New Study on Romani American Experience Shines Light on Persistent Inequities and Discrimination

Report infographic

The François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University today released a new study that draws attention to the inequities the Roma diaspora faces in the United States. Published in collaboration with the advocacy nonprofit Voice of Roma, the study, titled Romani Realities in the United States: Breaking the Silence, Challenging the Stereotypes, includes insight from 363 questionnaires with Romani Americans, touching on socioeconomic conditions, stigma, discrimination, identity and culture.

“The FXB Center’s Roma program has made clear the parallels between anti-Black racism in the U.S. and anti-Roma racism in Europe and other parts of the world,” said Dr. Mary T. Bassett, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. “These findings add yet more evidence of the pervasiveness of racism in the United States. We hope that the study will stimulate a greater interest in and understanding of this unique heritage and strengthen collective determination to defend American Romani people.”

“The levels of anti-Romani discrimination and stigmatization in the U.S. are alarming,” said Prof. Jacqueline Bhabha, FXB Center’s director of research. “Our study illustrates the transatlantic migration of racist ideas and demonstrates yet again how skin color and other attributes are used in justifying intersectional discrimination. At a time of profound disquiet over the depth of American structural racism, it is important to add this perspective about a relatively small and undocumented phenomenon” added Dr. Margareta Matache, director of the FXB Center’s Roma program.

“Voice of Roma is proud to contribute to the success of this project by leading the fieldwork component and contributing to the analysis. Particularly important is that the information was gathered by Romani Americans among members of their communities; this represents the first large scale self study of Romani Americans. As advocates for Roma in the United States, we feel this is a critical time to reflect on the marginalization of Romani histories and needs, as well as to provide visibility and direction for future inquiry,” said Dr. Carol Silverman and Kristin Day, Voice of Roma board members.

To explore the social and economic conditions of Romani people in the U.S., the study collected data regarding:
• Romani people’s access to housing, employment, health and education
• Romani people’s experiences with discrimination and anti-Romani prejudice
• Romani identity and culture
• Respondents’ perceptions of the challenges facing their communities in the U.S.

All study participants were over than the age of 18 with Romani heritage – self-identified as Romani, American Roma, “Gypsy,” or any subgroup, such as Kalderash, Machvaya, Lovari, Churari and Boyash. As highlighted in the study’s infographic, key findings reveal new data on anti-Roma discrimination within the following areas:

• Identity: A large majority of interviewees have a robust sense of their Romani identity, but 70 percent said they usually hide their Romani identity to avoid being stigmatized, stereotyped and/or discriminated against by non-Roma people. Quantitative findings suggest that many Romani Americans experience a fear of prejudice: more than three-quarters of interviewees said Americans discriminate against people of Romani heritage or that Americans treat Romani Americans differently from people in other minority groups.

• Health: More than 20 percent of the interviewees stated that they or other members of their family had experienced being treated unfairly or disrespectfully by a health professional based on ethnicity or perceived identity.

• Education: When asked if a teacher had ever treated them and/or anyone in their family unfairly or disrespectfully based on ethnicity or perceived identity, 39 percent of interviewees said “Yes.”

• Employment: Thirty-nine percent of respondents reported they and/or other family members had ever been treated unfairly or disrespectfully by an employer based on ethnicity or perceived identity. Among self-identified subgroups, Romanichel, Kalderash and Machvaya were most likely to report experiencing discrimination related to employment.

• Housing: Three out of every 10 Romani Americans interviewed in the study reported problems renting or buying a home. Respondents who identified as Romanichel or Kalderash reported particularly high rates of discrimination when trying to rent or buy a home. As one respondent told researchers: “they wouldn’t rent to Gypsies, they said.” Another stated that a cousin “made the mistake of telling the landlord of the apartment what our background is, and that week, he said we had to go because he did not rent to Gypsies.”

• Police: Racial profiling by the police is common: four out of 10 people interviewed said they had experienced it. When racially profiling Romani people, police officers seem to look for cultural markers (e.g., certain kinds of trucks, certain names). Police task forces that specialize in “Gypsy crime” have been established across the country, even though their legality is questionable.

In general, 14 percent of survey participants felt discriminated against in interactions with social services offices, and 57 percent felt discriminated against when being served in restaurants, stores, and other service encounters. In measuring discrimination in the past year, 34 percent of the interviewees had felt discriminated against because of their Romani origins.

While the Romani Realities in the U.S. study is robust and pioneering, researchers note that its findings are not generalizable to all Romani Americans. Rather, the study paves the way for further research into the policies that affect the lives of Romani Americans.