16 March, 2015

Half-truths and fragments – fighting for my mind

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Category: Antitziganism, Opinion, Racism, Roma
Community Manager
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Artur ConkaWritten by Violeta Vajda 

I am Romanian and Hungarian and I grew up in Romania, alongside many Roma people. But I never really met them or started to learn about their lives until I was an adult. We spoke many languages in my family and hometown: Romanian, Hungarian, German, Serbian, even English or French. But we never heard or spoke Romani. Growing up, I absorbed a great deal about the cultures that surrounded me and I experienced that multiculturalism as a privilege. But I never had access to Romani culture, unless you count the whispered half-truths and sayings, or the snatched and romanticised fragments of songs, or the haunting images of Romani women, men and children looking ‘exotic’.
Photo credit: Artur Conka 
I now know that I have been sold a lie. That being separated from real, everyday Roma people, their culture and worldview was a great personal loss and an even greater loss for my country and for Europe as a whole. I find myself wishing that our continent were suffused with Roma ways of being, that everywhere I go, I could look into the eyes of Roma people and be relaxed and at ease.
But I know that I cannot do that just yet. That to be free and easy and in touch with Roma people, those of us living in Europe who are not Roma have a fight on our hands to get ourselves back in shape to understand, value, respect, treasure and learn from them and their communities. A good fight, but a difficult one nonetheless. It requires us to get to grips with and transcend centuries of racism, a history of slavery (that lasted over 600 years in the territories that comprise the larger part of present-day Romania), and the countless ways in which we have learned to be prejudiced and unaware of our Roma neighbours. It requires us to face up to the wrongs that have been done in our name, even to the horrors of the Romani Holocaust, and to be able to process all of those injustices and their legacy in our lives as if they were personal to us, yet without getting stuck in feeling bad about ourselves or our own cultures. It’s not an easy journey, it’s full of pitfalls and false starts, but it is one that I know to be both vital and possible, necessary and timely.
I do remember, as a very small child, fighting for my right to be friends with the Roma people who lived next-door, and especially with their children. I still carry them in my heart and my mind’s eye. In the face of pressure from my parents and society, I buried that fighting spirit. Until now.
I now understand that every time I fight back against the anti-tziganism that has been installed on me and my non-Roma people like a thick murky cover, I not only fight for the rights of Roma people, but I fight for my own mind, for my own soul, and my own life is better for it. I am glad of the responsibility to make amends, to uncover what my ancestors have done in the name of racism, to understand how I have personally ‘benefited’ from the exploitation of the Roma slaves and serfs, and from keeping down a people with whom we Europeans have been deeply connected since time immemorial.
I’d like to hear from other non-Roma people who would like to join in the battle against anti-tziganism. It’s going to be a lot of work, but it is enjoyable and meaningful and I personally have made it central to my life. Who’s with me?

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