“The treatment of the Roma is a litmus test for civil society.”
–Former Czech premier Vaclav Havel, 1993
***To all my journalist friends out there: your copy desk is more open than you think. Please, if you see #gypsycopyfail, correct it. ***
Gypsy, Gypsies Capitalize references to the nomadic Caucasiod people found throughout the world. Also known as Roma or Romany.
—The Associated Press Stylebook 2008
A few months back, I wrote about the mechanics of the AP Stylebook and (characteristically) why you should care in the case of a particular European minority. Well, things have gotten even worse for the Roma in recent weeks, and if there’s any stronger evidence that we should stop calling them Gypsies, I’d invite you to find it.
By all accounts (and sadly, the moral accountants are few) the plight of Europe’s most blighted minority–slaughtered by the Nazis, stripped of their culture by the Soviets, swindled out of education, housing and work, and segregated out of Europe’s public life in the post Soviet era (and that’s just the last 100 years!)– is at a critical tipping point. Last year, Italy began an aggressive census of it’s Roma population, despite the failure of a popular push to fingerprint every Roma child. Violence against Roma in Hungary and Romania is so common, individual attacks rarely make the news. Now, it has begun to spill out of Eastern and Southern Europe into the vererable west, where earlier this month, one hundred economic immigrants to Northern Ireland–Romanian EU passport holders—were run out of Belfast. Roma in Kosovo are fairing little better. Recent events have prodded even sluggish American agencies to pick up their pens. At which point they commit the same fatal copy error, over and over, enshrining the same racism they are supposedly documenting against.
The fact is, the AP, the New York Times and other venerable American news organizations persist in the use of the word Gypsy in the face of overwhelming evidence that a) it’s offensive and incorrect and b) readers can handle the lexical swap. In my previous post, I offered some background on the formation and ammendment of AP Style–a system notoriously resistant to change. But enough is enough. Gypsy is a musical–Roma is a culture. If you work at a news organization, please keep your eyeballs peeled. Even where AP Style is the gold-standard, most publications have their own styleguides, and your copy desk is more receptive than you think–if you believe the semantics are wrong, speak up. They’ll probably listen.
“They are not from Somalia. They are people like us.”