"I got gypped." I've never written that out before. Every time it has come into my sphere, I've thought it, I've heard it, or I've spoken it. In my head, it was always "I got jipped."
"The slogan in our house lately is: 'now you know, so do better.'"
I haven't used the phrase in a while, but I recently used the term "Gypsy," which sparked a flurry of texts and conversations from friends. "Did you know...", "Have you ever thought about...", "Maybe you should research...". My friends are so kind; instead of coming out and saying, "Whoa! You shouldn't use this racially-charged description for this marginalized and highly persecuted group of people," they made me do the research and allowed me to save face so that I could genuinely apologize once I fully understood this ethnic group's history. Now, it's time for us all to explore the history of this very misunderstood, very highly persecuted group of people commonly known as "Gypsies."
The Romani people, often mistaken to be from Romania or Rome, actually originated in Northern India. Romani were low in the Indian caste system, and were known for their nomadic lifestyle, singing, and music-creation. The Romani were mentioned briefly in historical records in the AD 400's and AD 800's. After that, they disappeared from history for awhile. Some historians believe that they were forced to flee from their lands during Muslim invasions in the 11th century. They reappeared in records starting in the 1300's.
As they scattered from India, they no longer had a place to call their homelands, and became a truly nomadic people. As they sought refuge throughout Europe, their features and dark skin were mistaken for Egyptian features, and thus they were were given the exonym "Gypsy" in various languages.
"The massive killing spree that ensued prompted the government to step in and issue laws that would forbid the drowning of Romani women and children."
"Gypsies," or the Romani, have been heavily persecuted throughout history. Microaggressions occured in the form of the French being outwardly disgusted due to the Romani's "shabby dress" and the Roman Catholic Church forcing the Romani out of cities due to their practices in palm-reading and fortune-telling. But greater persecution also took place. Between the early 1400's and late 1500's, the Romani were expelled from: Germany, Milan, France, Aragon, Sweden, England, and Denmark. Starting in 1510, any Romani found in Switzerland were executed, and similar rules were established in England (1554), Denmark (1589), and Sweden (1637). Portugal ultimately forced the Romani into slavery and shipped many to their colonies, including to Brazil.
In 1545, Germany made it legal to kill any Romani in the country: "whoever kills a Gypsy will be guilty of no murder." The massive killing spree that ensued prompted the government to eventually step in and issue laws that would forbid the "drowning of Romani women and children." Then again in 1710, the Holy Roman Emperor of Germany issued a decree declaring the extermination of the Romani, ordering that "all adult males were to be hanged without trial, whereas women and young males were to be flogged and banished forever." The Emperor's successor, his brother, took this decree a step further in 1721, issuing an amendment to include the execution of Roma females while putting their children in hospitals "for education."
Modern Day Persecution
Romani who survived the World War II genocide relocated to Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Hungary. In Czechoslovakia, they were labeled as a "socially degraded stratum" and Romani women were involuntarily sterilized in an effort to reduce the Romani population. In the 1990's, Germany deported many of it's racially marginalized groups out of the country, many of which were Romani.
In 1997, the Czech Republic aired a documentary of Romani who had relocated to Canada and had rights, comfort, and did not live in violence. Thousands of the Roma people prepared to exit the country, and mayors of Czech cities offered one-way flight tickets to help the exodus. Flights from the Czech Republic to Canada were sold out for the last months of 1997.
"I Got Gypped"
The Romani are one of the only people groups who do not have a homeland. They would travel as nomads, most likely for their own safety. Many tried to work as blacksmiths or shopkeepers, but due to bias and discrimination, their attempts at this type of work failed. Those who were not sold into slavery practiced magic, fortune telling, and crafting as they moved around the continent. As a nomadic people, they were seen as swindlers and con-artists, neither of which were self-imposed ethnic group titles.
The term "I Got Gypped" often references being conned or feeling like you were cheated in some way. This term goes back for centuries, but there is a mental disconnect when we use it now. Famously, both Obama's have used this term in different references (Michelle when discussing wage equality while doing part-time work, and Barack in discussing healthcare practices). In 2012, the author Carol Higgins Clark published a book titled "Gypped," a novel set in Los Angeles, CA in which the major plot focused on financial scams. She later apologized and retracted the title of the novel, although you can still find and purchase it on Amazon.
This is one of those phrases I heard often in my formative years; it's one that collectively, as a society we don't think twice about saying or even attribute to anything racially-charged. But now, as my household would say, you know... so do better.
Tune in to the Success in Black and White conversation this week: "89: Buzzwords Busted: 'I Got Gypped.'
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About the Author:
April Lovett is co-host of the Success in Black and White podcast, a weekly podcast in which she and her husband, Darryl Lovett, discuss a variety of topics dedicated to bridging the gap between racial boundaries. April identifies as white, cisgender, heterosexual, woman, wife, and mother. She is committed to fair representation and storytelling, while recognizing her identity could unintentionally beget biases.