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The Romani, also known as Romany, Roma, Rom, "Gypsies," Manouche, Tsigane or Kale are an ethnic group primarily found in Europe. Romani, an Indo-Aryan language, is their traditional mother tongue.

The Romani are a frequent target of racism. About a million Roma perished in the Holocaust; a greater proportion of Europe's Romani were killed than Europe's Jews, and the Romani were totally wiped out in several countries.[1] Romani were also targeted in communist countries for forced sterilization to lower their birthrate.[2] Racism against the Roma people is sometimes called "antiziganism" (from the German Zigeuner, literally meaning "Gypsy"), but the term has been criticised because it incorporates an anti-Roma slur.


The proper name for these people is "Romani." Most people know them as "gypsies." "Gypsy" is derived from "Egypt," based on a misnomer that came from the 16th century, when it was incorrectly thought that the Romani originated in Egypt; hence many Romani consider the term "gypsy" to be derogatory. Linguistic and genetic evidence suggests that the Romani migrated away from northern or northwest India around 1,500 years ago.[2][3] The Romani arrived in the Balkans roughly 900 years ago and migrated throughout the continent from there.[4]

The term can also be confusing, since other travelling communities are often referred to as "gypsies" (with or without a capital letter), including Irish Travellers (also 'pavees', or pejoratively known as 'pikeys' or 'tinkers',[5] most of whom are not ethnically Romani) and sometimes "New Age travellers" (including hippies and other drop-outs from mainstream white society[6]). These communities also often suffer prejudice and economic disadvantage despite their different origins.[7]

Traditions and stereotypes[edit]

Romani camp in Poland, painted 1884.

Romani communities have often been nomadic, living on the road in caravans — conventionally horse-drawn wooden wagons, which can still be seen in parts of Eastern Europe, or else modern mobile homes — and moving their camp from place to place, providing seasonal migrant labour and cash-in-hand work, as well as itinerant trades such as mending household goods, selling various crafts, horse trading, and fortune-telling. They are also widely associated with petty crime, and this has often been used as an excuse to justify persecution or expulsion of Romani. The popular image of Romani as rambunctious and superstitious travelling folk is ingrained in Western popular culture, especially the common portrayal of female Romani fortune-tellers, and small children who turn out to be expert pickpockets. Some more modern stereotypes about Roma are that they live either as beggars or collecting scrap, lack any desire to be helped by social services or to send their children to school, take justice into their own hands, and in general that they have no desire to integrate or merge with non-Roma people, meaning that they frown on marrying outside of their group.

Romani settlement in France, 1980s.

In November 2016 Clackamas County Sheriff's Office in Oregon received complaints for hosting a class titled "Without Mercy: Criminal Gypsies/Travelers & the Elderly," taught by retired detective Gary Nolte, with "FACT"s (and loaded language) like:

FACT: Criminal gypsies/travelers make an estimated $17B/annually and don't pay taxes.
FACT: The victims are the elderly 97% of the time.
FACT: The Pacific Northwest is remarkably close to a large Traveler base.
FACT: There are 5 major clans in North America, not just one.
FACT: The criminal Travelers/Gypsies have targeted the Pacific Northwest for decades.

Nolte has consulted police departments across the country. According to Megan Ahern, leader of Lolo Diklo: Romani Against Racism, the stereotypes perpetuated are so bad that, "the only time it is safe to be 'gypsy' is on Halloween".[8]

Some Romani communities follow a traditional belief system which is loosely derived from Hinduism and so dates back to the Romani's origins in India. Other Romani communities tend to be either Christian or Islamic, owing to European or Middle Eastern cultural influences.

Romani refer to their own language as "Romanes" or "Romani Chib," which means "the Romani language."[9] Today, there are about 3-5 million speakers of the Romani language in eastern and central Europe.


The Holocaust[edit]

Anywhere from 200,000 to 1.5 million Roma were exterminated by the Nazis during the Holocaust. While this fact is often forgotten or simply not publicized, as a proportion of their overall population more Roma were killed than Jews. Roma were considered "enemies of the race-based state" under the Nuremburg laws, placing them on the same level as Jews in the eyes of the Nazi regime. Roma were forced into ghettos (often shared with Jews) and later deported en masse to the concentration camps. Racial extermination of Roma began in 1937 and continued to the end of the war. This was known as the Porajmos or Pharrajimos in Romani.

2016 Bulgarian anti-Roma protests[edit]

In 2016, a Bulgarian was run over by a relative of an alleged Roma crime boss. In response, over 2000 people in many cities in Bulgaria went to the streets to protest against the Roma and the criminal activity which they as a whole supposedly engaged in, with some chanting slogans like "Gypsies into glue!"[10][11][12] Of course, the fact that protestors focused on the Roma is ironic, given that the Bulgarian mafiaWikipedia is very much a thing. According to the president of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, "Every town in Bulgaria has local crime bosses, be they Roma or ethnic Bulgarian[.] [...] The government has consistently failed to prosecute them."[12] Anti-criminal protests would have made sense. But protests exclusively aimed at Roma, giving non-Roma criminals a free pass? Not so much.

Italian camps[edit]

Italy has for many years kept large numbers of Roma living in separate camps, in squalid housing with few amenities. Amnesty International reported in 2013 that 4000 Roma were living in camps on the outskirts of Rome far from services, and Italy was running a discriminatory housing policy in contravention of European laws.[13] With the far-right Matteo Salvini of the Northern League becoming Interior Minister in 2018, things have grown even worse, with Roma stigmatised and abused as criminal and filthy; a 13-month-old Roma girl being shot with an air rifle in 2018; the demolition of Roma housing; and threats of mass deportations.[14][15]

Famous people of Romani descent[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. See the Wikipedia article on Porajmos.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Origin of the Romani People Pinned Down LiveScience
  3. On the road: Centuries of Roma history, BBC, 8 July 2009
  4. [Reconstructing the Population History of European Romani from Genome-wide Data] Current Biology. Volume 22, Issue 24, 18 December 2012, Pages 2342-2349
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Irish Travellers.
  6. See the Wikipedia article on New Age travellers.
  7. Discriminating against Gypsies and Travellers is 'common across Britain', report finds, Chris Green, The Independent, 9 March 2016
  8. "Gypsy' crime class raises questions about racial profiling", Lizzy Acker, The Oregonian, November 14, 2016
  9. BBC Voices: Romani
  12. 12.0 12.1 Matthew Brunwasser (September 27, 2011). "Anti-Roma Demonstrations Spread Across Bulgaria". 
  13. Italy: Roma segregation camps – a blight on the City of Rome, Amnesty International, October 2013
  14. Italy's war on the Roma, Jacobin Magazine, April 2019
  15. Salvini is escalating war on Italy’s Roma community by deploying soldiers, Open Democracy, 24 May 2019
  16. Matthew Sweet, "Was Charlie Chaplin a Gypsy"",The Guardian, 17 February 2011