Sunday, August 12, 2018

We're Being 'Gypped' by New Zealand Broadcasters

A good friend of mine recently complained to a media network about a popular radio show host using the term 'gypped' to describe how she was ripped off. I didn't hear the piece in question but it does fit within an extremely common and casual use of what can only be described as an extremely racist word.
The response she received was unsatisfactory at best.
Some of the rebuttal points raised by the broadcaster were that they did not consider it a breach of the broadcasting standards. This is a common defence; that the term doesn't really denigrate anyone or discriminate. I mean, do Romani people really even exist? Or are they like Unicorns?

Standard 6 of the Broadcasting Standards States:
Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.
I think it's clear to any reasonable person that the use of the term ‘gypped’ falls well within the definition above. It is commonly accepted that the term gypped (or gipped or jipped) comes from Gypsy, itself a pejorative exonym for the Romani people. 

Gypsy (Gyp, Gip, Gyppo) comes from the mistaken belief that the comparatively dark- skinned Romani originated in Egypt. Hence, Egyptian became 'Gyptian' and 'Gypsy'. As such, this exonym has a very similar etymological progression as ‘Indian’ in reference to Native Americans, which, I’m sure you would agree is not an acceptable term. 
The exonym noun has been further ‘verbised’ and taken to mean ‘cheated’ or ‘swindled’. To create and continue to propagate an association between nefarious behaviour and criminality and people of a distinct ethnicity falls squarely within the mandate of the standard above. It is discrimination and encourages further discrimination by perpetuating the stereotype of Romani as cheats, swindler, and thieves. So, in an objective sense, it is clearly a denigration of Romani, and discriminatory. 
It is also highly offensive considering the systemic and systematic oppression that the Romani have endured for around 1000 years since the diaspora from northern India. They have been criminalised by race, forbidden in many places from owning land, one of the reasons many remained nomadic and persecuted, killed (for example, 25-50% of Europe's Romani population were killed in the Porajmos or Holocaust and many had been victims of periodic pogroms in eastern Europe), and Romanichal (English and Scottish Romani) were rounded up and sent to the Americas as slaves. This discrimination still occurs in more latent ways. Romani are the largest ethnic minority in Europe and bear some of the worst socio-economic statistics in the Union. For example, while 17% of Europe’s population overall is considered at risk of poverty, 80% of Roma face the same risk. Romani still suffer systematic, societal, and individual persecution, especially in Europe, but also in other countries like the US, Australia, and here in New Zealand. Testament to this casual persecution and ostracization is the loss of language, and traditional names and customs, which is why many of the Romani population in countries like New Zealand, descended from Romanichal forebears have distinctly ‘normal’ surnames like Cooper, Lee, or in the case of my own lineage ‘Smith’, the most English of names, taken to avoid persecution. 

Discrimination itself, for the purposes of Broadcasting standards, is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment. ‘Denigration’ is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community.

To associate an entire race with criminality, theft, and cheating absolutely encourages discrimination against Romani. It is clear that whenever someone uses the term ‘gypped’ they denigrate each and every person of Romani heritage, even if that denigration is due to ignorance. 

But does 'Gypped' actually refer to Romani?

There has been some debate on the etymology of the term. 
But to my knowledge, this is a fringe debate. With the exception of a few right-wing sites and message boards, this debate is considered to be obfuscation and self-justification for the use of a patently bigotted term. In other words, this obfuscation is also a means to explain away casual racism.

Even if there is a debate on the exact etymology (which I believe to be false in any event), this does not change the common association of the term with a stereotype of Romani as cunning tricksters and thieves. 

The etymological association with the term ‘gyp’ used at Cambridge and Durham is a further obfuscation. These are thought to have  a Greek origin or perhaps a French (relating to old French ‘jupeau’ meaning servant), (1)  but these pertain to a different word and usage. 
The Etymology Dictionary discusses this difference; with the University slang derived from Greek gyps “vulture” in reference to servants, and the word in association with fraudulent action and cheating deriving from Gypsy's abbreviated form Gip, Gyp. (2) 
While several prominent dictionaries do not provide an etymology for the term, Collins dictionary, Dictionary.com and Wiktionary state that it is most likely to be a back-formation from Gypsy, (3-5) and the Merriam-Webster dictionary states that the word is probably short for gypsy. (6) Furthermore, according to the principal etymologist at the Oxford English Dictionary, there is scholarly consensus that the word is a racial slur. (7)

There is an undeniable common recognition in the grey and mainstream literature that this is, in fact, a racist term, for example:

That the term is used without malice is not a credible excuse. Casual racism is part of the problem, not a ‘get out of jail free’ card. 



References
1.            Oxford Dictionary Online. Definition of Gyp  [Available from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/gyp.
2.            Online Etymology Dictionary. Etymology of Gyp  [Available from: https://www.etymonline.com/word/gyp.
3.            Collins Online Dictionary. Definition of Gyp  [22/6/2018]. Available from: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/gyp.
4.            Dictionary.com. Definition of Gyp  [Available from: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/gypped.
5.            Wiktionary.  [Available from: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/gyp.
6.            Merriam Webster Online Dictionary. Definition of Gyp  [Available from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gyp.

7.            The Telegraph. Judge accused of racist slur against gypsies 2009 [Available from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/5483053/Judge-accused-of-using-racial-slur-against-gypsies.html.


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