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Here is what’s in a name

Western is still behind the times on sensitivity

Stephanie Blair | Copy Editor

Every year on Yom HaShoah, these disturbing little flags are planted around campus to educate passersby about the effects of the Holocaust and — debatably — honor those whose lives were lost in concentration camps. There are different colors for different groups, and a key so you can read which groups are represented by what.

It is this sign that I take issue with. Having attended Western for four Shoahs now, I am disappointed to say that Western’s signage still uses an ethnic slur to refer to an affected group: the Roma and Sinti tribes. The word I’m referring to, which I’ll write just once in it’s full form for clarity, is gypsy.

And that may not seem like something upsetting to you. It’s a word that, as Americans, we were raised to associate simply with the idea of being a free spirited nomad. We heard it in a Fleetwood Mac song, we know the Broadway musical — even recently, Netflix has released a show under that name, Lady Gaga released a song with that title in 2013 and “Saturday Night Live” used the word freely in two skits in the last two weeks. This is a present issue even today — even on our campus, so let’s take a quick history lesson.

“Europeans imposed the word “g—y” on Romani when they came to Europe, believing that we originated from Egypt because of our dark features,” the National Organization for Women explained in a blog post. “Romani have a history of persecution in Europe; it is estimated by Roma historians that over 70 to 80 percent of the Romani population was murdered in the Holocaust, a fact that is little known or recognized. Even lesser known, Romani experienced chattel slavery in Romania for over 500 years ending in 1860.”

A name given to a racial group by white Europeans who were then oppressed by said white Europeans and whose culture is now used as a cheap costume for Halloween and “festival” season. It feels so familiar…

Not to mention that Roma women, stereotyped as sexually loose and untamable, were forcibly sterilized in Europe as recently as the 1990s. So, there’s that.

Which brings me back to this sign. If this had happened once and then been corrected, this piece wouldn’t be published. But the organizers of this event have been approached before, yet no change has come.

So now, in a free publication, I’d like to make a public call: change the damn signs. I’m in my last term of my senior year and I have 600 print credits — I’ll reprint them for you. I really don’t mind. I think it’s a negligible cost to respect the dead, as well as the living.

Contact the author at sblair13@wou.edu

Photo by: Share.america.gov