While frequently used in the past this covered word is now understood to be a racial and ethnic slur to some of the Romani—or Roma—people, an ethnic group thought to have migrated to Europe from India about 1500 years ago.
During the creation of this exhibition, we used this term in the text panel used without fully understanding its potentially harmful lineage. Much like terms used in connection to the First Peoples of North America and African Americans, certain terms were created by Europeans to represent groups they saw as lesser than those of Northern European heritage. These words were not given or used by the groups to which they were referring prior to contact with Europeans. These monikers and were forced upon those they describe as a term of othering. .
At the very least, offensive terminology can lead to segregation, but they can also promote violence and far worse. During the 1930s and 40s “othering” terminology added fuel to a charged political and social atmosphere and helped fuel the rise of the eugenics movement in the United States. The scientifically unfounded theories of eugenics—inferiority based on abnormal behavior, criminality, low intelligence, and promiscuity—lead to the forced sterilization of the poor, mentally ill and racial groups found to be undesirable.
In Europe, the eugenics movement inspired Adolph Hitler. He cited the use of sterilization in California in his book, Mein Kampf. Throughout Nazi Germany hundreds of thousands were sterilized as a direct result and during the Holocaust not only were millions of Jews were murdered but also Romani, people with disabilities, Poles, Soviets and more.
While the term you see here was used without intent to harm, to allow it to remain in use on a museum text panel would be wrong. We must not allow derogatory terms to be used off-handedly. To do so is to misrepresent history and to perpetuate ideas of division and segregation.