"Gypsy" and Artists

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.

"Gypsy" 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 mysterious and 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 decided, in the fantasy world of my imagination, that we were the gypsies. Obviously, this was pretty childish. And again, not what "gypsy" actually means.

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 categorized, is 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.

So I 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 long to 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.
A 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 #RealGypsyWarrior.

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.

I 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 Roma culture.

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:

Amnesty International

Romedia Foundation 

Roma Woman

Roma Facts

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