Weird History Don't Call Them Gypsies: Everything You Need To Know About The Romani People  

Hugh Landman
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Roma, or "gypsy," culture has been and continues to be the victim of widespread stereotyping, misinterpretation, and prejudice. Films like Snatch and the Hulu series Shut Eye attempt to inform people about the Roma who are living throughout Europe and elsewhere, but do so in a way that does not tell the whole story and presents an over-simplified version of their highly complex culture.

The Roma, or Romani, are the largest minority group in Europe and have a diverse population made up of millions of people. They live in numerous countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, and have also migrated abroad to countries like the United States; however, they remain unattached to any particular country and are a nationless people. Despite decades of Roma persecution - which included being targeted by Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele for his Holocaust experiments  - followed by hollow claims that they would receive justice, the group is still victimized in Europe and is used as a scapegoat for social ills.

The Romani Migrated From India 1,500 Years Ago


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The Romani are Europe's largest minority group, and are made up of over 11 million people spread out across the continent. DNA evidence recently discovered that this group originally migrated from what is today Northwestern India into the Balkan region. Then, around 900 years ago, many moved once again from their location in Europe, resulting in an even wider diaspora across the continent. They were once believed to have migrated from Egypt, earning them the derogatory nickname "gypsies," but a new study has revealed stronger evidence of their true origins.

Nazis Targeted Them During The Holocaust


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During WWII in Nazi Germany and Nazi-controlled countries, the Roma were commonly persecuted for being "racially inferior" because of their traditions and beliefs. As a result, thousands of Romani people were slaughtered throughout the Soviet Union and Serbia after Germany invaded. Thousands more were then killed in concentration camps when neighboring countries deported them. Imprisoned Roma were subjected to cruel medical experiments by the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele and were killed in droves alongside Jewish and other minority victims. In the countries that the Nazis invaded or were allied with, Roma were frequently targeted by killing squads, and in Croatia nearly the entire Roma population of 25,000 people were murdered.

"Gypsy" And The Phrase Being "Gypped" Are Both Considered Slurs


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The Roma are commonly referred to as gypsies, but the label has an undeniably negative historic connotation. Often when someone has been robbed or deceived, they will declare that they have been "gypped." In fact, dictionaries even define the term gypsy, or gyp, as someone who cheats or is untrustworthy. The term gypsy was first bestowed upon the Roma by groups of people who were looking for a way to define them that would justify their discrimination, or promote unfavorable stereotypes about the nomadic people. In fact, referring to someone, or one's self, as a gypsy in a romanticized fashion has been deemed offensive and a slur by representatives of the Romani community.

Their Nomadic Nature Goes Back To Their Indian Roots


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Photo:  Водник /Wikimedia/CC by SA 2.5

The Roma are descendants of the Dom caste in Northwestern India, who were known to be commercial nomads. Dom people were most often employed as cleaners, entertainers, metal workers, and sometimes farm workers. In modern times, the Roma have continued their legacy of living a nomadic lifestyle and do not typically settle in one area for very long, which has led to various social complications regarding the national policies of different European states.