Gypsies, tramps and thieves! Cher’s anthem about world prejudice

by Rashmee

Posted on October 21, 2013



I remembered Cher and her comeback song, ‘Gypisies, tramps and thieves’ when I heard that the Roma couple suspected of kidnapping children will appear in a Greek court today.

The couple, in Farsala in central Greece, was found with a blonde, green-eyed, four-year-old girl genetically not their daughter. They are suspected of being part of a gang of child traffickers. The authorities allege the mother claimed to have given birth to six children in a total of less than 10 months, while 10 of the 14 children the couple registered as their own are unaccounted for.

But Farsala’s Roma claim they did nothing wrong and that the couple was taking care of Maria, the little girl, at the express request of her eastern European mother.

The incident has set off the usual stereotypical caterwauling about the Roma at a particularly difficult time for them across Europe. The tone was markedly along the lines of Cher’s chorus:

Gypsies, tramps and thieves
We’d hear it from the people of the town
They’d call us, gypsies, tramps and thieves
But every night all the men would come around
And lay their money down

Headlines across Europe suggested that no better could be expected of gypsies. What else would they do but steal little blonde children to sell, ill-treat and generally despoil? It’s built into nursery rhymes, into lore.

But such headlines are hardly unusual, point out those who campaign for the Roma to be given their rights, the same as the rest of us. The community has been part of the European landscape for at least 800 years and has faced discrimination for just as long.

The New York Times gravely editorialised on October 17, just before the newest incident revolving around the Roma, that “they have suffered greatly from discrimination and prejudice, particularly in times of economic crisis, when they become scapegoats. That is happening now. Faced with stubbornly high unemployment and strained budgets, some European Union members are finding it easier to stigmatize and expel Roma than to provide them with the education, housing and employment they seek.”

It was a pointed reference to troubling recent events. Just last week, the French government expelled a Roma schoolgirl and her family to Kosovo. In London, a Roma camp was dismantled over the summer and its residents despatched to Romania. In the Czech Republic, Roma children remain segregated. Meanwhile, the Danish justice minister and the French interior minister spoke against them, with the latter pronouncing the Roma incapable of being integrated into European societies.

For all that Cher didn’t sing ‘Gypsies, tramps and thieves’ as a campaign song’, it has become one. But in the most curious way possible: It exposes our deepest prejudices.

I was born in the wagon of a travelin’ show
My mama used to dance for the money they’d throw
Papa would do whatever he could
Preach a little gospel
Sell a couple bottles of doctor good

Gypsies, tramps and thieves
We’d hear it from the people of the town
They’d call us, gypsies, tramps and thieves
But every night all the men would come around
And lay their money down


Rashmee has lived and worked in several countries in the past decade, including Afghanistan, India, Haiti, Tunisia, the UAE, US and UK

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