Race is a feminist issue

// 23 July 2008

The Roma girls bodies on the beach

This is the picture that has to give us pause for thought. It shows the towel covered dead bodies of two Roma girls, Cristina, aged 16, and Violetta, 14, whilst Italian crowds sunbathe around them.

As the Independent has said, it prompts us to rethink the treatment of Roma throughout Europe. But there is also a gender element – these are girl children and they are girl children from a minority group in the population.

Four girls apparently went into the water, two were rescued by private life-guards from a neighbouring beach. No-one on the beach closest appears to have done anything to help when the girls got into trouble in strong currents. Civil Liberties group, EveryOne has questioned whether the Roma girls would have voluntarily entered the water – initially they had gone down to the beach to hawk goods to the day-trippers.

A statement from the group said: “Two young Roma would never have left their scant merchandise for ‘a refreshing dip’ in the waves. Two Gypsy girls would never have gone bathing in full view of everyone because of the modesty that is one of their distinguishing characteristics.”

The Guardian

Not least because the drownings happened outside of Naples where a Roma encampment was recently burnt down to the ground and the inhabitants had to be evacuated (More at Buzzle). And because Italy’s president has recently imposed manditory fingerprinting for all Roma peoples, including children, and Roma children are routinely forced into “special” schools.

Al-Jezera were one of the first to report the incident, and the only to carry a quote from Violetta and Cristina’s family

A female relative of the girls, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “How could it be that no one helped? I hope God punishes you and I hope God curses you for the rest of your life.”

Al Jazeera

Edited to correct spelling. Thanks for the corrections lovely readers!

Comments From You

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 23 July 2008 at 11:22 am

This is terrible – incredibly sad.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 23 July 2008 at 2:02 pm

it is so sad. when i was in slovakia people seemed to have no problem pointing at a roma person and saying shes a gypsy when showing me around (the otherwise beautiful and friendly) poprad and surrounding area. i was quite embarrassed that she was happy to embrace the stereotypes out loud so easily, and pretty irritated at the attitude. she informed me there were 2 kinds. the working kind and the non-working kind that scrounge. of course half of them arent in work! most of the people dont give them the time of day in interviews. if they got into trouble with the police at any point in life rebelling or feeding the family theres just no way. the couple that spoke to us were shouting lewd insults but to be honest thats no different to here! im sure there are a lot of slovakians that arent so judgmental because they are very nice and community based and forward-thinking in every other way it seemed. having had hungary place a genocide on them and the nazis on the jews there i was surprised though.

i know there are still quite a few places that arent used to ethnic minorities. in the deaf miss world the ukraine (i think) was talking about how the black contestants walked and smelled. another contestant explained this to the girls thinking this was being helpful to explain why all the white girls were avoiding them. i dont think it is an accurate record of what most people there are like by any means.

its shocking to see somewhere like italy, which had seemed like quite a “forward” country having people happily sitting by dead bodies. they arent at war, its not normal! i think you would have to de-humanise them a hell of a lot. i wouldnt be happy sat next to a dead cat!

do you know the percentage of the country that wanted the romas to be dealt with by the new politician? it was quite high. it was to have them all registered i think and maybe get rid of some. its disgusting you would do that by race.

i hate generalising countries but its really hard not to when you see normal citizens ignoring 2 young dead girls. i hope that the more empathetic italians have the courage to stand by the roma because i know a lot of places dont pay attention to them unless they are doing something that upsets them.

ConservaTory // Posted 23 July 2008 at 2:07 pm

I read about this on the BBC website a couple of days ago and was absolutely disgusted. I’d really like to protest the treatment of the Roma by the Italian government but I don’t really know where to go with it other than writing to my MP. Anyone know of anything happening?

BrevisMus // Posted 23 July 2008 at 2:13 pm

(I think you mean ‘Roma’ – as in Gypsy – encampment, rather than ‘Roman’ – as in ancient Italian. When I first read this I thought that some ancient site had been burned by arsonists and the girls had been deliberately drowned in retaliation)

Ellie // Posted 23 July 2008 at 3:28 pm

ConservaTory I was wondering the same thing, I definitely going to start writing to my MP and MEP about this but I haven’t heard of any demo’s outside the Italian embassy or anything.

Anna // Posted 23 July 2008 at 3:45 pm

And so we find ourselves here again – on the slide to fascism.. did six million dead last time really mean that little?

I despair, I really do.

Sian // Posted 23 July 2008 at 3:54 pm


The european parliament have already passed a resolution condemning the new fingerprinted fiasco in Italy; but nevertheless writing to your MEP might be a good idea to double check they supported the resolution (the ratio was something like 300:200).

You can find out who your MEP is here.

Renee // Posted 23 July 2008 at 4:26 pm

Incidents like this continue to happen and daily the media is quick to push the message that we are living in a post-racial world, tell that to those two poor dead girls. The way that we talk about racism may have changed but it is alive and ever present in every aspect of our social discourse.

Shea // Posted 23 July 2008 at 9:30 pm

Romanies seem an especially “invisible” minority. They way they are talked about and treated in this country is equally disgusting. If any other ethnic group were treated that callously there would be an outcry. There is still a huge lack of acknowledgement in Italy (lets not forget that this country never actually disbanded its facist party post Mussolini), here and Europe as a whole of the ethnic cleansing perpetrated against the Roma up to and during WW2.

This sadly doesn’t surprise me at all. I encounter similar, seemingly “acceptable” racism against Roma everyday, even as a WoC.

last king of scotland // Posted 24 July 2008 at 10:06 am

There is no gender element to this. It would not have changed a thing if the children were boys except that the author would not have bothered to write about it.

Mrs Boggins // Posted 24 July 2008 at 10:34 am

I think this is symptomatic of the attitude towards Roma and travellers in general in Western society.

Racism against travellers is one of the few “acceptable” forms of racism left. I work in a school and the comments that sometimes come out of teachers’ mouths astound me. If they substitued “black” for “traveller”/[chosen derogatory term meaning the same] then there would be gasps of horror.

I don’t understnad why this is so, but suspect it is because of cultural differences that so few non-traveller people understand.

I for one hope for a day when travellers, and indeed everyone regardless of ethnicity or sexuality can expect the same treatment and respect as everyone else.

chem_fem // Posted 24 July 2008 at 12:11 pm

Mrs Boggins, I totally agree. Muslims and Roma seem to be immune from racism to some people. The idea being if you don’t say black, then you can say anything you want about other ethnic groups and it isn’t racist.

It makes me so angry that when I try to pick people up on it, I get my words in a twist :(

Laurel Dearing // Posted 24 July 2008 at 1:07 pm

i think a lot of the people that say things about travellers/gypsies as opposed to roma specifically (i dont know if gypsy is the usual word to use or if it can be used as something derogatory so tell me if it is the latter) are because people feel that as they arent paying mortgage they are somehow screwing the system. people assume the ones that do rent the land must be stealing, when most would probably be happy to do odd jobs if they get the chance or proper work if they are sticking around. honestly i think in a lot of cases people are jealous that they arent traveling around and not feeling the need to buy TV licences and mortgages, and that they are too wrapped up in materialistic things to start now. personally i am. but i certainly dont envy their treatment. thats a disgrace.

apparently my great-great grandparents were “gypsies.” not of Romany descent but travelers all the same. i dont understand why we can be so judgmental of a lifestyle choice that many of us take a year out to do ourselves, working a lot less! i already said thoughts on the racism above. not ignoring it here as such.

Sarah // Posted 24 July 2008 at 1:50 pm

One thing that I’ve noticed is some supposedly progressive people, presumably in a misguided attempt to avoid racism, say they have no problem with the ‘real’ Roma, but have plenty of hate and bigotry to spare for other ‘travellers’. Often these travellers are of Irish origin, so I suspect there’s some anti-Irish prejudice tied in with it. I wonder if there’s also a bit of unintentional racism or at least biological determinism by which it’s considered OK for the Roma to have the lifestyle they do because they’re ‘naturally’ inclined to do so, but everyone else should know better and behave properly.

I don’t mean to detract from the real prejudice and racism affecting the Roma people, just pointing out this twist on the issue I have seen.

Holly Combe // Posted 24 July 2008 at 2:43 pm

Laurel said: …People feel that as they aren’t paying a mortgage they are somehow screwing the system… I think in a lot of cases people are jealous that they aren’t travelling around and not feeling the need to buy TV licences and mortgages, and that they are too wrapped up in materialistic things to start now.

Hear hear. I totally agree with the comments that much of the horrible prejudice against people labelled simply as “travellers” partly stems from jealousy of their freedom and the ridiculous notion that they are somehow not entitled to it. As Sarah says, the critics basically think “everyone else” (i.e those who are not accepted as exceptions to the rule) “should know better and behave properly” so I’d say it partly serves as a way to make sure the majority of people stay in line. We are duped into living like rats on a wheel when, actually, we might be better off becoming travellers, not bound by the usual ties the government wants us to fall in love with in order to make sure we keep “busy” and “out of trouble” (eg: the “need” to get on the property ladder).

I say it’s all a conspiracy! The system, as we know it, actually needs a society of conformists who hate travellers.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 24 July 2008 at 3:10 pm

they get seen as scroungers that dont give anything to the community, but they dont really take much from it apart from the nhs (which i think people are entitled to regardless even if tax is a little irritating, but we who pay can afford that. we would all, i hope CHOOSE to pay for that) and if their children are in school, in which case id imagine most of them would start working as they are sticking in one place, providing people let them. i dont see a huge problem. When the roma are discriminated against it is because they are seen as scrounging, even when they arent travelers, which is why they have so much trouble getting jobs. i think yeah some of them dont bother trying after a while, but tbh i bloody wouldnt either.

Davina // Posted 24 July 2008 at 5:05 pm

And another thing that makes me feel sick. Whatever happened to humanity? How can you fucking sunbathe when there are two dead girls right next to you?

Note to chem_fem: Muslims aren’t a race or an ethnic group…as in, they’re not all brown.

Louise Livesey // Posted 25 July 2008 at 8:42 am

Actually I would but you obviously know my mind better than I do. Wait why I am reminded of this all of a sudden? Oh yes, it’s a man telling me what I do and don’t think again!

chem_fem // Posted 25 July 2008 at 10:03 am

Davina – to be a part of an ethnic group you don’t have to be of one race. An ethnic group can be a group of people who share race, religion or culture.

To be racist you don’t have to be prejudiced towards another race. I can be racist about a member of another European country even though they may share my race.

The OED said so…

Davina // Posted 30 July 2008 at 11:50 pm

chem_fem – not my OED:

ethnic: of or relating to a group of people having a common national or cultural tradition.

I just don’t think all Christians can be called an ethnic group, or all Buddhists or all Muslims or all Hindus – seeing as you can have common national/cultural traditions, but many religions within one nation.

I think ‘ethnic’ is a word that has been terribly skewed which is why I don’t like using it.

Anyhows, this is terribly off-topic.

chem_fem // Posted 31 July 2008 at 8:56 am

I think it is just a different perspective rather than a disagreement over facts.

I very much think that Christians can be classed as an ethnic group. We don’t refer to them as such in the UK because they are seen as a majority (rightly or wrongly) and people don’t tend to think of a majority as a group.

I think as an atheist I tend to look at religion as a culture. As for the national aspect, country borders change so much over time that I don’t think it is unusual for there to be many ethnic groups in one country. In fact I find it hard to understand why people form a group based just on nationality when a nationality holds many cultures – whether they are based in religion or not.

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