Thursday, December 15, 2005

What's in a name?

I recently received the following comment:

“I am sure you are not aware of this, but calling yourself a "gypsy girl" is very offensive because "gypsy" is the derogatory term for Roma people, of whom there are 14 million citizens in Europe alone. They are not "wanderers" in most countries at this point; they are however desperately in need of the kind of human rights activism you seem to espose.”

Here is my response:

Dear Anonymous,

I appreciate your input.

In fact I have been involved with humanitarian aid in Roma villages in eastern Europe and care very much for this forgotten people group. But my understanding of the term "gypsy" encompasses a multitude of once nomadic cultures from many countries throughout history, not just the Roma.

According to the "Gypsy Lore Society", an academic group focusing on studying the broad history of gypsy culture:

"In their native languages, each of the groups refers to itself by a specific name, but most translate that name as "Gypsy" when speaking English."

It is certainly not considered a racial slur.

In my work I have witnessed first-hand the terrible racism directed towards the Roma people, but did not find that the description "gypsy" was of particular offense. It was instead made known through general attitudes, economic policies, and acts of violence.

In contemporary usage the word "gypsy" is often metaphoric; A poetic reference to a way of life used to describe certain types of music, dance, clothing, and decor. In this sense it has a very positive connotation: artsy, free, bohemian, non-conformist, non-materialistic.

This is the way I have chosen to reference the word. Anyone who knows me even a little, realizes that it would never be my intention to offend any people group. But, if after further research I discover that it is indeed harming the world in some way to use this name on my blog, I will gladly choose another name.

Anybody else have thoughts on this?


Blogger Mie said...

I will not pretend to know the origin of the word gypsy, but I would like to applaud your response. This, like so many other comments of its kind, has begun to boil my blood. The other day during one of my soap box rants of political correctness and racism, I realized something. When I was young, my father once said "If something offends you, it is your problem not theirs." I never fully understood what that meant until that day so many years later. People are not really offended by the words at all. They are embarrassed for other people because they are assuming they are offended and thus stifle the language. I have since become very aware of when I am in mixed company and something is said or witnessed that “may” offend a person in my party. I observe the reactions of everyone in the group and consider my own response. It amazed me how I was really not offended at all but rather uncomfortable at the thought of someone else being offended. So I ask my friends if anyone was offended by what was witnessed and to my surprise, not a single person even though everyone’s body language suggested the opposite. Now I realize I am drifting a bit off topic, but I thought it was a good time and place to vent this out in words as I blog surf my work day away.

I believe there are many words and phrases that are wrong to use in conjunction to particular context, but is it possible we have crossed so far over that line that now we are stifling things that we project assumptions of offense on others without prudence?

Have a great day, and I will likely be back…great blog!

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Idelette said...

thought you offered a beautiful response.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous tess said...

An excellent response!

Thanks, Tonya, for visiting my new blog last week. I have been slow to respond as I did not realize there were comments. (I unknowingly had the "moderate comments" thing on. Anyway, I've started to look around in your blog and am very impressed by your creativity and especially your passion for justice and action. I will look forward to reading more and hope you'll stop by from time to time at my place. Best, tess.

12:02 PM  
Blogger anj said...

Wow - I thought you replied very graciously and thoughtfully to an anon comment. I like your blog, and what I see of your heart on it.

7:07 PM  
Blogger bobbie said...

i echo above and add that i HATE to be misunderstood. i imagine that this has caused you some form of frustration as i know it would of me.

your heart shines through on this, it is YOUR blog and should reflect your thoughts and heart. people will misread things you write and opinions you express - that is part of this weird, strange medium called blogging.

it is dynamic enough though to give response, as you did so beautifully above.

1:50 PM  
Blogger tonya said...

I really appreciate all of your encouragement folks. thank you so much for being gentle with me and for hearing my heart.

11:26 PM  
Anonymous hobo said...

I really like the name of your blog. It has heart. It speaks to a part of me that doesn't neccesarily use words...but the concept, the idea, is loud and clear.

8:37 AM  
Blogger learner said...

It speaks volumes to me that anyone would express their displeasure with your choice of name and then refuse to divulge their own.
Above my computer I have a small poster with a wonderfully encouraging note from JRR Tolkien. It reads: "Not all those who wander are lost". It is the very essence of who you ARE... that is described in the title of your blog... and you are not lost, but are finding yourself and the beauty of others in your many wanderings!
I love that in you! Dad

1:48 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

I second other's comments. I love the name and all it means.

Also, what a great comment from your dad :-)

9:11 AM  
Anonymous eija said...

In Finland the word "gypsy" (mustalainen) is a bad word. The correct one to use is "romaani". But I too was told that in English the gypsy is the right, non-offensive word to use.

I love those people too. I don't know why, but I do and always have. I also have several special gypsy friends. Sometimes it's just a bit difficult dealing with them, because they easily understand good intentions as some kind of racism, even if they come from friendship and love only. Given the abuse they face everywhere it's totally understandable, though. Still, it makes my heart cry. All that hate and prejudice. Nobody should be mistreated like the gypsies.


12:45 AM  

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