As a Romani American, I see the word 'gypsy' (or 'gipsy') thrown around a lot in casual conversation. Generally, it's part of a joke about stealing away children in the night, or being ripped off (ie., "gipped"). Most people don't realize, however, that gypsies do exist – we are an ethnic group (the Romani people), and (when used by outsiders to our culture), the word ‘gypsy’ is a racial slur (much like the ‘n’ word for African Americans).
There are several misconceptions about the Romani people, one being that they cannot settle down. People believe we are free-spirited and exotic - promiscuous and morally deficient. They may think of crystal balls and tarot cards, fortune telling and other such nonsense. Some think we are thieves.
Here are a few facts about the Romani people:
- They were not nomadic by choice. They moved around because they had to… they were persecuted everywhere they went, and still are, to this day. They were persecuted alongside the Jews in the Holocaust – the Roma & Sinti (Romani nations).
- Despite the belief that gypsies dress provocatively and seduce men, traditional Romani culture has strict guidelines for the way women dress, and how they act around men. The marime code (or Gypsy law) is a strict series of laws that govern all aspects of Gypsy life. Traditional Romani women wouldn't be caught dead in shirts that barely cover their breasts, expose their bare stomachs or in skirts that have hemlines above the ankle.
- We can't tell the future. If we could, don't you think we'd have foreseen Hilter's plan for Gypsies in the Holocaust and gotten the hell out of there? Sorry to burst your bubble, folks. No crystal balls here...
Although most people seem to think that the romanticized version of the “gypsy lifestyle” should be flattering, I’m afraid most Romani people do not see it that way. This misrepresentation and romanticization of our culture is called ‘exotification’ and it is highly offensive. Though the belief among gadje (non-Romani) is that we should be flattered by these stereotypes, it is not up to outsiders to decide what racial slurs are and are not “harmless”.
I am so tired of hearing people talk about the "gypsy lifestyle". That is like saying you want to live the ‘nigger’ lifestyle, or the 'spic' lifestyle. My ethnic group is not a lifestyle or a choice. No one wanted to be a ‘gypsy’ when they were carting off Romanies to the concentration camps. These folks need to read a bit more about the race they're appropriating. This link has more info: http://www.holocaust-trc.org/sinti.htm