Approximately ten million Roma (Gypsies) live in Europe; they are the largest minority group in the region and among the most vulnerable. The community at large “remains trapped in poverty and isolated in society’s margins” (Open Society Institute, 2009). Across Europe, Roma children’s participation and performance in school is markedly worse than their non-Roma counterparts and in several contexts—Slovakia included—Roma students are segregated into “special schools,” which further adds to their marginalization and limits the options available to them once they finish school.
According to “The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 Terms of Reference” white paper, The Decade of Roma Inclusion (The Decade) “is a political commitment by Governments to combat Roma poverty, exclusion, and discrimination within a regional framework” (Decade of Roma Inclusion, 2005). The Open Society Institute (OSI), a major participant and source of funding for Decade initiatives, has made the claim that “Education is the key to inclusion of Roma as equal and active citizens” (Open Society Institute, 2009).
This spring I am travelling to Slovakia to work on some non-formal educational projects with Roma students. In the past several weeks I have been poring over reports about the situation in Slovakia and have found that one of the elements that most doggedly prevents Roma inclusion—that is, discriminatory attitudes—goes largely unaddressed by the policies and projects undertaken as Decade initiatives. It occurred to me that digital autoethnographies might be a useful means for students, assistant teachers, and administrators to record, replay, and reflect on their experiences and vlogging could be a means through which Roma students broadcast themselves via YouTube and therefore acquire a stronger voice and presence. The idea is two-fold: encourage self-reflection in order to investigate and ultimately dismantle discriminatory attitudes toward self and others; empower yourself by defining in your own terms who you are, what you think, believe, feel, and experience. It is my sense that more self-reflection and creative engagement and participation in the discourses about Roma (which for now is dominated by non-Roma voices) should make a meaningful difference.
Recently, I came across a group on Facebook called Typical Roma. According to the group page, “”Typical Roma?” is a campaign which addresses stigmatization and stereotypes as root causes of social exclusion of Roma. The campaign raises the awareness for active citizenship of ALL in ONE society and intends to promote a positive image of Roma.” There, I was thrilled to see short videos and photographs depicting Roma individuals from five European countries. The project was launched by the European Roma Grassroots Organization Network . Another group, Gypsy, was founded by a 19-year-old Roma man named Joe. Here, you can find conversation among Roma and non-Roma from around the world talking about culture, dispelling some myths, propagating others, discussions about Roma history, personal and family origins, and so on. It would be fascinating to see participants in these groups produce vlogs that convey their ideas, depict images from their everyday lives…perhaps, little-by-little, as those who are typically silent and lacking presence approach the microphone, clear their throats, and speak…their voices will be heard in greater numbers and volume and the destructive current of anti-Roma racism will eventually lose its steam.
If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to Minute Particulars by clicking on the Subscribe link on the left column.