Most of what me know of the Romani comes from the texts of Gadje, whether it be fact or fantasy our archives are ridiculed with inaccuracies and as a result of this so too are our collective memories. Many tale strung of the Romani can be believed and this serves more often than not to our disadvantage.
I ponder this now after watching The Hobbit last night, a young Hobbit, the audience’s innocent child of the West Country (Wessex) goes on a journey with a group of Jews, I mean Dwarves, to recover their lost homeland and recover a great deal of gold. Tolkien constructed the Dwarves to parallel the Jewish people in many ways, their language is Semitic and due to a dispossession of their lands are forced to wander the world forever aliens. But the problem arises with their love of gold, and the way it can corrupt them, they’re not alone in their corruptibility but it is a prominent element in all their stories. They lose their home(s) because they got too greedy. People may not like admitting that they know the stereotypes but the Jewish people have been discriminated against and slain in the millions, need I remind you, in part due to tales that they value gold over all things.
Put my point, I do not believe that Tolkien hated Jews in any way – in his personal life he spoke of them highly and in his stories of Dwarves they are brave and honourable. But are his tales racist, I would but leave it to Jewish people to decide but I believe, in accordance with my understanding of racism that yes Tolkien’s portrayal of Jews in the form of Dwarves was racist and that he himself, due to holding the views did, was also a racist. That is not to say that he was a bad man. He held a genuine affection for them, but is that not a problem in itself?
Moving away from Tolkien now and speaking in my general terms, people will write on topics that interest them, they will write topics on people that interest them, with or without the appropriate knowledge to accurately portray them. There is nothing inherently wrong with writing about people from other cultures however it must be accepted that it is for the pleasure of the author and it must be considered why it is that they want to write on such a topic, especially if they have no true first hand experience.
Group A wants to write a book about Group B, a group of people who they find interesting, now Group A is predominantly dominated by white, privileged individuals, notably male but not always, they find Group B interesting because they view them as being different from themselves and it is this difference that they want to write about. They maybe expanded upon, exaggerated it and distorted it. No, Group B will always be distorted and will not live as themselves but as an ‘other’ to be juxtaposed against the ‘norm’. With all good intentions I believe it is virtually impossible to write about a peoples other than your own, for an audience to resemble yourself, or at least this is what I have learnt from authors so far. I would love nothing more to be proven wrong.
I have seen some wonderful portrayals of PoC (People of Colour) in books and films written by white authors, at least I believe them to be wonderful they may not be, but alas I do not believe the same can be said for my people.
You write of the Romani, in perfect fantasy for the pleasure of yourself and your middle-class audience, but what are we but your characterchures?