I mustn’t become white

Zdenka SvobodovaJuly 2000
Milan H. is a tall and well-built young Romany man. He is twenty-six, and works as a policeman in a town in Central Bohemia. I recorded this story while we were sitting in the kitchen of the council flat where he lives with his wife, who is white. At his request I am not giving you his full name or the name of the town where he lives and works.
“I come from a family that is more or less integrated into Czech society. My parents have only completed elementary school, and they have had to work very hard all their lives. They wanted my sister and me to have a better life, and raised us quite strictly, demanding that we do our best in school. They didn’t even teach us the Romany language: they were afraid that it would get us into trouble. Though we did mange to learn some Romany from our relatives and their children.
Throughout elementary school I was the only Rom in my class. I have to say that no one ever gave me grief, neither the other children nor the teachers.
That was true too of the the vocational secondary school where I went afterwards. Sure I got into plenty of boys’ fights, but that wasn’t about my being a Rom.
It’s true that sometimes somebody would call me ‘black Gyppo’ or another name, and then I would either have it out with them myself or my friends would help me. Or I’d just ignore it.
I didn’t have any serious trouble either when I did my military service.
After that I worked in the building industry for some time. Then I had enough, and started looking for something else. Fortunately I didn’t have any difficulty finding work. As a Rom who had finished secondary school, I was seen as exotic: it’s possible that I was often hired just because I made people curious. Anyway, I tried my hand at various jobs.
Then I got married and started looking for a steadier, more reliable job. When I learned that the police were recruiting, I applied, passed all the interviews, and was hired.
When I started working as a policeman, my colleagues were curious too and didn’t really trust me. Of all the places I had worked, the station was where I had to spend the most time and effort proving what I was worth. Czech policemen think of Roms as parasites and criminals.
But I think that by now everything has been sorted out, and that my colleagues respect me. I hope that knowing me has made my colleagues change their minds about other Roms as well.
There are still just a few Romany policemen in the Czech Republic. Hopefully this will change when the people in power understand that this would be one way of dealing with the so-called Romany question.
I don’t want to boast, but Roms respect me more than white policemen – and I know who they are: I’m one of them. And in order to keep their trust and respect I have to remain one of them. I mustn’t become white.
At the moment I’m sort of a hero for local kids because I catch ‘bad people.’ I want to be a positive role model for them – and for their parents.
As for the Czechs, I want to prove to them that Roms can do good things too.”

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