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History will repeat, in one form or another

October 29, 2013

Following the removal of a blond girl from a Roma family in Greece (more details here), another was taken by authorities in Ireland for the same reason; she could not have been of Roma stock if she was blonde. Only, of course, she could. And surprise surprise, it turns out she was.

The uncomfortable thing about this is that it is almost certain that Ireland will get all the flack for that and Greece will get off scot free, simply because their equally baseless suspicions turned out to be correct. What won’t be covered as comprehensively is the racism that led to both sets of actions; both sets saw a girl who didn’t look enough like her parents and decided that she was abducted. That’s abducted, not legally or illegally adopted.

Suffice to say such an assumption is fairly unlikely to be made about any other group of people. Since Greece are the country currently most known for prejudice and discrimination against the Roma, they should be facing international heat for this, since it was their investigation that directly caused someone in Ireland to make an incorrect assumption. It would be one thing if it were only a member of the public shouting about as often happens; the far more worrying aspect is that the police considered responding to such an observation.

It highlights a deep seated ignorance about the way we see race and there is an uncomfortable comparison to be made with Nazi Germany. The idea of the “pure Aryan race” also led to assumptions that those who were blonde haired and blue eyed could not be part of the “inferior” Jewish one. Perhaps there were some fortunate blonde Jews who escaped detection during that period for this reason, but mostly the overall effect of this assumption was genocide.

Not understanding that blonde people and white skin can come from anywhere is the fundamental basis of white racism. It’s harder to argue any natural superiority when you understand that white skin is nothing but a harmless genetic mutation that can be passed along on the recessive gene (that is to say, it is usually bred out unless offspring get a double dose of it from their parents). It is difficult to be racist when you know that pale people not only can be born of dark people, but also that they definitely were.

That’s not to mention the extraordinary amount of interracial relations that have happened over the years, further widening and complicating the gene pool. It seems that some are labouring under the delusion that this facet of our society is recent, or that once whiteness is “bred out” it will never again occur in that particular blood line. We essentially assume that we know, just by looking at one individual, the full history of their entire family tree.

It’s extremely worrying when cases like the Roma case come up because it proves that we still do not understand how complicated genetics is, and how variable we are. Our knowledge of race and physical characteristics is in that dangerous middle ground, where we think we know about it – enough to smell a rat when a blonde child is born to a dark skinned couple – but actually our knowledge is not even half complete.

So, though it is to be celebrated that Ireland will have to rethink its assumptions about race and its treatment of the Roma, we should remember that Greece will not bother. We live in curious world where the end justifies the means, even if it leads to mistakes elsewhere. Because we can remember all the details of the holocaust on demand and it jumps to the front of our minds when we see a WWII film or a swastika, we think that we can never forget the holocaust. But I’d dare to say that, until incidents like this stop happening, we essentially have. We’re picking and choosing our memories based on what’s convenient to remember at this moment in time. If memory of the most horrific event for centuries is so dependent on specific circumstances, no one can justify claiming that it could never happen again.

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51 Comments
  1. Once more preeching to someone who agrees with you on the killing innocents. The palistians routinely target civilians to. Both are wrong. Hiding behind women and children is wrong too. You launch a rocket then run and hide in a school house. I’d wish people would set up and take you out when you come out because you have to sooner or later. But it’s not the way of the world. In gaza the israelis have little control there because there is a wall to seperate everyone. /shrug once more until boith sides want peace there will be none.
    palistine must recognize israels right to exist and must stop firing rockets into israel
    Israel must stop building on settled lands and stop retaliating for rockets (of course this becomes a none issue if the rockets stop)
    Then both sides must come to the table and talk the peace out and really mean it and want it.

    Until such time neither of our dreams for peace will be anything but a dream. /shrug

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