We don’t understand that our indifference is racism

Katerina SidonovaPrague
I have been interested in the Romany problem for more than twelve years. My friends and the people around me don’t understand why.
Most Czech people tend to look at the Roma as something unpleasant. They always say, "I am no racist.” And “Yes, Roma are people too.” But: “I don’t like Gypsies. I don’t understand why they live the way they do.” And the conclusion is: “They should assimilate and be like us.”
I wonder what makes the members of the majority think that their style of living, their mentality, and their habits are the best?
There is a lot of prejudice in our country. People have no experience of Roma. Of course, they meet them in the street, and they read about them in the newspaper – but that’s all.
The saddest fact is that we Czechs are not interested in other people living in our country. And we don’t understand that our indifference is racism.
We think that we cannot be accused of being racist. We think that being racist means to hate and humiliate another nation.
When you tell an ordinary Czech that most Romany children attend special schools for mentally retarded children, he doesn’t care. It is none of his business.
When you tell him that Roma have very few opportunities to obtain higher or university education he just shrugs and answers: “Roma don’t want to be educated. If they did, they would struggle for it.”
We Czechs don’t see the obstacles and barriers that Roma have to overcome when they want to be taken as equals.
And we Czechs don’t understand why Roma emigrate. We see no reason for the Romany exodus from this country.
How do the Roma feel when the state does nothing against a group of people who want to wipe out their nation? How can they feel safe when the police protect skinheads?
Most Czechs would tell you: “Theseracial attacks are very rare. How many Gypsies did the skinheads kill? One? Two?”
When you hear such a response, you feel desperate. What can be done to make people think differently?
The Stories Exchange Project gives people a chance to get to know more about people who live next door: the Roma. I believe that better understanding leads to tolerance and respect and that sharing stories is the best way of making people understand each other.
That is why I find the Stories Exchange Project very valuable for this post-Communist country. We have to recover. We have to overcome our egoism and indifference. Getting in touch with the Romany culture and mentality is a step forward on the path to mutual understanding and respect.
I started to cooperate with the Stories Exchange Project in the winter of 2000. I am very happy that I am having an opportunity to participate – and not only because I think the project is important for my country.
I have learned a lot during the months that I have been working in the project, and I am still learning. I didn’t have a chance to get the education I yearned for because my father was a dissident. I could not study English at the university. Since I didn’t have formal education, I didn’t dare ask for work as a translator.
The director and staff of the Stories Exchange Project have encouraged me a great deal, and have helped me to gain confidence. Now I am able to do the work that makes me happy.
I bought a computer and learned how to operate it – and so did my three children. I got acquainted with the Internet. This was a big step forward for my whole family.
My life has changed completely.
[You can read – and respond to! – more from Katerina in the menu Being Yourself, “I am Katerina.”]

One Response to “We don’t understand that our indifference is racism”

  1. Thank you for your comments. I am very intrigued by the discussion, I live in Canada. We have an interesting parallel; the Native people of Canada are treated the same way that Roma are treated in Europe. I do believe that Indifference is the worst type of racism, it shows how inhuman we are still, our evolution is stunted by our own ego, which tells us that we need to be right and to reject anything that is different. My family immigrated from several different countries in Europe, and part of my ancestry is that of Roma, however, I have little knowledge of the culture. I do find it interesting that my entire family is very progressive in helping those who are persecuted in our Country of Canada.

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