Why Not "Gypsy Joe" Anymore?
As some of you may know, this blog was named "Gypsy Joe" for a very
long time. And recently, I have changed the name of my blog to Calamity
Joe. I'd like to share why, and a bit about my journey in making this
decision, because for me it was a big deal. I'll start with why I originally named the blog Gypsy Joe, and then why I changed the name.
is a word that I had grown up using to mean basically whatever I wanted
it to mean - which, it turns out, is not actually what it means because it is an actual word.
As a kid playing dress-up or choosing Halloween costumes, I was always
the "gypsy," except for the three years I was a pirate and the one I was
a mermaid. Gypsies were usually my favorite characters in
stories that I read or made up: written as the traveling outsiders, the
passionate strangers on the fringe of society. And with a family that
moved 7 times by the time I was 10 years old, I identified with these
characters and considered myself more of a gypsy than a townie. I
the fantasy world of my imagination, that we were the gypsies.
Obviously, this was pretty childish. And again, not what "gypsy"
Then I grew up
and became an actress. In the arts community in New York (I can't speak
for other places), the word "gypsy" has additional made-up definitions;
there's the Gypsy Robe on Broadway, passed between opening shows, and
the term "gypsies" is frequently and affectionately used within the arts
community to describe performers. We call ourselves gypsies. We call
our friends gypsies. We call our lifestyle gypsy. We call our Facebook
page for swapping sublets Gypsy Housing. As Actors Equity Association
phrases it on their "Who Are Gypsies" page: "The gypsy, although a breed of performer not easily
usually a chorus member known in part for his or her dedication,
professionalism and seasoned performing career." A lifer. A trouper. A
dedicated artist whose life is their work, traveling from production to
production until eternity takes over. In the arts community, "gypsy" is a positive term for ourselves.
said to myself, "Ok then, I can totally use 'gypsy' to describe
myself. Actors Equity is doing it."
Welllll...no, Jeanne Joe. You can't. Not really. Because that's not actually who gypsies are.
I say all this to explain where my brain was
when I named the blog, floating between ignorant childhood impressions
and mainstream culture's appropriation of a word that started
out as a slur. I figured the word gypsy had become enough a part of my
own culture that I could use it however I wanted.
The problem with this is that the word
"Gypsy" is still used as a slur to refer to a real ethnic group still in a real human rights crisis, the Roma.
And I am NOT of Roma descent. I'm actually what a real Roma person would call a
gadje, an outsider, and this entire time I have been guilty of cultural
appropriation. Embarrassingly slowly, I have slowly come to realize that for me to use this term
"gypsy" however I want to use it is disrespectful at best, cultural appropriation definitely, and
most likely harmful to Roma rights.
Sorry it's taken me so
realize this, kids. It is one things for cultures to blend and mingle
and communicate and play together,
and that can be a beautiful birthplace for new things. I daydream about a
world where we don't have to spend so much time talking about race and
we can bend our swords into plowshares, reinventing words that have
caused hurt. But this is not
where we are at yet: the Roma are not treated as equals by most
governments in the world. Roma people served as slaves alongside
Africans in my
own country, the United States of America (why isn't this ever talked about?), were wiped
out alongside Jews in the Holocaust,
and still TODAY are often forcefully sterilized, denied education and
healthcare, or persecuted in their communities.
Yuck. I don't want to be a part of this problem anymore, but rather a part of the solution if I can.
dear friend of mine has Romani heritage and it is thanks to her that I've become aware of my
blunder. She has a lot of intelligent things to say about this very issue
on GypsyRepresent. It is
through her patience that I've learned that using the word gypsy in the
way that I have detracts from the Roma's struggle for equality and adds
to the harmful stereotypes that are used against them. She is a
Amnesty International has called the
conditions, racism, systematic oppression and poverty that many members
of the Roma community today face, especially in Europe, a human rights
crisis. You can find out more on Amnesty's page about the Roma: Demanding Equality and Human Rights.
no longer feel at all right calling my blog "Gypsy Joe." Calamity Joe
suits me just fine and is much more accurate. See, I am not a
gypsy, and the people that have the right to self-describe with that
term usually consider it a slur. I hope Roma activists will accept my
sincere apologies for this unintended insult. I hope
that I can act like and become a friend to the Roma community,
empowering their work to educate and change the world's attitude toward
If you would like to learn more
and get involved in supporting the Roma community in their work for
justice and rights, here are some good places to start: