Prejudices and stereotypes against the Roma can only be overcome if we get to know who the Roma really are. Although they currently form a group of nearly 8.5 million people in Europe, while in Central and Eastern European countries they represent over 5 percent of the population, they remain the largest minority ethnic group that lives without the slightest form of social protection.
Most of the modern day problems that the Roma are facing derive from racial stereotyping and extreme discrimination against them. What most of us know about the Roma is that they are carefree nomads who like to dress with colorful clothes and put on lots of golden jewellery. They are great musicians, passionate dancers and skilled artists. They are excellent fortune-tellers, but if you don’t give them any money they can curse you for a lifetime. They normally beg because they don’t like going to school, they are illiterate, and they prefer living on welfare. They have more children than they can feed; they live in huge family groups sharing a room with a dozen of people; they are dirty and noisy; greedy and lazy; not trustworthy; prone to crime and drug dealing.
The Roma are widely regarded as a homogenous group with no individualities and often, those who do not happen to fit in that group are not perceived as Roma. But, there is not a single Roma who can meet all the stereotypes that have been created by the ‘civilized’ society about them.
In reality, there is great heterogeneity among the Roma and their individual differences are greater than their ethnic differences. The Roma are scattered over the world, speak different dialects, different languages, have local customs, follow different religions, have different cultural values, follow different social norms and their financial and education situation varies heavily. There are educated Roma; there are rich Roma; there are clean Roma; there are famous Roma. For instance, Charles Chaplin, Yul Brynner, and Pyotr Leshchenko are of Romani descent. In other words, the Roma are a multicultural ethnic group that shares common origins from India where they immigrated from to Europe. Other than that, they are different people as the non-Roma people are. Therefore, it makes really no sense to see all the Roma as a homogenous group. In contrast, it makes sense to see all the Roma as equal citizens with the same duties and rights within the large family of the European Union and around the world.
Besides, the Roma have a long preserved culture that is a rightful part of the cultural heritage of Europe. They have greatly contributed to the enrichment of European music and dance having influenced significant musicians such as Verdi, Liszt, Dvorák, Bartok, Brahms, and Rachmaninov. The Romani dances have, admittedly, left their mark on Spanish flamenco, Hungarian czardas and botolo tanc and Middle Eastern belly dance. For instance, the amazing contributions of Django Reinhardt, Gipsy Kings or Joaquin Cortés to music and dance cannot and should not be overlooked. On the contrary, they can help people who feel negative about the Roma overcome their prejudices.
Today, within the European Union, there are Roma who lead successful lives, but, normally they are lost in the crowd either because they are integrated, or because they hide in the fear of being discriminated against. Those people have the chance to contribute in their society, but they are deprived of a chance. They consider that their personal success will not make any difference for Roma people because the majority of them do not have the chance to do something better. And this is because of the prejudice and stereotyping against them.
Societies do not change in one day. Poor Roma and non-Roma populations share the same problems and live in the same difficult conditions. It doesn’t make too much difference what we had thought about the Roma until today. It will make great difference though if, starting tomorrow, we are able to see that a better life is a rightful right to everyone; even to a Roma.