How Can I Keep From Singing?

I’m happy to be a resource for the above article.

It is humbling to know that had my ancestors not persisted through war, famine, pestilence, persecution to the point of becoming human game, and the many dark trials of slavery, I would not be here. In truth, many of our ancestors, no matter our origin, delivered us to this moment after great tribulations. Present fears may yet lead to future triumphs. I try to remember that when looking at our momentarily grim world.

It is my honor to bear my ancestors forward to whatever the future holds. And that future will certainly be forged through the present and future generations. I treasure my time spent with our young people, for they are optimistic and full of promise. If I can armor them against the world’s cruelties, even a little bit, by giving them a word, a song, a tool to fight despair, why would I not?

It is difficult to think of those Roma turned out into the streets in deepest winter, shut up into tenements without water or sanitation, accosted on their way to market or school by hardened souls, negated again and again by faint-hearted politicians who have not the courage to acknowledge our common humanity, or to prevent anger and hostility from taking hold.

Yet I am reminded of the Quaker hymn we sang in the civil rights movement.

In prison dark and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them are winging.
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?

My friends are fighting back, and I must take up the song.

Link to an article on Sarkozy’s persecution of Roma

Anti-roma Actions in France: A Reply from a U.S. Congressional Representative

Co-Chairman Hastings:  Anti-Roma Actions Erupt in France, Europe

Posted by: "ERIO News"

Fri Aug 13, 2010 2:08 pm (PDT)

Dear Colleague,

I thought you might be interested in the statement (below) issued this week by Congressman Alcee Hastings, Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

Erika B. Schlager

Counsel for International Law

U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe 

(the Helsinki Commission) 

234 Ford House Office Building

3rd & D Streets, SW

Washington, DC 20515-6460 

( ( 202) 225-1901

United States
of America

Vol. 155
Washington, Tuesday, August 10, 2010
No. 17

House of Representatives




Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Madam Speaker, I rise today to address the comments made by French President Nikolas Sarkozy that have caused quite the media flurry in the past few weeks. 

On July 16, French police shot and killed a Romani man when he apparently tried to run a roadblock. This shooting sparked two days of rioting by some 50 members of his community damaging the local police station and private property. 

In a story that has now been covered by the media from Vancouver to Moscow, French President Sarkozy subsequently announced that he would look into “the problems created by the behavior of certain travelers and Roma ,'' with a view toward the closing down Romani camps and driving out Roma . Government statements have indicated these measures would focus on finding and expelling Romani citizens from Bulgaria and Romania–two European Union countries. Despite the fact that the Romani man in the July 16 incident was actually a French citizen–Mr. Sarkozy later spoke of stripping citizenship from nationalized French citizens convicted of serious offenses. 

Not surprisingly, human rights groups have condemned the President's remarks with one voice. Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg rejected the notion of holding Romani people collectively responsible if one among them commits a crime. Good for you, Mr. Hammarberg. (It is a shame that the European Union has been so utterly silent and paralyzed in the face of this downward spiral.) 

Many of the reports and analyses of these events, such as last Friday's editorial in the New York Times, rightly placed these developments in the context of French politics and President Sarkozy's political imperatives. Understanding the current political dynamic in France, particularly the ongoing debate over “national identity'' and the situation of Muslim and African-origin minorities in France, is extremely helpful in understanding the President's expansion into anti -Roma mudslinging. But there is a wider, broader European context for his remarks that I think must be addressed. 

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux has stated that the new measures targeting Romani camps are not aimed at “stigmatizing a community'' but rather at stopping illegal activity. This sounds remarkably like the rhetoric of Hungary's far right wing party, Jobbik, which claims it is not against “Gypsies,'' just “Gypsy crimes.'' 

In fact, rhetoric linking Roma to criminal activity or broadly portraying Roma as criminals–traffickers, prostitutes, thieves, and so forth–is pervasive throughout Europe. In early July, in the wake of a mass expulsion of Roma from Copenhagen, Danish Minister of Justice reportedly made remarks tying Romani culture to criminal behavior. Romania's foreign minister remarked in February about “the natural physiology of Roma criminality.'' For two years now, Italy has been gripped by anti -Roma policies, included targeting Roma for fingerprinting, that are built on a perception of the Roma as criminals. 

The idea of Romani people as inherently criminal is not new. In fact, it was at the very center of Nazi racial theories regarding Roma . According to these theories, Roma –as descendents of an Aryan people–we're just fine on their own. But Nazi racial hygienists concluded that, as a result of intermarriage between Roma and non-Roma , Roma had been left with mixed, “degenerate'' blood and were genetically predisposed to criminality. Moreover, Roma were “unadaptable''–that is, this condition could never be changed. These Nazi racial theories provided the rationale for the sterilization, persecution, and eventual extermination of Roma . 

Unfortunately, as Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, has observed, “Even after the ….. Nazi killing of at least half a million Roma , probably 700,000 or more, there was no genuine change of attitude among the majority population towards the Roma .'' In other words, Nazi racial theories regarding Roma remain remarkably entrenched and are regularly given voice in the rhetoric about “Romani crime.'' 

Madam Speaker, last year Senator Cardin and I, as Chairman and Cochairman of the Helsinki Commission, wrote to Secretary Clinton regarding the situation of Roma in Europe. In particular, we noted that “racist rhetoric directed against Roma today often uses terminology or images that have been in continuous use since the Nazi era,'' and we argued that teaching about Romani experiences during the Holocaust is essential to successfully combat prejudice against Roma today. Perhaps this could start in France.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Okay, here’s the word: Yes, I mind!

Photo 136
Photo 176
Photo 110

I have been irritated several times recently by people who know me and a little of my background referring to me as "white." If I confront them they almost invariably, when pressed, say some version of this:"Well, your skin isn't very dark. And your eyes aren't brown. Aren't you mostly white? What are you, then?"

I am just as irritated–and I confess this though I think it makes me sound petty–when people suddenly become aware of my golden-colored skin and say thoughtless things like, "I want a tan like yours!" or "Have you been to the Bahamas lately?" This latter statement was almost a given any winter that I lived in Chicago–and never went anywhere near a tropical sun. The former is more often said to me by visitors to my Florida home. If I wear white, or red, or certain other colors, I look different than when I wear blue or black, and often get the same kinds of remarks. It never seems to occur to even friends who know I'm mixed blood that tan skin is maybe indicative of something other than sun-worshipping.

Much of these irritating and awkward social interactions come about, I believe, because Americans are stuck on on our black-white racial dialectic. We literally see black and white and little else. Ask members of other ethnic groups–Latinas (handy but inadequate as a grouping, I know), American Indians, Asians–and they'll tell you they often feel invisible due to the scarce attention paid to their cultures and languages. But for people of mixed blood, this is accentuated by the common insistence on black hair, black eyes, dark skin as "the other" alternative to white-ness.

What does Asian-American Indian-White look like? Pretty much like me, you might conclude with some thought. Golden-skinned, blue-green eyed, with lactose intolerance from hell. Add a dash of African inheritance, without much outer effect, and a kick-ass taste for hot peppers. These cultures were all present in my family in a somewhat haphazard configuration.

Not that we don't have dark eyes, hair and skin in my family. We do, as you might expect, if you know a thing or two about genetics, and my siblings and cousins who were dealt those odds have different stories to tell: how classmates asked if they would do a war dance, storekeepers followed them around, people asked if they were black or white, or stared on the street when they walked into the "white school" (Asians and American Indians were not particularly welcome in the majority society of the segregated South in the 1950s and 60s, but most went to white schools, because the Jim Crow laws weren't consistently applied to us).

"But you don't get much discrimination aimed at you, do you?" some folks have gotten up the nerve to ask. Ask me how it felt when kids threw stones at me and my youngest brother and yelled, "Your big brother is an Injun! Your mother must have been with the Injun mailman!" Or my father how it felt when the housing supervisor on the mill village told him to "never bring those n****** back here again!" when his family came to visit. Told they were Indians, not blacks, the supervisor just cursed both, with the same demand to keep them out. (Later I'll write about how my parents tried to pass as "white with Indian," to their perpetual unhappiness.) My father refused to ever live in a mill village again, even though the houses there were cheaper and my parents could have owned a house decades earlier, but waited instead for a more expensive, modest house lying between the black and white parts of town, where no one asked many questions. But my mother was nervous every time the darker-skinned relatives visited, I'm sorry to say.

I write this not to make an affirmative-action argument of any kind, as in "my discrimination is as bad as yours." I think I need to write it because it illustrates something I feel fervently: We all have the right to our own identities,and to pride in the same. I went to the gay pride march in Chicago for years on the strength of that conviction. I need my friends to acknowledge as well that my family history and the multiple cultures I grew up in (which, yes, confuse even me at times) affect how I see the world and write about it, and–okay, I admit it–that yes, an Afrilachi-India-Roma-Scottish poet is pretty cool, too.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

%d bloggers like this: