Georgiana Aldessa Lincan/ I am Roma and I feel privileged because I have white skin

Georgiana Aldessa Lincan is a 24 years old Roma feminist and activist, graduate of the
Master of Politics, Gender and Minorities within National University of Political Studies
and Public Administration in Bucharest. Since 2013 she has been active in E-RomnjaAssociation for Promoting Roma Women Rights. She has experience in grassroots activity with Roma women and Roma youth initiative groups, in community development,
advocacy and identity papers. Through her work she wants to open up opportunities and
to encourage Roma girls and women to become leaders and do what they like.

 

Even though I am part of a marginalized Roma community in Mizil, I nevertheless have white skin. Most of the time I can pass as “gadjie” (non-Roma).

I am Roma, from a “traditional” Roma community in Mizil. From the age of six months until I was eighteen years old, I was raised by grandmother whose only source of income were my uncle’s disability pensions. I was supported by different people throughout my life, both financially as well as spiritually, until I completed my Master’s degree in political science.

I have been working for E-Romnja for six years – The Association for the Promotion of Roma Women’s Rights. Through this work I try to offer to Roma women growing up in similar communities the same support I received.

As a Roma woman coming from a very precarious community, I can say that the access to education is not only dependent on your will to achieve something in your life, but also on an entire context: the parents’ mentality, the family’s financial situation, the home environment, the educational system, sexism, discrimination, unequal opportunities, etc.

I realized I needed to speak more about the privilege of white skin once I got to the U.S.

Even though I come from a marginalized and stigmatized Roma community, I nevertheless have white skin. I didn’t realize how important it was for me as Roma to talk about “white privilege”, meaning the privilege you can hold purely on the basis of having white skin, until last month, when I visited the U.S.

I visited the U.S. through the “Professional Fellows Program”, an exchange experience for bourgeoning leaders financed by the U.S. State Department and coordinated by Ce-Re (The Center for Resources for Public Participation). The duration of the program is a month and a half and targets people in Eastern Europe who work or would like to work in community organizing.

Colorism is a subject that is not often discussed in Europe; however it is quite well-known and important in the U.S. “Colorism refers to discrimination based on skin color. Colorism disadvantages dark-skinned people while privileging those with lighter skin,” writes American journalist, Nadra Karem Nittle.

„Dikta, mandro kai si, penes che si gadji!” (Look at how pretty she is, she looks like a Romanian girl!)

Because I have white skin, I mostly pass as “gadjie” (non-Roma). Even if I strongly take hold of my ethnicity, because I am proud that I am a Roma and that I am a part of the community in Mizil, nevertheless my identity is often questioned.

Many times, non-Roma (the majority population) tell me I am an “exception”, Roma activists I meet tell me I am too white to be Roma, and in the community, where everyone knows me, I often hear “Dikta, mandro kai si, penes che si gadji!” (“Look at how pretty she is, she looks like a Romanian girl!”)  from many people.

The Roma have internalized the racist perspective that white skin is automatically a sign of physical beauty and have lower self-esteem if their skin is darker. “To be white” becomes synonymous with “to be beautiful”, therefore “to be beautiful” is equal to “to be in the majority”, in a white European country. Therefore it can be understood that a person coming from an ethnic minority, who is affected by colorism is prone to developing an inferiority complex in regards to the majority.

In the book “Black Skin, White Masks”, Franz Fanon explains that “In a white society, from early childhood, a person learns to associate “blackness” with “wrongness”. And when children of color are exposed to such experience, they will develop a childhood trauma as a mental wound that affects their personalities. Those affected by colorism will often feel reduced to just their dark skin.

Girls with white skin who are about to become brides are valued much more than those with darker skin

I know cases where arranged marriages are still planned, and girls with white skin who are about to become brides are valued much more than those with darker skin.

I have Roma friends who don’t want to stand out in the sun, so that they don’t get tanned, or who buy skin bleaching cream as a reaction to the beauty standards fixed by the majority society, and are met with negative attitudes from the majority society in public spaces.

The feeling of guilt will always put you in a defensive, selfish position

I am certainly not trying to suggest that in becoming aware of one’s own privilege necessitates someone to feel guilty because you are white or part of the majority. The feeling of guilt will always put you in a defensive, selfish position, while actually and more importantly, those who are underprivileged are in need alliances and allies.

When I was in the U.S., I spoke with African-American and Hispanic women about their work and the problems they encounter in their own communities, and found that there were many similarities between our communities: they also face challenges in terms of discrimination, racism, sexism, and segregation in schools and cities. They, like us, wish to get involved in more activities, yet family life occupies a lot of their time.

I resonated with a lot of the problems and barriers that the African-American community faced, yet, however much I can understand all the systems of oppression, I will never feel discrimination in the same way as African-American women, or in the way that Roma girls and women in my community with darker skin do.