Fantasy Literature’s Expanded Universe: Romani Gypsy Power in Sci-Fi & Fantasy Part I

If you don’t know Kate Lechler’s new column “The Expanded Universe” over at Fantasy Literature, you’d best check it out. She thoughtfully features writers and their thoughts on the SciFi Fantasy genres, both the craft and the literary theory of it. One of my favorites is Micah Dean Hicks’ essay on Elite Groups in SFF.

I wrote a 2-parted essay on Romani (Gypsy) Power in SciFi and Fantasy, taking a look at who the Roma are, the role or function that Gypsies play in Fantasy and SciFi and why, and what that means for both art and politics. I’m so thankful to be a part of such a cool publication, and I’m excited for Part II coming up featuring one of my favorite Romani writers of SFF and why I think there is no such thing as magical realism. Stay tuned!

Space_Unicorn_by_SpieGirl

Space Unicorn by SpieGirl

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Alright bitches, this is what a #RealGypsyWarrior looks like

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In case you didn’t know, I really love fashion. I love it as an art form with all its complications. But I absolutely loathe the fashion industry’s exploitation of Romani people. I got an email today from LOOKBOOK, a mailing list I was subscribed to, about a festival they are sponsoring in partnership with the enormously racist Gypsy Warrior fashion retailer. This is their pitch:
“Calling all gypsies! Are you a true Gypsy Warrior? Do you love adventure, dance to the beat of your drum? Create your own trends and believe in the magical moments and never ending fun? If you answered yes to these questions, then hell yea, you are a true Gypsy Warrior! “
OH HELL NO. A true Gypsy Warrior is a Romani person (or ally) who rights for Romani rights, for representation, who faces systemic racism and perseveres, who educates, who works to see that Roma are no longer treated like parasites. A real Gypsy Warrior thinks that this is a bunch of racist bullshit. I wrote a letter to that effect.
To Whom it May Concern,
I was offended by the email I received “LOOKBOOK x Gypsy Warrior music festival.” The email begins, “Calling all gypsies [sic]….” First, the word “gypsy,” in the lowercase, is an ethnic slur for the Romani people, an oppressed ethnic group. The company Gypsy Warrior exploits harmful Romani stereotypes to sell a product. In light of the current Romani human rights crisis, which Amnesty International has called “Europe’s shame,” this is a very tactless and offensive move and I am disappointed that LOOKBOOK is joining in with the exploitation. For more about the Romani human rights crisis: http://www.amnesty.org/en/roma. To take the word “Gypsy” and turn it into a romanticized consumerist image, it makes a costume out of an ethnic group and a culture. “Gypsy Warrior” is as tasteless and offensive as “Jew Warrior” or “Asian Warrior.” This is especially problematic when so many Americans have no idea that Romani people are actually people and not some figment of fantasy or a lifestyle choice, as the media repeatedly suggests. Roma were murdered, en masse, in the Holocaust. They were slaves alongside African Americans in America. They were slaves for four centuries in Europe. Romani people today are denied safe housing, education, health care, and jobs. Antigypsyists bomb the settlements that Roma are forced to live in without electricity or plumbing. Police in Europe in America target and brutalize Roma because of their ethnicity. Romani women suffer frced sterilization at the hands of their government. Romani mortality rates are significantly higher than non-Roma. This is not the glamorous “Gypsy Warrior” that the media likes to draw, and the constant perpetuation of “Gypsy” costume, sexualization, and romanticization belittles and obscures the real and desperate fight for Romani rights. For this reason, I will no longer be part of LOOKBOOK’s mailing list. As a Romani woman and a humanitarian, I am offended and disappointed.
Sincerely,
Jessica Reidy
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If you want to hear more about this issue, here’s a link to my article in Quail Bell Magazine “Gypsy Soul: Romani Fashion and the Politics of Dressing Gypsy”. In it, I’ve included links to some great sources on the topic including Oksana Marafioti, Dr. Ian Hancock, and Erika Varga.
As part of the contest, they want you to “Just post your most festival worthy look with at least one Gypsy Warrior item to this contest and Instagram.” I have an alternative suggestion. Please, take a moment to post your most protest-worthy look with at least one sign that says “END ROMANI EXPLOITATION. #RealGypsyWarrior” via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and raise awareness. Remember the hash tag. Post and share if you believe in human rights and the importance of media representation. Post if you’re friends with me and want to show your support. Post if you love a Romani person. Post if you are a Romani person. Post if you love real “Gypsy” culture. Post if your hair looks good today. Post. And let me see what you posted via Facebook,Twitter, and WordPress. This is what a real Gypsy Warrior looks like.
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That raised eyebrow means I’m judging you, Gypsy Warrior.

Forced sterilization: Europe is still torturing Romani women

For the story, read “FORCED STERILIZATION OF ROMANI WOMEN – A PERSISTING HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION” on the Romedia Foundation blog http://romediafoundation.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/forced-sterilization-of-romani-women-a-persisting-human-rights-violation/

Forced sterilization is still happening to Romani women. This would not happen if governments saw Roma as people instead of pestilence. This injustice certainly casts as pall on all those “sexy Gypsy” stereotypes. It doesn’t help matters when the media misrepresents Romani women as hypersexualized animals/objects. For more on this, read Ian Hancock’s article “The ‘Gypsy’ stereotype and the sexualization of Romani women.”

The only way to fight this is to speak up, demand justice, and make damn sure that no one forgets.

“While human rights can be violated by individuals or by institutions, they can only be defended by institutions. The European Court of Human Rights does not deal with single individuals who have committed crimes. Rather, it focuses on why the government in question could not take action against what happened. But where are the doctors, politicians and all the people who personally contributed to or carried out such surgeries, and when they are going to take responsibility for their actions? In order to take action against this human rights violation, blaming the Communist regime is not enough. The practice continues today and forcibly sterilized Romani women are still a long way from receiving true justice.” —Galya Stoyanova

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Fans of Faith and Mindfulness

Not gonna lie… after reading about Faith Bacon’s untimely end I got a little choked up with the wings.

I watched Behind the Burly Q on Netflix (amazing, by the way) and one of the dancers described the abject despair and revulsion she felt during her first performance when she looked into the audience and saw the men in the front row masturbating. The burlesque back in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s was, more often than not, exploitative. The dancers were often poor, mistreated, and desperate.

And yet, the burlesque of today looks so empowering– the performers seem to have real agency. I have no hesitation seeing burlesque as an art form. The documentary A Wink and a Smile, also on Netflix (also amazing), suggests that contemporary burlesque upends the more traditional dancer as sexualized object. Instead, the dancer is performing her sexuality through her burlesque persona, a character of her own creation that she uses to articulate the dynamics of agency and desire. It makes me think that the contemporary burlesque dancer is fiction in motion.

I wonder though if it’s possible to perform and not feel some degree of shame. I’m not suggesting that there is anything intrinsically shameful about burlesque or stripping: it’s a specific part of American culture that created the stigma and labels it shameful– that’s the same cracked culture that slut-shames pop stars and victims of sexual violence. Maybe people just can’t perform anything, even day to day life, with out some degree of shame.

The yogic practice of mindfulness, nonjudgmental self-awareness, is one way to approach transcending shame while fully inhabiting the body. Mindfulness travels well, so I imagine then that anything done mindfully could liberate and embody. Writing, eating, walking, singing, surfing…. dancing, too, I bet, especially if that dance includes giant feather fans. Who could possibly feel bad with feather fans? Well… nevermind. Obviously many people can and do, Miss Bacon included. We need mindfulness and fans, together, I suppose.

This is why I like the direction burlesque is going in: 1. it’s gender and trans gender friendly, 2. it’s more racially diverse and allows dancers of color to reclaim symbols that have been used to exoticize, 3. It’s creative and glamorous and kitch all at once, 5. costumes, and 6. It’s about choosing how, when, and how much to perform the inescapable. It’s important to note too that not all the early burlesque dancers in Behind the Burly Q described their work as shameful. Quite a few of them found fame and money and felt a lot of pride in their talents and resourcefulness during a tough time in American history. That felt good to hear. With all this in mind, and without disregarding anyone’s experience, perhaps the burlesque of yesteryear may take on a new meaning, or at least another aspect, too.