Whilst one is reminded by Lyall that discourses
of racism and bigotry do not have to shout to be heard (1993: 52), they
unashamedly do just that in the work of Dennis Marlock and John Dowling,
to Steal (1994). Boasting thirteen chapters of excruciatingly nasty
anti-Romani sentiment, this book is arguably at least as dangerous, if
not more so, to the Roma as those forms of everyday street violence encountered
at the hands of wider society, police officers included (Van Dijk, 1993:5).
In fact, a cause-and-effect analysis would hold that racisms as a series
of discursive practices, which include the contributions of Marlock and
Dowling, are consistently and predictably converted into real, obvious,
material effects such as those documented by Gronfors in his study of police
and Roma relations in Finland (1981).
Taking the epilogue of License to Steal
as representative of the themes articulated throughout the entire book,
the authors engage in that important work of labelling, legitimising, morally
excluding (Opotow, 1990), justifying and `otherising' which ensures widespread
societal reproduction of racism and protection of the existing status quo.
They do so, however, less in reliance upon fixed biological bases than
upon pre-eminent cultural characteristics. This signifies an attempt to
neutralise their racism, framing it in academically acceptable terms whereby
disclaimers are constantly reiterated which forge a distinction between
"Gypsies in general" (the "honest Roma"), and those Gypsies who stubbornly
insist upon engaging in customary "fortune-telling swindles", thus, unlike
the former nobler Gypsies, refusing to be saved from themselves, from their
own Nature (Goldberg, 1993: 150).
Exemplifying an `otherising' discourse, from its inception the epilogue
is concerned to place "Gypsies" in diametrical opposition to their "victims,"
viz. engineers, supermarket managers, the elderly, the `normal'. The term
"Gypsy Mafia" is espoused in order to establish the magnitude of the threat
as embodied by an indeterminate, uncontrollable and somehow organised Gypsy
crime wave. Particular disdain is directed towards those purportedly panopticon
watch committees of Romani representatives who fulfils self-appointed "campaign[s]
of intimidation" (1994: 283) to censor criticism of their people resulting
in a situation of political correctness gone mad whereby "[m]any newspapers
will not use the `G-word' if they can avoid it" (1994: 283).
Gaining momentum as it progresses, this epilogue is ultimately premised
upon the all too common discursive practice of blaming the victim which
exculpates the majority population from any sense of responsibility, accountability
or guilt. It is in this sense that Roma are constructed as their own worst
enemies who have only themselves to blame for the past and present atrocities
directed towards them. This is "a pariah population that has been outcast
not by the larger society but by itself, through its refusal to participate
in the institutions of broader culture..." (1994: 289), a statement which
rings all too clear for the Roma who have consistently been denied compensation
for the devastations of persecution by the Nazis given that their suffering
(unlike that of the Jews) "was due to their 'asocial' behaviour and not
their ethnicity" (quoted in Sway, 1988: 44); see also Skutnabb-Kangas,
If nothing else, those who may have been lulled into believing that
type of extreme racial hatred, couched in socially acceptable, legitimised
language ("sanitary coding" (Reeves, 1983:87)) as employed by the Nazis
has long since been banished would be well advised to read, consider, and
digest this work and henceforth to reassess their positions.
Both continuing the theme of the Roma as a "pariah
population" (albeit offering somewhat different reasons for its existence
as such) and challenging the commonly held assumption that Scandinavian
countries are inherently tolerant is the article by Martti Gronfors, "Police
Perception of Social Problems and Clients: The Case of the Gypsies in Finland"
(1981). Gronfors' central proposition is that Finnish police officers as
a class concur in their beliefs on the nature of Romani society (differing
only on possible solutions to "the Gypsy problem") (1981: 346). He seeks
to explain this mainly through the phenomenon of "shared socialization",
organising the central tenets of his theory under the headings "police
background, recruitment and attitudes", "shared socialisation", "the nature
of police forces", "police view of social problems", "police and the 'problem
groups"', and "police action". Whilst the conclusions that the author draws
from his research regarding the mythical, constructed dimensions of supposed
widespread Romani criminality, and an `otherising', deviance oriented discourse
as essentially functional in its maintenance of existing power structures,
he is in danger of preaching only to the converted given the intrinsic
methodological weaknesses in his study (for example, small, non-random
samples derived from two major cities; a tendency to hazard guesses from
empirically weak data). This is partly compensated by favourable comparisons
with studies done in Japan and London which in addition suggest the possibly
internationally consistent nature of the data and hence a broader potential
application of the article.
Gronfors pays particular attention to the effect that age and educational
status may have on the attitudes of police officers to the Romani population,
tabulating his results and using the descriptive categories "hardliners"
and "softliners." Interestingly, "hardliners" are concentrated in the ranks
of young, relatively well educated officers. This provides evidence for
the theory that racist subject positions are fostered and encouraged by
mainstream social institutions as opposed to being confined principally
to uneducated, disadvantaged viewpoints. The author himself fails to make
this connection, however, suggesting only that "[t]he tougher attitude
of the younger officers [with higher-than-average schooling] could possibly
be explained by their inexperience and the desire to be tough" (1981: 351).
This analysis does not go far enough to explain the role of "elite racism"
(Van Dijk, 1993) in education and the striking continuity and stability
in the discursive formations which are labelled "racism." Observable in
this sense are the parallels between the views articulated by Marlock and
Dowling in License to Steal and those motivating police reactions
to, and treatment of, Roma in Finland which focus not upon the majority-minority
relationship which espouses racial hatred and exclusion, but upon the individual
failure of the Roma to adequately assimilate.
Some of Gronfors' terminology is also problematic. Gender neutral terms
are not adhered to, despite the journal's stated policy to adopt them;
using the comparative categories "hardliners and "softliners" may tend
to suggest that the opinions grouped in the latter category are not dangerously
racist whilst clearly this is the case; and although the use of the phrase
"social problems" in the article is contextualised, it is not henceforth
discarded in favour of a view that the Romani way of life has simply been
labelled as 'problem ridden' by the dominant discourse but is not necessarily
so. Finally, whilst the police are quoted extensively throughout Gronfors'
article, there is no counter-resistance established through direct quotations
from Roma themselves. Since the author states that he himself is not of
Romani descent, these people are again positioned in the academic discourse
as a disempowered, silent minority who must be spoken on behalf of. 2
The stable, predictable and repetitious nature
of discursive formations has been raised for brief discussion above. Dorothy
Nelkin has written a chapter entitled "The politics of predisposition:
the social meaning of predictive biology" (1996) in which she exemplifies
this assertion in a way which is both convincing and compelling. Nelkin's
central tenet, that vague biological notions of predisposition are imbued
with hard and fast social meanings of "definitive prediction" (1996:133),
is consistently reinforced with examples drawn from the print media, television
and even theatre (that is, popular culture). She demonstrates how the once-popular
discourse of "bad blood" has simply been replaced by that of "bad genes"
in order to construct an account of deviance which conveniently excludes
factors such as social structure or the environment as determinative of
human behaviour. In particular, Nelkin raises the examples of criminal
predisposition, alcoholism and other addictions, as well as that of achievement.
This chapter can, however, be interpolated to apply to explanations of
the 'deviant' behaviour of ethnic minorities even though the more sophisticated
racist discourses today avoid fixed biological categories, focusing instead
on supposed cultural deficiencies (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1990:81). This is because
an agenda of residual scientific racism may still act as an underlying
and interlocking discourse in much racist practice, whether this is openly
articulated or not. Nelkin highlights how employing arguments premised
upon genetic bases of behavior is expedient for the majority population
as they are then absolved of any responsibility for the plight of ethnic
minorities. This is the case not because that minority excludes itself
from mainstream practices through stubborn insistence (as was the assertion
in License to Steal), but because it cannot help but to do so due
to ill-fated biology. In either situation, the Romani, for example, is
still his or her own worst enemy, the disadvantages experienced by him
or her to be located internally rather than externally through the forces
of history and politics and their shaping of widespread racial vilification
and moral exclusion. This discourse of blaming the victim has stood the
test of time, justifying in its wake racist propaganda (for example, License
to Steal), and harmful material effects such as police abuse (for example,
Gronfors and the Romani in Finland), scapegoating, withdrawal of social
services, and as was practised by Hitler's regime and is evidently still
continuing in some parts of the world today, deportation, sterilisation
and extermination. The gap between ideology and practice is, as such, uncomfortably
1. Observe again the phenomenon whereby racist discourse is converted
into material effects which impact severely upon the population selected
for exclusion. Back
2. Issue has also not been taken with Gronfors' exclusive use of the
externally imposed term "Gypsy," as it is assumed that at the time of publication
of this article over fifteen years ago, this was the accepted approach
in the dominant discourse of social science. Back
Goldberg, D., 1993. Racist Culture. Oxford: Blackwell.
Gronfors, M., 1981. "Police perception of social problems and clients:
the case of the Gypsies in Finland", The International Journal of the
Sociology of Law, 9:345-359.
Lyall, K., 1993. "Adjusting mindsets," Time Australia, 8(48):52-53,
Marlock, Dennis and John Dowling, 1994. License to Steal. Boulder:
The Paladin Press.
Nelkin, D., 1996. "The politics of predisposition: the social meaning
of predictive biology," in Agnes, H. and R Puntscher, (eds), Biopolitics.
The Politics ofthe Body, Race and Nature. Avebury: Aldershot.
Opotow, S., 1990. "Moral exclusion and injustice: an introduction,"
Journal of Social Issues 46(1): 1-20. Reeves, F., 1983. British Racial
Discourse. New York: Cambridge University Ptess.
Skutnabb-Kangas, T., 1990. "Legitimating or deligitimating new forms
of racism: the role of researchers," Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural
Sway, M., 1988. Familiar Strangers: Gypsy Life in America. Urbana
and Chicago: Illinois University Press.
Van Dijk, T. A., 1993. Elite Discourse and Racism. Newbury Park: