Why You Can't Use The Word G*psy

Have you seen any instagram accounts, hashtags, or even physical products using the word g*psy? I’ve seen an increase in Instagram accounts featuring photos of women wearing long dresses with flowing hair, or of a group of travellers, boots muddy from hiking. All of these accounts use the word g*psy in their bio, or as their account name. I want to clear this up for anyone who uses g*psy in their branding, business, or in their day to day lives.

G*psy is a racist term, not a cool business name, instagram account, or self-descriptor.

Contrary to contemporary pop-culture definitions, g*psy does not mean free-spirited, eco friendly, a world adventurer, or even hippie or bohemian. Similar to the n- word, g*psy is actually a racist slur for a group of people; the Romani (or Roma).

To give you some history, the Romani people were a nomadic group, and an oppressed ethnic minority, whose origin and struggle dates back to 10th century India. They were displaced during a series of invasions in the 11th century. (Sway 1975) When the Romani people first migrated to Europe in the 11th century, the Catholic church discriminated against them, their unique culture, religious beliefs and their  systems of social organization. Romani people and culture was seen as ‘deviant’ from Catholicism. The name gypsy itself actually originated because the European’s mistook them as Egyptian.

Due to discrimination, Romani people were “forced to specialize in tasks and occupations that were not in competition with another segment of the settled population. Fortune-telling, music, itinerant metal working, patent medicine, and horse dealing became some of the most common occupational niches that the Gypsies [Romani] filled.” (Sway 1975; 49) This separation further marginalized them, becoming a perpetual minority, rather than being accepted with the rest of the population. They were “despised and distrusted by settled populations everywhere they travelled” (Goldston 2010), continuing a cycle of discrimination and marginalization.

As James Goldston writes, "negative stereotypes that persist to this day have long deprecated nearly every aspect of Roma existence, from their lifestyle (as nomadic peoples) to their intelligence, hygiene, work ethic, and- perhaps the most widely known canard- an alleged predisposition to crime." (Goldston 2010; 312) Institutionally, Romani people have faced centuries of racism. While you may think due to common usage in pop-culture that using g*psy is acceptable, and its racist origins are that of the past, this is incorrect. Romani people are still facing oppression to this day. Many countries in Europe still implement institutional racism against Romani people, through discrimination in employment, unequal access to housing and education, forced evictions, and are subject to police brutality, and societal violence. In an impactful quote; "the overall reality of Roma inequality remains strikingly clear. Roma are arguably the most impoverished and marginalized ethnic minority group on the European continent." (Goldston 2010; 314)

 Romani people receiving food from volunteers after being displaced from another camp (image source: Getty Images) 

Romani people receiving food from volunteers after being displaced from another camp (image source: Getty Images) 

Let's look at France as an example. The discrimination against Romani people in France was implemented institutionally in 1539, when they were expelled by an order from Parliament and threatened with corporal punishment if they returned. Combined with dispossession from many other European countries, they “found themselves in a predicament in which they were violating the law by camping in any territory.” (Sway 1975) Without a home and any citizenship, the Romani people had no legal rights. This continued throughout France over the centuries, France's discrimination against the Romani even aided Hitler and the Nazis to round up, sterilize, and torture Roma people. Over 15,000 French residing Romani were murdered. Today, there is a population of over 80,000 Romani people in France, and are still discriminated against by law. Nomadic Romani have to have special registration cards, and some towns still ban them entirely. (Sway 1975) France is only one example of a European country’s ongoing racism against Romani people.

 French Roma protest in Paris (image source BBC News) "The Right to Representation"

French Roma protest in Paris (image source BBC News) "The Right to Representation"

 Roma protest against deportations (image source Rromeurope) "I am European" & "Do Not Deport Us"

Roma protest against deportations (image source Rromeurope) "I am European" & "Do Not Deport Us"

We use g*psy, and other linguistically related terms, such as ‘gypset’ or ‘gypped’ in our everyday language, or on social media, without realizing that it is in fact a form of racism. Gypped is a word which means to cheat someone out of their money or possessions, a racist stereotype that originated in the idea that ‘g*psies’ (Romani people) are thieves and cheats. These terms have had a massive effect on Romani people, who are stereotyped as being thieves, criminals, and harmful humans. Gypset is a term that has been used on social media as a travel hashtag, but alludes to the nomadic and/or forced displacement of Roma people.

The word g*psy, and all of its iterations have become so used in our mainstream media and conversations, that it erases the current ongoing oppression of the Romani. However, “these realities are real and harmful, and they are regularly dismissed and erased by privileged outsiders who argue they can take this slur and make it stand for glamour, or mystery, or anything they want.” (Reidy 2017) By continuing to use the term g*psy, we are actively causing harm to Romani people.

So what can you do about it?

  1. Stop using the term g*psy. Whether it be eliminating terms like gypped, or swapping out #gypset for #wanderlust, make an effort to stop using g*psy as a synonym for free-spirited and recognize it as a racist slur. If you own a business or a brand with the word, change it. If you see a product in the store using the word, tell someone about it. 

  2. Talk to other people about it. If you see your friends, family, or even businesses use the term, send them a message (or even this article) letting them know that hey, this isn’t okay. It doesn’t have to be combative, after all, a lot of people simply don’t know this word is harmful, but it is important to have these conversations.

  3. Educate yourself. This blog is by no means a comprehensive history of the Romani people. Take the time to learn about their history and their present day persecution. There are some articles linked in this blog post to get your research started. 

I wanted to discuss this issue, because I've seen many people in the ethical/ sustainablility community use this word, without even realizing its origins and meaning. It is important for us to all be conscious in not only our purchasing or consumption, but in our language and our actions. 

- Emilie. 

Citations:

Goldston, James A. (2010) The Struggle for Roma Rights: Arguments that Have Worked. Human Rights Quarterly. Vol. 32(2) 311-325.

Ready, Jessica. (2017) The Harmful History of "Gypsy". Bitch Magazine. Online. 

Sway, Marlene. (1975) Gypsies as a Perpetual Minority: A Case Study. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations. Vol. 3(1) 48-55.