In denial. Romanians say racism wasn’t reason Roma artist was heckled at Coldplay concert

Roma artist Babasha: source.Facebook.
Roma artist Babasha: source.Facebook.

Coldplay front  man Chris Martin personally invited the popular Romanian musician Babasha for a duet in front of tens of thousands at a concert in Bucharest on June 12.

But neither could have predicted the reaction from the audience of 50,000: a cacophony of boos. What should have been a dream come true, quickly degenerated into undignified heckling. The British artist sought to smooth the situation at a second concert the next day, but days later,  the boos have moved to social media.

Many commentators are saying that the heckling had nothing to do with racism; it was merely connected to the ‘bad taste’ and undeniable vulgarity of manele that have no place at a prestigious Coldplay concert, they said.

Artist Babasha, however, set the record straight.

„It is about race.You have no idea how many private messages I received about the color of my skin and the fact that I’m a Gypsy.”

In the wider community, there was little soul-searching about the reaction, just denial, denial and more denial about racism allegations and justifications for the reactions.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet there is a line that goes: „Methinks.the lady doth protest too much.”

It is spoken by Queen Gertrude in response to the insincere overacting of a character in the play within a play created by Prince Hamlet to elicit evidence of his uncle’s guilt in the murder of his father, the King of Denmark.

The phrase is used in everyday speech in Britain to indicate doubt of someone’s sincerity, especially regarding the truth of a strong denial. The strength and vociferousness of these denials convince me of the opposite thing. Just because someone denies something, it doesn’t mean they are telling the truth.

First of all, nobody ever admits to being a racist. Many don’t have the self-awareness to admit they might be racist; in their minds they are innocent. But denial of racism or its softer cousin prejudice is part of the problem. If you don’t admit there is a problem, how can you tackle it and move on?

Few were discussing Roma rights or looking at their complicated and often tragic history with the Holocaust and societal prejudice against the group these past few days. The topic was the vulgarity and inappropriateness of some of the manele lyrics. Some commentators were even trying to wriggle out of the Gypsy connection and say that manele isn’t Roma music at all.

But it is. Manele = roma  and roma =manele. It’s not as simple as criticizing a bad rock song. This music is Gypsy music. Roma, an underclass, use this particular genre of music to express themselves and gain a world audience—very much as the blacks created reggae to make themselves heard.

Think of how proud the 22-year-old Babasha must have been to get a billing at the Coldplay concert at the country’s top venue, the Arena Nationala. And then to be cruelly jeered. Surely, there was an element of envy: how dare this upstart Roma manelist (name for an artist who performs this genre) get such a good gig?

The ongoing fallout about the episode has convinced me that it hit a raw nerve. Nobody wants to be called or even thought of as a racist; it’s an ugly crime, a nasty label, so people dredge up all kinds of reasons to say it isn’t.

In case anyone is in doubt about the plight of Europe’s Roma, here are a few facts:

“For many Roma people, exclusion and discrimination starts at a young age. According to the Roma Integration Strategies report 2019, 68% of Roma left school early. In addition, only 18% of Roma children transit to higher levels of education and 63% of young Roma are not in education, employment or training, compared to an EU average of 12%. In addition, only 43% of Roma are in a form of paid employment.

Many of the Roma people live in marginal and very poor socio-economic conditions and face discrimination, social exclusion and segregation According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 80% continue to live below the poverty line.

Nearly half of Roma and Travelers respondents (44%) experienced hate-motivated harassment in the 12 months preceding the survey.:” Source: European Commission.

Romania’s Roma were freed from slavery in 1856, in what was considered the greatest social reform of the 19th century in the country. Some quarter of a million Roma slaves became free people.
Romanians might want to be more sympathetic to their struggle. Think of the prejudice that Romanians themselves have faced abroad in West European countries. Should they not be more sensitive to shades of racism at home? does not believe that Romanians are racist, but we believe there is racism in Romania against the Roma (and not only). We also freely state there is racism in Britain,  France and the U.S. to name a few other countries. It’s certainly not ‘a Romanian problem.’ But is ugly.

The first steps to overcome this scourge are admitting it exists. When you’ve done that, you can take steps to counteract it. Racism is a toxic force: it benefits nobody.

Once you’ve admitted that, there are ways to include and integrate Roma better in society, as Romanians have already been doing for years. Educating Romanians about the problem and the history of Roma, who were slaves until 170 years ago, is another important aspect.

There are a huge number of Roma in Romania (upward of one million estimates say) and they are part of the country’s ethnic and cultural fabric. They are inventive and creative people, loyal to the country and family-minded citizens who have raised the birthrate at a time when Romanians aren’t having children.

Instead of seeing them as a problem, wouldn’t it be better to see them as part of the solution?

Gypsy pop performer booed at Coldplay concert in Romania, in echoes of racism


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