Wednesday, October 23, 2013

For non-blonds UPDATED

By now, everyone's seen the story of the blonde girl found in a Roma home. Commenter Quasimodo asked for my thoughts, which I started getting into in the comments, but this may merit a whole entire post of its own:

-Let's please not start assuming blond children of not-blond families are somehow suspect. This, for so many reasons. Such as: Adoption happens across ethnic lines. Lots of light-haired children grow up to be dark-haired adults. Police of the world, don't start swooping in and removing blond children from families to which they belong.

UPDATE: Too late, via.

-There isn't some great, global 'blondness belt' where everyone's rich, extending from comfortably socialized Scandinavia to New England WASPs, Southern belles, and California surfers. There's also this little thing called Russia. (Closer to home: Appalachia. Also: the "Gypsies" of Ireland.) Other Eastern European countries as well. This matters in terms of how we try to make sense of this incident. It's being discussed as if there's obviously some Western middle-class or wealthy family whose missing child this is. When the full story may - in any number of ways, some more upsetting than others - relate to the family of origin being poor and desperate. Of course, there could well be an impoverished Russian family whose child was abducted, or a rich British one, say, who for some reason dropped their baby by the doorstep. But point is, 'blond' doesn't say as much about socioeconomic or global origins as we might think.

-We don't want to overshoot the mark and start talking about the privilege of abductees who happen to be pretty blonde girls. Abducted is still abducted, and is still unthinkably worse than being dark-haired and/or plain in the comfort of your own home. Same deal if the abductee comes from a well-off family. This came up (where else?) in a Jezebel thread about Elizabeth Smart, with commenters debating whether maybe the real message of the story was that access to services for the abducted isn't as equal as we'd like. When something truly horrific happens to someone rich, it's still horrific. It's not as if being abducted from your childhood bedroom at knifepoint by a deranged would-be cult leader and getting raped by him and abused by his wife is an ordinary poor or working-class experience, either.

-Every time a minority is accused of refusing to integrate, I get suspicious. Are we sure it isn't that the majority won't have them? This, in response to anti-Roma bigots who - like everyone who's been to a European tourist destination - has a story, but feel compelled to extrapolate from that story that they were mugged or near-mugged not because Roma have no other options in some areas, but because they're just like that. When looking at issues of integration, what matters isn't just whether the government has some plan in place involving schooling or who knows. It's also how a minority's received socially.

-Can we please not make this a discussion about how those terrible, selfish Jews insist on claiming that they were WWII's only victims? Who exactly are the Jews not aware that Roma, gays, and the disabled also had the Nazis to contend with? Or aware but denying this? I'll grant that what we learned in Hebrew school or whatever might have been about roundups of "Gypsies," so there may be some misuse of terminology, if no more among Jews than the general population. But really. It would be nice if, every time the Roma came up, anti-Semites didn't come out of the woodwork to hold forth on how Jews think they're so special, with their fancy Holocaust. On behalf of The Jews, I'll say that what we don't appreciate is when other aspects of that period of history are brought up in such a way as to deny the Jewish experience. As in, without an 'actually Jews didn't have it so bad' angle tagged onto the discussion of the suffering of other groups.

-While this really doesn't have anything to do with Jews directly, it does bring to mind the blood libel. Not that this couple was falsely accused of having a kid they hadn't officially adopted (that may be right), nor that they were at all accused of planning to serve the kid for dinner. (They do stand accused, by Internet commenters, of prostituting her out, based on no particular evidence as far as I can tell.) But just this idea that there's something particularly squicky about a blond child being lost to the blond community, and something particularly nefarious going on in the non-blond population.

15 comments:

Quasimodo said...

What I've never understood is why red hair doesn't generate as much cultural heat and light as blonde hair.

IIRC, natural redheads are much rarer then natural blondes, and the gene is highly recessive. You'd think the usual suspects would've chosen red as the color to circle the wagons around.

Could it be a Germanics/Nords vs Celts thing?

caryatis said...

Madeline McCann was the last little blond girl I remember in the news--maybe that's where the assumption that this girl is rich and abducted comes from. She's the wrong age to BE Madeline, but availability bias and so forth.

Phoebe said...

Huh, I'd never thought about that. I'd say, though, that if to the extent that the blondness obsession is about anti-Semitism, the great number of Jewish redheads (according to Wikipedia, redheads were assumed Jewish during the Spanish Inquisition! See also: Woody Allen.) would put a damper on things. Also, the thing with blondness may be less that it's rare, and more that it's associated with children. I'm not aware of children aging out of having red hair (actually, scratch that, I did, according to some photos), so that could be part of it.

Caryatis,

Yes, the British tabloid press made that connection. Anyway, I wouldn't blame the families of missing children who happen to be blond for taking special interest in this story and wondering if it contains any clues. But if there are other, more likely places this child could come from - another Roma family, say, or Eastern Europe - it seems irresponsible for the press to assume there are some middle-class parents somewhere in Britain, Scandinavia, or the States whose child has been found.

Quasimodo said...

Re:update

In other times, that Irish girl would probably be handed off to a more "deserving" family.

Can't imagine what her parents must have been going through.

Phoebe said...

Quasimodo,

Outrageous, really.

CW said...

I don't think we need to generalize about blond and non blond communities when talking about the blood libel aspect of this case. The idea that Roma steal children is a specific and persistent libelous myth in Europe. After googling around a bit, I found some references claiming that it dates back to at least the 16th century.

Phoebe said...

CW,

Blogger ate my longer response, so short version: the blond "communities" thing was me paraphrasing the coverage of this incident. And it matters that such a big deal was made about blondness because lo and behold now we have two children being returned to their families, after being removed on account of being blonder than their parents. Also the post title was an overly obscure reference to an early-1990s band, "4 Non Blondes."

As for the libel, I hadn't ever heard about it, but you're right, a quick Google reveals it's an old one. Possibly something about non-Roma families abandoning unwanted babies to Roma communities? Or some confusion over the difference between children stealing (which is indeed a phenomenon, again, not because of Roma being somehow evil but because of social and economic exclusion) and child-stealing? In any case, all of what's been going down certainly feels medieval, so it's not so surprising it has such longstanding roots.

CW said...

Yeah, sorry for not being clearer in my comment. I caught the 4-Non Blondes reference (I like their one hit song) and the general creepy focus on blondness. I was really just trying to point out the specific, historical roots of this sort of bigoted panic. Your analogy to the blood libel was even better than you knew.

Phoebe said...

CW,

Seems we're in agreement then. I'm now wondering, well, so much about this issue. Like whether the full-on blood libel (i.e. about kidnapping and eating children) also extends to Roma, and whether there's any connection between the two libels.

Britta said...

Ironically, given that blond hair/blue eyes are recessive, it is statistically much more likely that two dark hair/eyed parents would have a blond haired child than the reverse. It's hard to imagine a scenario though where a darker child would be removed from a lighter skin/haired family, even if they were poor, unless some other gross neglect or abuse were occurring.

I have definitely heard the "gypsies kidnap children" stereotype, mainly from reading older children's literature. I assumed it was widely known (as a stereotype, not as an actual fact.) "The Saturdays" (a novel set in New York in the 40s) has an older character who had been kidnapped by gypsies as a child, but who was rescued when police spotted her red hair and light skin. Gerda in Andersen's "The Snow Queen" is also kidnapped by gypsies.

CW said...

I think the more common libel is just that Roma steal children. However, it seems that there may have also been a full-on blood libel:

"Like Asahuerus, the Jew doomed to wander through eternity because he refused to allow Jesus to rest on his way to Calvary, Romanies were accused of forging the nails with which Christ was crucified. And while Jews were accused of drinking the blood of Christian babies in hidden rites to which no outsider was privy, Romanies were likewise charged with stealing and even eating those babies. Parallelling even more closely the Asahuerus myth is the belief that the original sin of the Romanies was their refusal to give Mary and the baby Jesus shelter during their flight fro King Herod into Egypt (Scheier, 1925, vol. II, p.77)."

http://www.radoc.net/radoc.php?doc=art_b_history_rootsofprejudice&lang=en&articles=true

Britta said...

So, it turns out the Greek girl is also the child of a dark haired, dark skinned Roma woman in Bulgaria, who gave the child to the couple, as they had claimed. This couple might not have the most above board lifestyle, but at least from this angle it's hard to find any fault. The media is still trying to cover their asses with the "illegal adoption" angle, but it's hard to see how anyone could blame members of a persecuted ethnic minority for preferring to do things privately within their own community rather than through official state channels, *especially* since there is a history of Roma baby stealing and forced sterilization of Roma women by the state.

Phoebe said...

CW,

Well what do you know!

Britta,

I'd seen that as well, but thanks for mentioning it here. The report I saw said that this was a family with an albino gene. Not sure if that's true, but in any case, that's yet another reason not to assume a blond child couldn't belong to dark-haired parents. Albinism is rare, but so too is a missing Scandinavian child ending up in a Roma community in Greece.

Petey said...

The photo of that Roma family is craaaazy.

Given the evidence of that photo, I'm beginning to think:

a) The Roma are god's chosen people.

b) The solution to the 'Roma Problem' is to establish a Roma homeland in Northern Ireland, displacing the Protestants to Scotland, and the Catholics to Ireland. Next year in Belfast! (And if, in a couple of decades, the Roma decide they need some lebensraum, they can just preemptively invade Scotland.) It's win-win.

Anonymous said...

Taki's Mag, the outfit that scooped up John Derbyshire after he was tossed from NRO, has its own take on the story:

http://takimag.com/article/the_little_blonde_gypsy_girl_jim_goad

They treat the matter about as subtly as you'd expect,