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The African-American and Gypsies Cultural Relationship -

 Forged Through Hardships

by Chuck Todaro

Gypsy family      The Irish are the niggers of Europe… Say it loud. I'm black an' I'm proud, echoes a memorable quote of 90’s cinema* - but it’s a lie because the real “niggers” of Europe aren’t the Irish – that mark belongs to the detested Gypsies.

   Tsigan** – the East-European equivalent of Gypsy “which was a synonym for “slave” during the five and a half centuries of Gypsy slavery in that country (Romania), is as offensive for Romas as the word “nigger” is for African-Americans,” writes Roma scholar Ian Hancock.


     History of the Romani people is a series of expulsions beginning with an exodus out of India, across Persia into the Balkans till being swept to the edge of the European continent, over gangplanks, onto ships sending them to the Americas.  In the land of the Iron fisted ruler Prince Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula, the “undesirable” Gypsies were being systematically rounded up and enslaved.  Even the infamous Impaler who usually chose staking his prisoners preferred Gypsies with their heads on having brought back nearly 12,000 Gypsy slaves from campaigns in Bulgaria.  The Gypsy slaves - like the African slaves – were sold on the block to the highest bidder.

African American Slave Poster                                                                           Gypsy Slavce Auction Poster

     It is the slavery issue that begins the African-American and Roma association and molds many of the cultural similarities that follow. It starts with the propaganda around the plantation labeling the slaves as “soulless”, “talking animals”, helping to justify the lucrative trade against an increasing religious and political conscience declaring “all men created equal”. These derogatory images went viral, creeping into popular literature, stereotyping the African-American as a buffoon or the feared “black brute”.  Meanwhile, the Gypsies were being portrayed as flirtatious females, petty thieves, kidnappers of white babies, fortunetellers and pickpockets as seen in Caravaggio’s famous painting The Fortune Teller where the pretty Gypsy girl reading a young man’s palm slyly removes his ring.

             fortune teller
     While film and literature was spreading misconceptions and affecting the opinions of people who may never even have met a black man or brown skinned Gypsy, these negatives were also reaching the bottom ranks and subtly stigmatizing the slaves into accepting their subservient role.  Their dignity was taking a beating and stirring new feeling of either disdain of the oppressor or idolization which shows in the brewing tensions between field slaves and the better connected house servants, the so-called “Uncle Tom”, a term still thrown around today in ways of denigrating “too-much” assimilation. 


     The “self-hatred” phenomena spread through the Gypsy camp like a virus...



Tzigania Project is sadly no longer able to freely offer our exclusive research online due to plagiarism and other unconsented usage of our material.

 Our movement has always strongly believed in sharing objective truths of Roma history and culture as a means of combatting the abundance of misinformation and biased opinions feeding the stereotypes.

 Our excusive research is still freely available at our learning center locations. Contact us with ANY questions:


* The Commitments, 1991

** East European terms for Gypsy: tsigan = Romanian / cigany = Hungarian / 
Cigani = Serbian / tsingani = Greek / tsigani = Bulgarian / cigani = Croatian /
tsyganski = Russian / cygan = polish

*** John Hoyland, Historical Survey of the Customs Habits and
Present State of the Gypsies (London: York, 1816), p. 42