In our latest article in the series ‘Human Rights in the Age of COVID-19’, Kale Amenge discuss what the “new normal” post-COVID-19 world may look like for Roma populations. Kale Amenge are an independent Roma organisation which, from a decolonial perspective, aim to contribute to the collective emancipation of Roma people in Europe. This article was originally published in Spanish on May 19 2019 in the Editorial Avenate and is written from a first person plural perspective.
With the end of the confinement it seems that little by little, according to Spain’s media, a “new normality” will be reached. At Kale Amenge, we can’t help but wonder what “normality” is looking forward. COVID-19 and the subsequent state of alarm have highlighted even more an overlooked reality that the Roma people have been living for 500 years. Anti-Gypsyism is a race-based system of domination that has historical roots in modernity and that obeys the construction of the European white man as the model of humanity, thus dehumanising all others. As Roma, we are considered as not human enough, and therefore are regularly denied the political capacity of self-determination and, at the same time, to close the circle, this serves as a justification for the implementation of an “ideology of integration” that seeks to “civilize” us within what they consider to be civilisation. That is why, the battle against anti-Gypsyism cannot be limited to trying to change prejudices or certain misconceptions in the minds of the Gadje (non-Roma), but to understand that this system of domination is rooted in the State itself and its institutions. In other words, the problem is not that there are racist teachers, police, judges or social workers, the problem is that the educational, judicial and prison systems, alongside other institutions, are all built on the basis of anti-gypsyism, as a product of state racism.
It is the daily violence and control that the State practices towards us, for whom we represent a “social virus” that must be extirpated through our integration or through violence. It is what we call “Antigypsyism as a Permanent State of Exception”. During the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown we have been able to glimpse several realities, and above all, different ways of naming them. Specifically, there being several key features that deserve our most careful attention:
- War language by the authorities when describing the “battle against the virus”
- Not showing dead white bodies
- Legitimacy in the face of police repression
In weekly hearings, the military command in Spain, dressed in full uniform, issued instructions to be followed during the confinement. In a chilling use of warmongering language, they called for a “war against the virus“. An invisible and unrecognisable virus leaves society with plenty of room to imagine where it might manifest.
The media seems to have reached an agreement not to show morbid images of the dead, a matter that we all celebrate. But it is striking how the treatment differs when the bodies are white to when they are racialised. In times of the culture of the image, society is accustomed to the consumption of violent images of racialised bodies, which in turn forms a cumulative desensitisation to their suffering and the violence against them, unlike the injustices inflicted on white bodies, for which clothes are torn and mass protests are formed. It is not surprising then, that public institutions have continued to look at us as bodies to be afraid of, as uncivilised social bodies that can threaten the white civilised world. What the COVID-19 pandemic has done is expose even further the lived realities of daily violence and control that the State practices towards Roma people. This is what we call Anti-gypsyism as a Permanent State of Exception and it leads us to experiencing the most virulent conditions within the pandemic, denying even health care to our racialised brothers without papers. Although there are more profound relationships, we will focus on that of image of Roma as a “threat to democracy and human rights”, subject to discipline and control in order to save those lives that deserve to be saved, whom, as 500 years of society and power relations dictate, are usually white.
In enacting dehumanising violence towards its racialised population, Spain is not an isolated case, as so many videos that have circulated through social media testify. Europe’s ghetto neighbourhoods are mainly populated by Roma and other racialised people and have always been subject to greater controls and police violence. With the confinement, this has increased disproportionately, with terrible outbreaks of violence and criminalisation. For example, in O Vao, Pontevedra, a town where residents have been denouncing for more than 10 years the ’racist terrorism‘ practiced there by the ’security forces‘, a protest by residents resulted in the arrest and detention of ten residents based on trumped-up charges.
This violence finds its perfect accomplices in the media, which contribute to the criminalisation of any liberating protest against such racist attacks of the State, or ignore and undermine the few public denunciations of Antigypsyism that have been made. Even when the act is clearly unjustifiable, the mainstream media normally manage to find a way to justify it, pointing to the Roma as the culprit. In the terrible case of Manuel (May he be in glory), we find the perfect example: a father of a family who was murdered in cold blood when he approached the garden of a “dear retired man from the village, who was peacefully at home”, as one Spanish programme relates.
This system of control exerted over racialised peoples has been illustrated with different examples of racial profiling, police brutality and other violations over time. The very reason for the creation of the social category “gypsy” is in itself a historically constructed label which can be understood as an incriminating hotchpotch of meanings, wherein every negative behaviour understood as “gypsy” can fit in. As it is defined by Romani philosopher Isaac Motos, this characterisation is based on the assumption of a racist construction that has been built to refer to us as thieves, drug users, etc., while excluding the real Roma people from this process.
In this within this context that we are questioning the “normality” that white people reclaim. We, the Roma people have been living a pandemic for more than five centuries, it is what we define as structural racism, the global state of emergency of Antigypsyism and the ontological impossibility of simply existing within an Anti-Roma Europe. We do not want “normality” that allows police brutality over the Roma bodies, we do not want that “normality” that permits systematic expulsions of Roma all over Europe, we reject the “normality” that does not question the historical domination over us and we question the “normality” of genocides under the umbrella of human rights and democracy! We reject “white normality” that created us as non-humans enough!
As we have written in our social networks, we live in sad times, we have mourned the death of our brother Manuel and before that we mourned Eleazar and Manuel Fernández and other victims of police brutality and security forces, the victims of collective expulsion in the eighties of Mancha Real, Martos, Loja, and much earlier the tears were shed for those sentenced to the gallows, the victims of genocide, or those condemned to the cruelest sentences for resisting and continuing to be what we are, for continuing to be Roma.
Case after case, day after day, anti-Roma racism is on the rise. It is time to take a stand, each of us must ask ourselves if we want to be part of the problem or the solution and act accordingly. As Malcolm X said “When people are sad they do nothing. They just cry about their condition. But when they are angry, they bring about change.” The Roma people have already cried too much. There is only one way against anti-Roma racism: self-organisation, self-defence and emancipation. Brothers and sisters, help organise the Roma resistance in your neighbourhoods, with your families, let’s support each other.