforcing settlement as by exiling them from their settlements (Bancroft 2005), the Roma are blamed for being both “socio-economically immobile” and “excessively mobile” (van Baar 2011: 225).

Like any refugee or marginalized group, the Roma seek stability, decent housing, and a respectable means of survival. Yet the activities of states ensure the very nomadism falsely ascribed to the Roma and for which they are regarded with intense distrust, even aversion. The idea of nomadism is transformed into fact, stimulating a moral panic among the sedentary majority.

How may this response be understood? In the literature of refugee studies, rootedness to a place is regarded not only as natural, but also as moral (Malkki 1992: 30). This is a popular belief. The rootlessness of the refugee — and arguably of those perceived as nomads — is treated as profoundly problematic, even pathological (see also McVeigh 1997: 9). Yet sedentary modes of existence were never the inevitable endpoint of the transition from pre-modernity to modernity in which nomadic tribes achieved a pinnacle of social development. Not polar opposites, sedentariness and nomadism are practices that modulate and flow into each other. Transitions between sedentariness and nomadism reveal a legitimate pattern in which neither of the two modes is absolute. Different forms of nomadism exist as commercial migration, pastoral nomadism, individual travelling, and pilgrimages, among others.

Sanctions for landlessness derive from history. Those who only lived on the land or worked the land for landowners were prevented from enjoying the benefits of full membership in the community because they were not “people of the soil” (Stewart 1997: 119). Regarded as unproductive and dependent on others for their daily sustenance, groups like the Roma and the Jews were ineligible for the entitlements linked to land ownership. Their alleged freedom was unrespectable because it was detached from obligations to inheritance of land, ancestry, and tradition.

Insecurities arise from nomads’ absence of a literal stake in society. Anthropologist Paul Silverstein explains that groups like the Jews and the Roma who are “perpetually rootless, cosmopolitan, and displaced (or displaceable) populations, have historically functioned as suspect races, with their history of movement calling into question the seamless mapping of national space and the presumed fixity of national populations” (Silverstein 2005: 366). Nomads provoke disturbing questions about the terms of belongingness to a nation and the tenuousness of citizenship claims. They deny the state its ultimate control mechanism enabling identification, investigation, taxation, and surveillance (Pusca 2010: 7)…As the resident stranger in society, nomads “are easily transformed into the representative of organized crime, racial degeneracy or international conspiracies” (Bancroft 2005: 168) inciting fear and hatred. (p. 49–50)

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