Bracelets for Our Brothers
Help Us Bring Our Brothers Home
How Rude: Why I Stopped Watching "Fuller House"
Posted on May 29th, 2017

​The warnings started before the bus ever stopped at our destination.  Our guide, a native Russian, spoke in a stern voice: Keep your valuables close to you.  Put money in your front pocket or tuck it somewhere hidden.  Leave nothing in your back pocket or too loose around you—they will take it.  They will probably approach you as soon as you get off the bus—don’t engage.  They will distract you while their children pull bills from your pockets and snatch your belongings.  Their children will be fast and know this area—you don’t.  Don’t engage or leave yourself vulnerable.  They are Gypsies.
 
As I got off the bus to wander around with the rest of my study-abroad classmates, I didn’t really know what to expect.  I imagined swarms of children and chaos, but saw none of this as I nervously placed one foot and then the next onto the concrete ground.  As I wandered through the markets trying to hone my bargaining skills using the little Russian I knew, I was uneasy and always checking over my shoulder.  If I pulled rubles out to pay for something, I carefully jammed anything extra deep into my front pocket after carefully doing a sweep of my surroundings.
 
I made it back onto the bus that day without being pickpocketed by “gypsies”, and so did the rest of my classmates.   I, also, fourteen years after this firm warning, have managed to live in the same house as two “gypsies” without being “gypped” by them for over a year, and I am going back to bring two more into my home.
 
As a child, one of my favorite ways to pass a lazy afternoon was digging through my large brown wicker dress up box and creating an alter identity for a while.  I was delighted after my mother finally retired her annual “gypsy fortune teller” Halloween costume to my box.  The purple and green fabric flowed around me and gathered on the floor in large piles.  Fortune-tellers certainly cannot do their jobs without a flamboyant headpiece, and my mother had identified the perfect one with silver sequences and a large, jeweled broach that she sewed on to the front.  Mystical and mysterious, free spirited and radical, I could embody all of these stereotypes while I lived in this costume.
 
However, as an adult, and as a mother to two (soon to be four) Romani children, I can tell you the truth about “gypsies”, a truth that turns out to be far more esoteric.  Romani history is fascinating and complicated.  The Romani people have been exiled, persecuted, died in mass numbers during the holocaust, and continue to be a source of controversy politically in most European countries.
 
I am certainly not an expert in Romani history, nor can I contribute anything authentic to the debate about how best to end the rampant racism and prejudice against the Romani people in Europe.  I also am not an expert on my children’s birth family, heritage, or culture.   I do know, however, with certainty that my children remember what it was like to be Romani in Bulgaria, and want to have a better experience here in America.  My daughters tell me regularly what it was like to be female and Romani, and then, after they were removed from their home, what it was like to be a female, Romani… Orphan.
 
My daughters have vivid memories of being oppressed while their biological brothers, due to their gender alone, were afforded any small opportunities the family could muster. Access to education, safety, and material goods always went first to their brothers, and then to them.  The men in their household were able to sleep together in a single bed, while the girls, including their birth mother, were relegated to a small foldout couch with broken springs and a sunken mattress.  They remember the poverty, the starvation, the forced prostitution, the sneers and hurtful slurs from the public when they went out, and the dirt that was always caked on them and under their fingernails.
 
As orphans, they remember being turned down many times by white Bulgarian families interested in domestic adoption.  Five long years of rejection because of their skin color ticked by before they were put on the international adoption registry.  They can, in great detail, relay these experiences and the word “gypsy” being tossed around as the reason they weren’t worth a family.
 
This past Halloween, my family went shopping for costumes and came across this costume:
​I, in that moment, had to do some soul searching.  I immediately remembered, as a child, how enthralled I was by the gypsy costume in my dress up box, but now had to face up to my adult understanding of what this costume represented.  I personally, as a white woman, would never consider engaging in Blackface makeup or purchasing a costume on the basis that it would allow me to change and generalize my ethnicity for the evening.  Similarly, I have often wondered why fourth grade classes across America still make students dress up as “Indians” and build teepees as a class to culminate a warped historical account of Native American history.  If all of this was unacceptable to me, this costume, as well as the one from the dress up box, had to be also.
 
However, a funny thing happened when I posted about this costume on my social media account, asking people to simply educate themselves about this term.  I got a lot of backlash, and from some unlikely places—fellow adoptive parents of Romani children.  Most people, when they use this slur, aren’t directly trying to offend anyone.  Generally, citizens of our country tend to romanticize the mystical, free-spirited, and nomadic characterizations of the Romani people, choosing to ignore the implications of stealing, pickpocketing, and deception this slur carries with it. 
 
While none of these descriptors is truly accurate, I have come to determine that it is the focus on the positive illusion of what it means to be a “gypsy” that makes people more comfortable using this term than they would other racial slurs.  But, the inherent discrimination and generalization contained in phrases like “gypped out of something” forces us to examine this term in a different and uncomfortable light.  Just as older members of our white families once used the term “Jew down” and even older family members found “n*gger” to be an acceptable description without thinking twice, but would never do so today, it is time for us to put “gypsy” and “gypped” under the same microscope of unacceptable and remove it from our vocabulary.
 
My husband and I are both 33 years old, so we grew up on Full House and TGIF TV specials.  In college and graduate school we’d find a Full House marathon with our friends and binge-watch old episodes that allowed us to feel nostalgic and young.  Imagine my generation’s excitement when Fuller House was released!  I watched a few episodes with my husband, and we eventually made it to episode 5 wherein Stephanie is whisked away into a limo and onto a private jet by her British friend, Shannon.  As Stephanie and Shannon leave, Shannon has a look of utter disgust on her face while she remarks, “Dear God, you’re living with gypsies.” 
 
Click, power off.  Done.
 
In this moment of the show, the use of this word is undeniably negative and illustrates my point perfectly about this slur—it does have negative connotation to it, and it is socially acceptable in our society to use it regularly.
 
I know it probably doesn’t matter to Jeff Franklin that he lost a viewer because of this comment.  He would probably just consider me to be a hypersensitive mother on a rampage for justice for her children.  He would probably be right about that, and that’s okay.  But, until we as a society start to confront and wrestle with these uncomfortable truths, this kind of language and use of the word will always be acceptable to the general population.  So, to the adoptive moms of Romani children, please stop pretending this doesn’t exist and isn’t a real issue, to the Romani-Americans in this country, please reconsider accepting this branding, and to Jeff Franklin, please consider not using this term again on your show.
 
Singed,
A disappointed viewer, mother of two (soon to be four) Romani children



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1 Comments

Brittany Look - May 29th, 2017 at 9:13 AM
You have hit the nail directly on the head here. I was ignorant of the present day conditions of the Roma until I became the mother of 2. It still saddens me that even in the most socially progressive countries in the world the racial discrimination against the Roma is so prevalent and acceptable.
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