Eliminating discrimination: the Romani artists fighting racism
March 21 is the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination. How does the Romani culture stand against racism and discrimination in the UK?
She unfolds her long, blue flowery dress, the one that she uses for special occasions and she is putting it on. In front of the mirror, with the soundtrack of a song that sounds unfamiliar to most of the people around her, she is doing a quick last rehearsal before the show. It’s impossible to take your eyes off that delicate, traditional Romani dress but deep down she wishes that people would not stare that keeping their distance. She wanted them to know what this means.
March 21 is the International Day for the elimination of racial discrimination and for some of the people who have experienced a form of continuous racism throughout their lives, this is only one of the many days of the year that they find the opportunity to stand against hate and prejudice.
Romani and travelers have a strong presence in the UK and their culture, customs, and values have always been a part of their identity and personality. Through spreading messages of love and happiness via their art, these communities prove that art and racism are two words that can’t be associated with each other.
Richard O’Neill, Multi-award winning author, storyteller and playwright
Richard O’Neill is a globally known storyteller who has been awarded the status of National Literacy Hero in the UK.
”I was born into a traditional and fully nomadic Romani Gypsy family in 1962, I was brought up in a caravan. I learned traditional Romani skills including storytelling. My writing challenges those in power and has helped to change the law in Scotland, in mainland Europe,my plays have empowered young people to take action against racism in their schools and colleges. My work also helps to bring people together, my children’s books are in schools all over the UK, the USA, and Australia.
Every Romani person has experienced either physical or verbal racism. The media, particularly social media, is full of it. What happened? Nothing… that’s usually the case. Am I afraid? I am not afraid of racism for myself, I have been dealing with it since I was a child, I can take it, but I am often scared for my children and my grandchild.
We are all more alike than different, the more time we spend together the more we realize this. It’s not, however, in the interest of politicians or others with a political or personal power agenda to promote this. Moreover, universities need to invite people like me in to talk to and work with students like you in person so you, the next generation of decision-makers and opinion formers, can see us as we really are and not a distant group of people. But also they can learn important skills from us.”
Delaine Le Bas, Artist
”I am firstly an artist, so my work intersects at many different points that are connected with my Romani background, issues of otherness and the many forms this takes, sexuality, feminism, etc. When it comes to Romani culture, there is still a huge amount of racism in the U.K, the battle is ongoing to combat this. Art is one doorway for people to go through to gain a different and more nuanced view, but you still have to ‘give different keys’ to access this. There is not one way to combat it, racism is too complex and has so many layers. But as my late husband used to say ‘art materials are weapons’ I like to see myself armed with these weapons and using them with expertise, at times I would like to think I am a crack shot.
As a child I was taught to keep my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open, which is exactly what I did. I have observed and absorbed much around me. Dressing as a form of difference was something I grew up with so from an early age that caused verbal and physical attack, this I learned to deal with and made me determined to see the dress as a form of resistance and it had a very particular voice in the world. For a very short time, attacks of both kinds petered out but recently with Brexit the poison beneath the surface has raised its head yet again and the old prejudices against anyone who is different for whatever reason are back. It takes strength of character not to be a lemming and follow the status quo and needs to be encouraged, especially in these times.
If history was taught better in schools maybe this would help considerably, if you look at how little in the general curriculum there is about us as a community it says much about lack of information being passed on. It is actually disgusting how little people know, there is much on the internet but if all you use it for is to take selfies, you are not going to learn much from there either.”
Farkas László- DJ and Media producer
”I am Laszlo Farkas, a media producer, and DJ under the name Gypsyrobot. I am the founder of a Queer Roma media project called QRTV Europa and the organizer of the Roma LGBTQI floats at Budapest Pride.
I consider music a universal language among people. It has the power to bring diverse people together. In my media project, I present voices and life stories that have the potential to break the stereotypes about Roma and Roma LGBTQI people. We also create informational videos about the genocide against Roma in World War Two, in order to help the Roma and non-Roma to better understand the development of racism.
The first humiliations and distinctions I experienced were at my elementary school. The fact that I was doing well at school was “hurtful” for some of my classmates, especially for the children of teachers. One of them threatened me with his mates saying ‘You will not go home without any broken hands or legs’ – without any known reason. Two other classmates told me once ‘Your parents are stupid and lazy because you are gypsies’ – after I answered a question correctly that they could not.
During high school, one of our roommates was missing his ‘Túró Rudi’ (a Hungarian sweet cottage cheese roll with a chocolate coating) from his cabinet and he suspected it was me because I was the ‘gypsy in the room’. Later, he pushed me to the wall and told me: ‘The reason why you always want to hang out with our other roommate is because you are in love with him, you are a fag!’.
To act as a racist is simply stupid. Don’t be stupid. Be smart and nice. Or as the bear would say: ‘White, black, Roma, lesbian, Muslim or Christian. They all have the same of chicken.’
At the moment I’m sitting in a car-sharing and I realized that I’m not sure if I want to have a deeper conversation with my travel companion because at the moment I don’t feel prepared to receive racist or homophobic comments.”