Anti-Roma racism is a historical product of European modernity
Cayetano Fernández is researcher at the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra and member of the pioneer decolonial Roma organization Kale Amenge, which in Romani language means “Roma for ourselves”. Kale Amenge aims to put an end to the integrationist policies, thus, seek political autonomy and the emancipation of the Roma people. We talked to him about anti-Gypsyism, political anti-racism and the union of racialized communities.
What is Kale Amenge? What do you do?
Kale Amenge is a Roma political organization that, from independent and a decolonial perspective, works for the emancipation of our people. Most of us come from different political experiences and from different areas and trends of the left. In the end, what brings us all together is a double frustration: the frustration of seeing how the ideology of integration has dominated an entire system of NGOs created to function as the colonial administration of our people and, on the other hand, the frustration that the anti-Roma racism is not understood or confronted in the left-wing parties and organizations. This made us to take a step outside these structures and decide to build Kale Amenge with a clear objective: Roma political emancipation and autonomy. To build a space where we can stop being tied down by these logics of integration and start building models of emancipation from the perspective of political anti-racism.
Which elements do Roma from different parts of the world share?
With the intention to divide us, white academics have put a lot of emphasis on trying to fragment those elements that are common to us, such as our culture, historical origin and language. A lot has been written about that. However, this view has ignored an element shared by all Roma people, and which for me is the most important one: political positionality, that is to say, the social embodiment of that position that the gadje’s view has created about what it means to be Roma in order to be able to ideally construct themselves as the opposite, as the white, civilized, saviour, rational man, etc., within the dominant logic of modernity. In fact, the way in which the gadje’s narratives are constructed about the Roma coincide in essence in the different countries of Europe, and this is precisely because what accompanies this process is the ‘invention’ of the European white man, this fiction through which the gadje society thinks of itself.
“With the intention to divide us, white academics have put a lot of emphasis on trying to fragment those elements that are common to us, such as our culture, historical origin and language. A lot has been written about that. However, this view has ignored an element shared by all Roma people, and which for me is the most important one: political positionality, that is to say, the social embodiment of that position that the gadje’s view has created about what it means to be Roma”
How does the traditional image of the Roma in Spanish society affect you?
The current image is the heir to that historical construction that originated within the margins of European modernity, which allows a European or Spanish man today to think of himself as he does of his social and political position. In history we can trace numerous examples and they all have the same purpose, the dehumanisation of the Romani people and their essentialist link to the idea of a barbaric people, without culture, without political capacity or agency, etc. In short, what has been called gypsy history, which is written by gadje, is not the history of our ancestors, rather, is the self-reflection of the gadje on themselves. Somehow, they need to create a counter example to educate their children in what they don’t have to be. This idea of the Roma is going to encompass all the frustrations and all the fears of gadje epistemology as well as the social institutions built on it.
All of this gives rise to numerous stereotypes and prejudices insofar as it generates an image of the Romani as not humans enough, but, above all, what it generates is the validation of Antigypsyism as a system of domination that is no longer based on individual stereotypes or prejudices but on the structure that supports the very construction of the State and its institutions. And at the same time, this system of domination based on race is generated, what I call the “ideology of integration” is generated as the only model of solution, which gives rise to a whole series of mechanisms of control and domination of our people. From the very spatial distribution, the creation of ghettos in the Spanish State, the prison system, the school system, etc..
So what is anti-gypsyism?
Anti-Gypsyism is a race-based system of domination that has historical roots in modernity and that obeys the construction of the European white man as the model of humanity, thus dehumanizing all others. As Roma, we are considered as not humans enough, therefore, we are denied this political capacity of self-determination and, at the same time, to close the circle, this serves as a justification for the implementation of an “ideology of integration” that seeks to “civilize” us within what they consider to be civilization. That is why, the battle against anti-Gypsyism cannot be limited to trying to change prejudices or certain misconceptions in the minds of the gadje, but to understand that this system of domination is rooted in the State itself and its institutions. In other words, the problem is not that there are racist teachers, police, judges or social workers, the problem is that the educational, judicial and prison systems, etc. are all built on the basis of anti-gypsyism. Anti-gypsyism is mainly state racism.
“Anti-Gypsyism is a race-based system of domination that has historical roots in modernity and that obeys the construction of the European white man as the model of humanity, thus dehumanizing all others.”
What does the Spanish state owe the Roma people?
The main debt is the question of historical reparation and the recognition of our collective rights. No policy of historical reparation towards our people is being negotiated yet. The Great Round-up, which took place on 30 July 1749, was the first attempt to exterminate the Romany people and not the Second World War. That same night, children over 7 years old were separated from their mothers, mothers were imprisoned in convents and different places, men were sent to do forced labor with the idea that they would all die and Roma would be extinguished. The solution to the Roma problem was to exterminate us. All of these kinds of things have to be taken into account when implementing policies of historical reparation that do justice and that, in some way, take into account the situation in which the Roma people find themselves today, excluded, impoverished and so on. It is a product of this whole historical process. Instead of recognizing all this, what is often done is to blame us. Racism is therefore a historical product of European modernity that requires reparation and political measures to be able to confront it. As I was saying, this is not a question of having prejudice against us, but rather, it is the very structure of the State that is built within these racist logics and, therefore, changing all of this requires a radical political project, in the sense that it goes to the root of the problem.
What is the current struggle and resistance of the Roma, what do the new generations of Roma have to contribute?
One of the main battles in which we are immersed is that of building our own political autonomy, breaking with all those decades of integrationism that have been imposed on us, breaking with all the welfarism and paternalism that has been created by the state itself through ngo´s tentacles. Many of these NGOs play the role of the Roma colonial administration today and are responsible for the depoliticization of our struggle. We have to leave aside all that structure and all the fascination for that world and trust in ourselves and our independence. It’s about building political autonomy. Among other things that’s why we built Kale Amenge, it’s necessary to break conceptually and politically with the white’s narratives and also to get out of the political spaces of the gadje, we need to create our own structures and political tools. Above all, to defend our own political agenda outside of the racist structures of the State and the gadje’s political parties that serve as their accomplices. Roma political autonomy and our self-determination are impossible to achieve within gadje’s organizations immersed in a structurally racist system.
You share spaces of struggle with other racialized communities, what elements unite you?
From the beginning of Kale Amenge our objective was to build this political space of Roma autonomy and also to use this to contribute to the creation of a racialized political subject in the Spanish state. From the beginning we have been working closely with groups of African descendants, Muslims, migrants, etc., with the idea of building this space. Our collective rights as Roma are violated every day in this country and our collective political agenda is pushed to the margins of the political debate. However, we have to understand that within this marginality we are not alone, we share this same space with people of African descent, with Muslims, with migrants, etc. And if our common project is to end the domination of the white man and to remove him from that pedestal where European modernity has placed him, our objective is not to remove that subject in order to place another one because then we would be reproducing the same logics. It is a matter of destroying that pedestal in order to build a new world and this forces us to set in motion a series of alliances, we have to stop looking upwards and start looking sideways and realize that our struggles have a lot to do with it. The fact that we are ignored of the history of this country has a lot to do with the fact that the existence of the slave trade that existed in Spain is ignored and everything that supposed and continues to suppose the Spanish colonial legacy, even with the same immigration law. Elements like these are what we believe should serve as the basis for an anti-racist agenda and alliances between the racialized, which are the alliances that we consider natural.
What does it mean today to build political anti-racism, where would this construction go?
It is clear that there can be no project of anti-racist rupture without creating a common agenda and an autonomous structure that brings together the racialized initiatives that militate in political anti-racism. It is a question of putting race and racism at the center of our analysis and, from there, building a coherent political proposal. The phase of confronting moral anti-racism is more or less being overcome, somehow, we are managing to refocus the anti-racist struggle on the real problem, the racism embedded in the very structures of the State. That was the first battle, now it is necessary to take steps forward and consciously assume that the autonomy required by political anti-racism is incompatible with complicity with the white agenda and with dependence on its structures and conceptual tools.
“There can be no project of anti-racist rupture without creating a common agenda and an autonomous structure that brings together the racialized initiatives that militate in political anti-racism.”
This is where the construction of political anti-racism goes. Obviously, the construction of these autonomous structures and the common agenda of political anti-racism are complex tasks, which do not arise spontaneously, but require the militant effort and political commitment of racialized groups. However, the fact that it is not a simple task does not make it less indispensable, nor less urgent. Any other task or alliance is meaningless in the face of the urgency of building the autonomous organization of political anti-racism that is capable of developing the emancipatory aspirations of the racialized independently and without falling into the traps of the agenda, times and conditions of the white. This task has become even more urgent after the last elections and the rise of the extreme right, which is of double concern to us, both because of Vox’s openly racist agenda and because of the white tendency to see racism only in the extreme right. The ‘racist’ for our people is not exclusively the extreme right-wing hooligan, most often in the form of a judge, professor, police officer, social worker or in any other respectable form endorsed by the values of the major society. For us, the current political cycle does not begin with Vox’s irruption, it began more than 500 years ago.
*The original interview conducted by Elena García for El Salto is in spanish language and can be found in the following link: