The understanding of the Gypsy identity among the non-Roma is vague, which usually results in prejudice. There are many reasons for that: …colour prejudice, specifically the association of darkness with sin; the exclusionary nature of Romani culture, which does not encourage intimacy with non-Roma and creates suspicion on the part of those excluded; fortune-telling, which inspired fear but had to be relied upon as a means of livelihood… the unchallenged function of the “gypsies” as a population upon which mainstream notions of immorality and lawlessness can be projected and thereby serve to define that mainstream’s own boundaries; the fact that Roma have no territorial, military, political, or economic strength and are therefore easily targetable as scapegoats because they cannot retaliate; and the fact that the “gypsy” persona has an - again unchallenged - ongoing function as a symbol of a simpler, freer time, a representation that is becoming more and more attractive in an increasingly complex and regimented world.
Ian Hancock, 1997, The Struggle for the Control of Identity © Transitions Vol. 4, No. 4 September, used by permission of the author
If the centuries between 1050CE and 1850 were ones that denied 'Gypsy' self-representation, the period since has seen an exponential growth in Romani re-presentation through the arts, culture, performance and literature. Simultaneously, a legitimating Romani perspective in opposition to the non–Romani, gorgio 'gaze' has emerged and been actualised.
The gorgio 'gaze' objectifies, disempowers and discourages self-advocacy and agency, whilst encouraging self-objectification, through co-option into a hierarchy of ‘races’, undermining capabilities and fragmenting Romani selves, through forcing people into occupying two, distinct metaphysical 'spaces'. Such metaphysical 'spaces' might be characterised by the Islamic conceptions of dar-ul Islam (the 'House of Peace' - Islam having the meaning here of 'tranquillity') and the dar-ul Harb (the 'House of War' or 'perpetual conflict and confrontation').
The continual disjunction between these two is at the heart of an internal conflict that individuals from minority ethnic communities in general, and Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers in particular, experience, living amongst majority societies as 'pariah' populations1.
'Photographs cannot create a moral position, but they can reinforce one — and can help build a nascent one… To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed… there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.'
Susan Sontag, On Photography