Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Am I color blind or insensitive?

I'm about ready to rename the blog and re-insert the "S" word. It's because I feel so darned stupid when I spend 15 minutes writing something and then I lean on some button and everything vanishes.

So now it's late and I want to recover some of it. But I must get up extra early Wednesday morning. Dang!

This edition is about the Roma (Gypsies) and how I discovered I couldn't tell Roma folks from non-Roma folks. A law student friend had challenged me after I told him that I didn't remember ever seeing any Roma people in the U.S. -- I'd only heard about the crimes some groups commit. That's when he asked if I was being a bit of a racist. And, he was surprised at my comment that I wouldn't be able to spot a Roma person in the U.S. because they don't appear on the streets the way they do in the Balkans.

"You can spot them because they have darker skin," he said in a everybody-knows-that tone of voice.

That's when it hit me. Indeed, the Roma people in Belgrade have darker skin than the non-Roma. But in the U.S., dark skin doesn't mean anything to me. A Serbian Roma in the U.S. would not catch a single eye because of the shade of his or her skin.

But in Serbia, the color does separate them from the rest of society. I can't explain why -- that's not my purpose here -- but the mainstream treats them as second-class citizens.

The more I looked and learned and asked, the more I realized that this is like being in the U.S. in the early 1950s. An entire race of people do not have the rights others have.

When I mentioned this to someone at the TV station, she told me about a woman from Cuba who works there. She has dark skin. When she tried to enter a department store, the security people wouldn't allow it -- they thought she was a Roma person.

The story was chilling. This morning I asked a Roma woman if I could take her picture. She was in her 20s and was begging on the street. She sat on the sidewalk with a cup in front of her. She didn't want me to take her picture.

"The police! The police," she told me. She was afraid of being arrested for begging.

Here's the kicker: she had no arms. This gets me thinking a lot. I've put some pictures here I took of people I believe are Roma. I may be wrong.

I have a lot to learn. Posted by Picasa

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