Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Jumping to conclusions

I was struck by an interview this morning on Radio 5 Live with Romany journalist, Jake Bowers, about the potential demonisation of the Roma community following the Greek and Irish stories of authorities taking blond children away from their families. As you can see from his picture, he himself is fair-haired and so, he said, are his children.
Jake Bowers

He recalled the old nursery song, 
"My mother said I never should
play with the gypsies in the wood
and if I did my mother said 
she'd send me out to beg my bread...", part of our historic anti-Roma culture. Certainly, traveller culture is different from the Anglo-Saxon way of life. He commented that he was one of an enormous family (17 children). Children are at the heart of gypsy families. "Why on earth would they want to abduct others?" However it is easy to assume the worst of others who are different - a trap we are prone to fall into, including me.

So I was interested to read this article by Louise Doughty in the Guardian which I came across through Twitter.
An 'angel' captured by gypsies? In it she writes about the negative assumptions that so many of us have made in the case of the four-year old "Maria" in Greece and the seven-year old in Dublin. My friend Laurie Webb who runs a B&B ( in up-country Romania commented about it.

"Maria" and her adoptive parents
"A very good article. As I'm in everyday contact with Roma folk, I agree entirely with Louise Doughty. Yes, children in the village are often dirty but the living conditions are poor and soap is a luxury the families can't afford, but they are all loved by their families, and I rarely see a child who hasn't got a smile on their face. As for blond children, although there are none in my village, I know of two or three in nearby villages and they are the result of German genes in the Roma population from the Saxon Germans who occupied most of the villages in the area until the 1990's. The blond gene usually got into the Roma people through love affairs rather than marriage, but nevertheless it's there; so blond children do occur.

"Another possibility is that the blond children found with Roma families in Greece and Eire could have been unofficially adopted because they were the result of unwanted pregnancies in the extended family, or a close friend of the family, who had a liaison with a western European. Prostitution is all too common as a way of making money when jobs are hard to find or lowly paid if a girl/woman does find legitimate work. I've been approached three times while sitting alone in my car waiting for a friend by girls asking me if I want sex."

Racist assumptions are prevalent even in the bastion of Liberté and Fraternité that is France, as well as in our own country among whose most prized possessions is tolerance. It seems they lie only just below the surface. I suspect that excising them requires more than legislation, rather a divine transformation. In the meantime we can at least police our public consciousness in the way that Ms Doughty has done in this case.

Casa Cristina, Roandola, Romania

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