Struggles against racism and discrimination get a lot of publicity when they are oriented in terms of white Northerners subordinating another group within or outside the Global North. The attention is predictable in light of the history of imperialism, the global political and economic power of North America and the European Union, and the racism experienced by various groups within those regions. The case of the Dalits in India -- historically known in the USA and Canada as the "untouchables" -- opens up the categories of discrimination to an integral analysis that includes caste, class and race.
They call them "gypsies," "gitanes," "tziganes," "ciganes," "nomadi" -- and sometimes such nasty epithets as thieves, pickpockets, vagrants and "inadaptables" (a favourite term in the Czech Republic).
They are the Roma, Europe's perennially unwelcome minority.
They are shunned just about everywhere on the continent, whether in Hungary or Spain, the Balkans or Iberia, the Mediterranean or Scandinavia.
Historians and anthropologists say they migrated from Rajasthan, in India, more than a thousand years ago.
In India, the Roma had been itinerant musicians, performers, merchants -- and sometimes slaves -- and they carried on some of those traditional occupations in their new lands.
This article, first published in 1999, was taken from rabble.ca's vaults in time for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21.
It's several weeks after Black History Month; have you checked your racial awareness recently?
A few years ago a group of us went on a visit to "Ile de Gorée" -- the island was a sunlit 20-minute ferry ride off the coast of Dakar, Senegal. When reaching the shore, my first impression was that we had reached a tropical oasis: brightly coloured pink, brown and yellow buildings, children running along the dock, and vendors selling carved, rotund, wooden hippos. Within a 15-minute walk we came to a church and the guide informed us in elegant French, "In 1992 Pope John Paul II came here and asked for forgiveness."