So, I sat through the NBC Law and Order: SVU episode that I wrote about yesterday. There are immediately some very large problems, but they’re the same problems that most shows exhibit when trying to portray Rroma people.
The title itself “Lost Traveler” isn’t too problematic, but from that moment on, stereotypes abound.
The mother is a fortune teller who has a crystal ball on the dining room table.
One of the police officers says things like “we know you’re thieves” and “you’re not even gonna lie to us?” without any challenge from the other detectives or characters.
The Rom Baro (not as I read in the review, Rom Bro!) is a mean hard ass mafia-style mansion-living white guy.
The Rroma pay tithes to him for “protection” and if they don’t, they’re punished.
The jerk detective says (towards the end) “next time someone tells you how these people are, believe them”.
Perhaps these seem small transgressions to you? I don’t really know. Perhaps you think I’m over-reacting, after all it was the white girls who killed the gypsy boy. That’s something that happens in real life all the time.
I do commend NBC for attempting to show the realities of the discrimination Rroma face—but I’m not sure they did a great job showing the truth of the situation without resorting to stereotypes (such as a fortune-telling mother, or ‘Rom-Baro’ who is mafia-esque).
I don’t claim to know American Rom culture—but these people were supposedly “Hungarian Rroma”. I am, at least in part, Hungarian Rroma. I have never heard the term “Rom Baro” and wikipedia has four lines to say on the matter, all sourced from rather dubious places.
Growing up we had a Baro or a Baro Rom (big man). To call him a Rom Baro would be a “man big”, which just seems wrong. Of course, I can’t say for certain—maybe there’s a reason for it, but I’ve never heard it before until this show. Even Ronald Lee’s dictionary of Kalderas (American) - English does not list a Rom Baro (instead lists either Baro alone (ie: Toma si o Baro ando Chikago - Tom is the honcho in Chicago), or Baro Shato (big shot, super honcho). But, these semantics aren’t really the issue I have with these types of show.
Even when they attempt to do us a “favour” by attempting to portray our culture in a good light, it’s riddled with stereotypes and discrimination.
The fact that the Rroma were called thieves, liars, and beggars without any kind of recourse. When they went to the bike shop and told the guy “we KNOW it’s stolen” why? because he’s a ‘gypsy’.
When they went to the woods and the ‘gypsy’ camp was there with rather pathetic and ineffectual people draped over various… seats (? I guess) … with stereotypical accordion music playing (that did not sound Rroma to me).
I also disliked the idea of ‘Italian Mafia’ style Brooklyn Rroma. The Rom-Baro requiring tithes in order to provide protection. His large mansion filled with non-Rroma things. His mafia-esque voice and intonation. His lack of Romani language in dealing with his own people—who allegedly could speak Rroma. He never once used a word. How hard would it be for the actor to learn a phrase such as “daštilas pe ka vou te phenel xoxajmata”? (maybe he was telling lies)…
It just seems as though the researchers for the show failed to do any proper research—instead relying on the wikipedia version of Rroma life, peppered with stereotypical nuances and statements.
[I tried to send a letter to NBC—strangely enough I get a server error. REALLY? COINCIDENCE? Bah!]
I remember years ago, watching an episode of the TV show House that featured a Rroma boy whose family purposefully obscured relevant medical information, etc, because they were “gypsies” who didn’t trust an outsider doctor. I remember being so confused - I was a teenager, and pretty impressionable, and on the one hand ANY representation of other Rroma people was something of a revelation for me, but on the other hand, it was… just really, really badly researched and offensive. (I have a love/hate relationship with the character Esmerelda for similar reasons.)
I’ve noticed a few people reading/reblogging/etc my posts here because they’re interested in writing about Rroma people and characters in their own fiction (?) works… and I have nothing against gadje who want to write about Rroma people, but I urge them to read this, and really put thought and compassion and effort into their understandings and writings on Rroma and other Walking People. We don’t need another Esmerelda, we don’t need portrayals like the ones on House and SVU. Why not learn about and support the creative efforts of real Rroma and other Walking People who are artists, musicians, and writers? There are so many of us out here, speaking our own truths about our lives and communities and cultures and histories! There’s really no excuse for relying on ignorant stereotypes about us in writing.
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- gentlemansspongebag said: Fiance and I live in America, and he and his family have NEVER mentioned anything like this “Rom Baro” to me. They don’t pay tithes to anyone, either. So that definitely sounds like another false stereotype.
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