The Racist Origins of One of RVers’ Favorite Words

Content warning: this post contains racial slurs in the context of educating the audience about these slurs. For those already aware of what I’m going to talk about, this could be jarring and upsetting. For those unaware, I hope it will become jarring and upsetting by the end of this post, in order to encourage everyone to remove this word from their vocabularies.

For International Romani Day (April 8), I want to challenge my fellow RVers to remove the following word from your lives:

Gypsy.

We’ve all seen it: Romanticizing what RVers refer to as “gypsy” culture and lifestyle. The idea of traveling wherever the wind blows, an irresistible wanderlust, your home is wherever you park it, the freedom to live life on your own terms.

But here’s the hard truth: the original “gypsies” are the Romani people, and that word is a racial slur loaded with prejudices and bigoted origins. The word was not used by the Roma themselves, it was a word that was coined by Europeans, who mistakenly thought Roma people’s features looked Egyptian (the Romani people actually come from regions in and around India).

Appropriating Romani culture (through ignorance or blatant insensitivity) or being prejudiced against Romani people is specifically called antiziganism. But let’s make it easier and call it something we can all recognize: racism.

Do you remember a time when you got “gypped” by a dishonest salesperson?

Yeah… that’s where that word comes from. Today is the day to stop using it forever.

While RVers romanticize a voluntary nomadic existence, the nomadic nature of the Romani people was not necessarily by choice. The “gypsy lifestyle” was forced upon them, due to bigotry and prejudice making them unwelcome, or making them the victims of violence. The Romani were targeted by Nazis in World War II, and hundreds of thousands perished in concentration camps alongside other people of color, Jews, queers, and the disabled.

The Roma continue to be persecuted to this day:

Romani culture is beautiful, and far richer than what’s been appropriated by RV culture. Take some time to learn about Romani people on Wikipedia, through the Romani Cultural & Arts Company, and the (not recently updated) Gypsy Lore Society.

(Now is a good time to point out that some Romani people have adopted the word gypsy to describe themselves, and that’s their right as members of an oppressed class to reclaim slurs used against them. Unless you have Romani heritage and are also reclaiming these slurs for yourself, it is not your place to embrace this slur, no matter how innocent your intentions.)

Yes, this might inconvenience you. You might need to come up with a new blog name, or a new user name, or register a new domain name. But your brief inconvenience is a small price to pay in order to make the world a better place.

Our challenge to you on International Romani Day is to retire this racial slur forever.

Remember the campsite rule: leave this world better than you found it.

Thank you for reading.

(By the way, if you’re the current owner of a slur-containing domain, and you’re ready to change but worried about how your readers will find your new site, email me and I’ll help you set up a domain forward to your new-and-not-racist domain name. This is the kind of service I would normally not do for free for my web development clients, but if you’re doing this to make the world a little less racist, I will happily do this for you free of charge. You can use my Namecheap referral link to get super great deals on your cool new domain, too!)

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