Tag Archives: activism

Decade of Roma Inclusion

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.

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Role-making, Role-Taking

Last week, I published a poll on this blog that asked readers to check whether they most often feel like an ‘insider,’ an ‘outsider,’ or a ‘straddler.’ I had a suspicion that the number of people who self-identify as outsiders would be larger than the numbers of those identifying as insiders or straddlers. It turns out (though not many people voted and the poll was only made available to people who visited this blog—so hardly a ‘scientific’ instrument) that most voters did self-identify as outsiders.

So many questions have been tugging at me these last several weeks…and perhaps the most dogged points to the tension between “Role-making, Role-Taking.” Before I introduce you to Danica Dakic (the artist who coined the above phrase) and her current exhibition at the Generali Foundation in Vienna, I would like to say a bit more.

Here are some questions that have been pulling my earlobes: Do we make a role or do we take a role? Do we make a grade or do we take a grade? Do we make love or do we take love? Are we processors or are we distributors? How many times have I heard a friend, family member, or a stranger say, “I can’t because (fill in the blank with an externally imposed rule).” What I am saying is: to what degree do we define ourselves and how much of our identity do we hand over to be shaped and defined elsewhere? What is the ratio? I AM my work. Oh really? I AM my ethnicity. Oh, really? I AM my religion. Is that right? I AM the middle child. Hmm, I see. I AM an ‘A’ student. I AM a failure. I AM the fat girl, the ugly girl, the pretty girl, the skinny girl, the problem child, the racial minority, the criminal, the prostitute, the trouble-maker, the elite…I am the rule-maker, I am the boss, I am the subordinate, I am the I am the I am the….SCREEEEECH. Will everyone shut the hell up and let me think? Context makes noise and another context makes different noises.

Nan mentioned this when we talked; she mentioned that in Japan the culture is different, the rules are different, the people are different and as a result she finds space to reconsider herself (Self). Therefore, having changed the back-drop by migrating to a new country and culture, Nan finds the freedom to begin defining herself.

Now you might imagine how excited I was to discover Danica Dakic’s new exhibit, through which she asks, “What is freedom? Can being uprooted also be seen as an opportunity and not merely as estrangement? What does it mean to lose one’s language and the ability to express oneself in new surroundings? Which roles are imposed on us?”

Indeed! Which roles ARE imposed on us and which roles do we choose to internalize? The more I reflect on these questions the stronger my conviction that we are each responsible to live creative lives. We can write or be written, we can sing or be sung, we can make our role or we can take our role, but it is in the making that we access and employ our own agency rather than passively bobbing along the party line. Think about the word authority.

AUTHORity. I prefer to be my own author. Yes, of course, there is a terrific element of the haphazard (as Alain de Bottom has said) in this life…but there is also a hell of a lot more space for radical self-transformation than we allow ourselves to inhabit and creatively engage. I’m not talking about painting, dancing, sculpting, and so on exclusively…not necessarily simply making stuff but actually making self, creating self, by whatever means suits you. Perhaps it is banking, surfing, running, reading, reflecting, building stuff, performing guerilla theatre…Let me know, I’m interested…because I LOVE radical self-transformation…it’s brilliant, dynamic, and inspiring.

And so, Dakic uses theatre, photography, video and such to strip away context, insert new context, and explore the changes that this brings. For example, “The protagonists, detached by the setting from their social, legal, medical, and cultural profiles, take to the stage with their desires, dreams, and fantasies. As actors and audience, they perform and reinvent themselves at the same time. […] They protect, create distance, and enable the performers to present the “I as an ‘other’” for the duration of the play” (http://foundation.generali.at/index.php?id=ausstellungen&L=1).

What will happen if you detach yourself from your social, legal, medical, and cultural profiles? How about your ethnic, religious, or political profiles? What will you find beneath the din of all that set dressing? As we delve into that practice of undoing…what do we find?

I have to figure out a way to get to Vienna before May 16th –the day the exhibition closes. Who is up for a jaunt to Austria?

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