Sensationalism and Xenophobia—A response to the alleged Greek Roma kidnapping

A few days ago, police conducted a raid in a Roma community in Greece, discovering a little white girl with her two dark-skinned parents.  Although this story has been scattered over various news sources, click here for the story if you are unaware of the details.

Judging from the numerous angles the news sources have taken, this story triggered a multi-layered response:  it has played into the ongoing international fascination with the Roma, refueled the centuries old myth that “Gypsies steal children,”  revived  hope for those who agonize over their own missing children, and reinforced Roma prejudice and suspicion that lurks both explicitly and implicitly in Europe.

I must first point out that perhaps a crime was indeed  committed, and if this is so,  the couple should be held accountable. But many facts are obscured and confusing about the story and it is hard to understand what has actually happened.  Unfortunately, simply because it involves a Roma couple, it is not just an isolated case investigating a  possible kidnapping. Rather, all Roma are put on a prosecutor’s witness stand—a layered Pandora’s box with sinister overtones.

Here are some implicit implications in the media messages and the action of the law enforcement:

1. Gypsies, who are often dark skinned, should not have light skinned children.  If they do have a light-skinned child, they must have done something wrong.  Already, other countries are acting on this assumption:  Blond Girl, 7, removed from Dublin Roma family.

In what other cultural context would it be assumed that because an offspring looks different than the parents, the parents must have abducted the child? Is it not possible for a Roma family to adopt a non-Roma child?

2. The little girl, Maria, has been dubbed the “blond angel.”  Even this terminology sets up a dichotomy between the whiteness—and therefore goodness—of the girl, as opposed to her dark-skinned Gypsy parents.

3. The sensationalism of this story obscures the real issues.  There are, in fact, serious issues of child trafficking, crime rings, and prostitution that need to be investigated and prosecuted.  In fact, a Croatian Roma crime ring involving children was just recently discovered. Of course, such crimes exist in every context—but few other cultures have to bear the weight of guilt from one person’s illegal actions as do the Roma.

The Roma community in Greece expressed fear and anger when the police searched the entire community: “There is no buying and selling of children here,” Christos Lioupis,  a man who lives in the Roma community but is not of them, told the Associated Press. “The other Roma are not to blame. These are family people. After this event, the police have been searching everyone. Isn’t this racist?”

We know there is an insidious proliferation of  human trafficking found throughout the globe in numerous different cultures and contexts, but many of us do not realize the extent of a rampant Anti-Gypsyism, spread throughout the European continent.  While I do not want to  trivialize, reduce, or dehumanize little Maria’s fate to merely  “issues,”  it is also important to note that this case unintentionally  brings both of these serious issues to light.

The media has an important role to play in how the general public understands and responds to this situation.  The European Roma Rights Center just issued a plea for responsible reporting, restraint, and a full examination of all facts before assumptions are made, citing current example of skinheads in Serbia trying to take a two year old boy away from a Roma couple since he “wasn’t as dark as his parents.”  ERRC states: “Criminality is not related to ethnicity. Roma children are, however, much more likely to be put into state care, trapped in segregated education, and forcibly evicted from their homes. These are the stories that don’t make it to the front page.”

This story is important—if there has been a kidnapping, it needs to be rectified and brought to justice. I fervently hope that the couple is telling the truth and the child was given to them in good faith.  But the story cannot be separated from the wider historical and cultural context—a context  which 10-12 million Roma in Europe face each day.

Click Here for a great perspective on the situation from a Roma writer, Oksana Marafioti, who wrote the excellent book American Gypsy: A Memoir

9 responses to “Sensationalism and Xenophobia—A response to the alleged Greek Roma kidnapping

  1. Thanks for shedding light on the crisis at hand. Loved it!

  2. Libby Bergstrom

    Thank you, Melanie, for discussing the deep underlying tones of racism. I hear similar comments about Middle Easterners and North Africans in America. Because of their hair color, skin tone, accent and yes, sometimes religion, they are automatically suspected of terrorism.

    In an interesting case of racism/”colorism” going the opposite way, I knew an albino Moroccan girl who desperately wanted to dye her hair because she didn’t want to stand out as white.

    As soon as stigma becomes attached to race or ethnicity or color, we are in danger of sliding into sin and acting unjustly.

  3. Terry Vanderslice

    BBC did a story on this today. They mentioned the two cases and that at least one of them had other children that were likely not their biological children, however the only child mentioned in the article was the blond. They recognized that this is a very complicated situation and mentioned many of the same things that you have, they also discussed some of the pros and cons of focusing the blond child.

    Thank you for this.

  4. Thank you for putting this disturbing news story in perspective. Working in a prison, I have often seen that justice is not blind. And, by the way, I once had two Roma women in my class. They had never been to school because their parents were afraid someone would steal them. We had a good laugh when I told them how people of my generation had often been warned, “Be good or the gypsies will get you!”

  5. In our class ‘Teaching a Multicultural Classroom ‘we had to look at the way that people are educated in different parts of the world. One group did the Roma people and it blew my mind the way that this particular people group continues to be treated worldwide. I live in Canada and even in a city that I was going to school in there were whispered secrets of the background of some of the children being ‘Gypsy’ and to keep an eye on them. I know that many areas still struggle with racism but I was not aware until my eyes were opened to what is going on. I just read about this in the newspaper this morning. So many mixed up ‘details’ shared and so much prejudice already figuring into the equation. Thank you so much for sharing your insight and knowledge of the situation.

  6. I was glad to see that the little girl’s bio parents have been found, and that they admitted actually giving the child to the couple who were raising her, exonerating them from the “stealing” charge. I have not heard that she has been returned to them – wonder what other charges might be dredged up?
    Thanks for the piece Melody. Every ethnic group deserves respect.

  7. Thank you for sharing your insight and knowledge regarding this article! thanks for bringing the history of racism and themes of “good and bad” to light…how easily the media can paint pictures and sway perspectives…so thank you for responding to that article and shedding light on the historical themes of racism. And yes, so glad the truth of her biological parent/s was found out and the Roma couple exonerated with that.

  8. What happened to innocent till proven guilty. So hard when a whole people group continue to to be seen in a certain light and for so many years. How does one change this mind set with media the way it is? And only through God and grace can this come from within the community to not let these things continue to name them.

  9. Pingback: #BringBackOurDaughters: The Kidnapped Girls of Chibok Deserve More | Don't Get Her Hair Wet . . .... and other stories of inter-racial dating

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