Saturday, January 9, 2016

This is not Bohemian

I've noticed outside of those who know the difference between an anarkali & kurta, angrakha and kurti, kediyu and kaftan; my style (or lack thereof) is usually called 'gy*sy' (rhymes with pixie) or 'bohemian' etc and I want to talk about the fact that these terms are actually racial slurs and not a compliment at all. Most people call themselves or others “Boho” or “Bohemian” because they have thirst to travel off the beaten track, an eclectic/Woodstock-esque/hippy style or as 'gy*sy' because they aspire to dress similar and are 'wandering souls'. This is not just incorrect it is quite awful.

Bohemians originate from a region in Czechoslovakia called Bohemia with a lot of conflict and trauma in the past. Bohemian is an ethnicity NOT a style or an aesthetic that can be put on and taken off at will. It is highly appropriative to call oneself or others Bohemian.

Also I have discovered via research and from talking to people of that ethnicity that the laid back bohemian people that people like to emulate were that way because they had a massive opium and absinth addiction problem. The word bohemian is mostly just being minimalised as a people and reduced to a fashion style which is highly inaccurate and frankly goes against a lot of cultural morals. In the nineteenth century the Bohemian people were the lower class in France with the Roma so Bohemian became a slur for poor people.

The Romani are widely known as “Gy*sies”, however to the Romani people this is an insult and a racial slur as it is has connotations of illegality and irregularity. Romani people are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group residing mostly in Europe and originate from many different countries. When referring to nomadic tribes from Rajasthan, Gujarat or anywhere else it is incorrect to use the term 'gy*sy'. Genetic as well as linguistic research does point toward the fact that the Roma people were originally from the north of India and 900-1,500 years ago they likely migrated toward Europe. But as the term has become a widely used slur for a highly persecuted minority I believe we desis should absolutely refrain from using the word. After arriving in Europe, the Romani were enslaved in many regions, put to death in others and still more countries ordered their expulsion. Even to this day in Europe they are referred to extremely negatively and face a lot of backlash. I have seen/ heard it first hand and was shocked at some of the generalizations people made.

Honestly I've known there are negative connotations to this word and that the word can be used as an insult to some groups but didn't always know that one should refrain from using the word 'gy*sy' as a synonym to nomad. However meeting with and connecting to a wider range of inspiring WoCs have ensured that I am learning things and educating myself more and more. I think especially as People of Colour we should stand in solidarity as an ally to other marginalized communities and be even more circumspect about using slurs, it is up to us to not perpetuate appropriation and vilification.

I have also used the word bohemian quite a bit to find inspiring pictures etc but have tried and refrained from using that word out of context since I have learned a bit more. You might even find the word used previously in one of my blog-posts and I don't think there is anything wrong in growing as as a person and admitting that 'hey I've done it in the past out of ignorance'. The most important thing for me is to listen when we're called-out on something, to the person who is affected by the discrimination.

Also most of the things I wear from my clothes, to scarves, to accessories, to jewellery are native to the Indian sub-continent and calling my style anything but desi is frankly quite ignorant. When you see me wearing a 'hippie dress' it is more than likely I am wearing a kediyu or anarkali, when you see me in a flowy skirt it is more than likely a gaghra and when I am wearing 'bohemian' prints it is more than likely they are traditional Indian textiles. Like I said I am learning as I go, so if you are Roma feel free to correct me if I have got any of this wrong and/ or as a person who belongs to these specific ethnicities you would like to expand on this.

1 comment:

Jenna Opsahl said...

This post is gold. I have stopped using gy*sy over the last few years. I always feel a little weird using "bohemian" as a visual descriptor but I never knew why. I am very glad to find your post because you explained it so well. I had no idea that slow "boho" lifestyle came from a tragic place of addiction. Thank you so much for posting.