Europe is Ours: A Manifesto By Dr. Ethel Brooks

“The civilizing transformation justified the colonization of memory, and thus of people’s sense of self, of intersubjective relation, of their relation to the spirit world, to land, to the very fabric of their conception of reality, identity, and social, ecological and cosmological organization.” –Maria Lugones

Europe is Ours: A Manifesto

Ethel Brooks

Rutgers University

Europe has a Gadje problem.

We are Europeans.  We have been enslaved, transported, evicted, expelled; we are trafficked, forcibly sterilised, murdered.  We claim our humanity, we claim our history, and we claim our place on the soil of Europe.  We have been here for a millennium and number 10-12 million; we outnumber many of the recognised European nations, including Swedes, Serbians, Irish and Austrians.  You have benefitted from our expertise:  our horse breeding, our woodworking, our ability to recycle, to buy and sell, to make music and art.  You have benefitted from our labour –as slaves, as deportees, as those who pick your fruits and vegetables, as those who clean up your rubbish, as those who pave your roads and fix that which you have broken and discarded.  Even as you deny our position in the world, as you work to “include” us beyond the Decade of Roma Inclusion and beyond, what you refuse to see is that the problem has never been with our inclusion –that is too mild, too inoffensive a word to describe the offenses that have been carried out against us—but rather with the racism, segregation and violence; the genocide and mass murder; the exploitative and extractive practices to which we have consistently been subject.  You have benefitted from such exclusions, from such practices, from the violence –even as you may not have carried it out—and from the exoticisation of our culture, of our subject positions, in order to secure your employment, your riches, your sense of superiority, your sense of your own cultural richness.

We refuse your cultural apartheid.  We refuse your cultural imperialism.  We refuse your fantasies about our pathologies, our sexuality, our music, and our culture.  We will stop providing you with images to feed that fantasy, ones that have benefitted you materially and culturally, but which are testimonies to the ways in which you extract, appropriate, manipulate –in fact, steal– our culture.  You work to represent us, you work to manage us, govern us –to deal with that which is, ultimately, your “Gypsy Problem,” making for us what becomes a “Gadje Problem,” marked by racist violence, racialised representation, and cultural, social and economic appropriation.  We refuse:  we refuse this representation, the cultural theft and exploitation that has been carried out against us in the name of that which is interesting, that which is exotic, in the name of our Otherness.  From this moment on, we will call it what it is:  Gadje representations of, fantasies of, manipulations of Gypsy-ness.

I repeat: we call for an end to cultural apartheid, to cultural appropriation.  We call for solidarity amongst the oppressed.  We call for a renewal of blackness, for thinking about its possibilities when Romani people are taken into account.  For we, too, are Black. We have varying skin tones, eye colour, hair colour and textures –but we are Black.  It is one of the names that we call ourselves, in our language: Kale/Kala/Kalo/Kali.  They all mean black.  You, in turn, often refer to us by racial slurs, by epithets that signify our blackness:  Gypsy, Zigeuner, Tsigan, Zigan, Cigano.  These are markers of our blackness imposed from the outside, as is the systematic discrimination, segregation, violence and appropriation to which we have been subject for centuries, and, in the current moment, with ever-increasing force and frequency, in ways that are ever-more threatening to our continued survival.

It is time to reclaim our blackness in order to work in solidarity with other people of colour, with Black people world-wide, with those formerly colonised, exploited, enslaved –those who have had parallel histories and whose labour, culture, whose very beings have been subjected to racist violence and appropriation.  It is time to renew the mandate of blackness, as a supplement to and contestation of the discourse of Human Rights –which has not achieved what it needed to with regard to the Romani people, has not brought us into the category of the human, has allowed for violence, killing, segregation and attempted genocide to blossom even as it works to include us in the category of the human.  We are human.  We are Black. We are Romani. We are women, men, children. We are parents, children, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents. We are everyone. We are queer. We are beautiful. We claim our identity –in all of its complexity, multiplicity, beauty, unity—as a way into politics.

Into another politics. A politics beyond the Gadje problem. A politics of hope. A politics of Romanofuturo.

We claim nationhood without aspiring to the hierarchy of the nation-state; nor do we aspire to the tyranny of the border or the imperative to empire that are part of the legacy of Europe, embodied in the current system of nation-states.  We claim the right to public space – to be in public, to be part of the public, to contribute to the public good and to lay claim upon the public good as citizens.  We claim a right to homes, a right to place, to encampments and neighbourhoods that are not on toxic waste sites.  We demand access to non-segregated schools, to equal education, to adequate educational facilities and to appropriate curricula.  We claim the right to live in health and safety, to security, to protection by the state and its law enforcement; we claim the right to health care.  We claim gender equity, gender equality, and we demand a post-Auschwitz sexuality that is free of forced sterilisation, that allows us to identify in whatever way we choose, that provides a security of life, livelihood and education for all members of our families, that promotes the flourishing of our girls alongside our boys.  We claim equal access to employment and an end of discrimination in the labour market; we claim the safety nets of the welfare state and the labour union.  We demand the freedom to cross borders and the ability to settle without fear of expulsion and deportation.  We claim security from racist violence, demand safety from ultranationalist killings.  We claim restitution for the centuries of enslavement, for the numerous anti-Roma, anti-Egyptian, anti-Gypsy laws that have been on the books throughout Europe, throughout our existence here; we claim recognition of and reparations for those killed by the Nazis and their allies. We claim freedom.

Berlin is ours. Istanbul is ours.  Lety is ours:  even under the pig farm, our bones are mixed with the soil of Europe.  Sofia is ours. Milan is ours. London, Paris, Belgrade, and Frankfurt are ours. We belong to Shutka, Budapest, Amsterdam, New York and Buenos Aires. Europe is ours. We are Europe; we claim the persecution we have faced, the millennium of violence and exclusion, extraction and enslavement. We claim Europe. We claim the city. We claim the world. We claim our place, our history, our future. We claim Romanofuturo. Romanofuturo is everyone’s future. Freedom for us is freedom for all.

Maria Lugones, “Toward a Decolonial Feminism,” Hypatia (4), Fall 2010: 745.