Violeta Vajda // Anthropology // May 2nd 2018 // 1-2pm // Arts C133
Recently, the prominent Hungarian Romani activist Jenő Setét said that ‘Hungarian society is currently unable to face the existence and operation of [structural] racism’. Yet in the same breath he concludes that there is ‘no other option than to continue our struggle against the destructive power of racism and the phenomena it engenders, and to do this we need to find allies and partners in society.’ But who are these allies and partners? Do they exist and if so, where can they be found? And how do they get to become such? My research sets out to answer those questions, on the assumption that if Romani activists could find such allies – persons, institutions or societal actors – their struggle against antigypsyism, the specific racism levelled at Romani people, would be at least partly easier. Along the way, and as a corollary, I ask how we can transform non-Romani identity from one that is ‘preserved in aspic’, unaware and ultimately detrimental to both Romani and non-Romani people, into one that is engaged with and questioning its own historical roots and prejudices and seeks to actively overcome these through thoughtful and deliberate action. To answer these questions, I argue that it helps to change viewpoint and approach Romani Studies from a different, wider lens that transcends, without invalidating, earlier research that looks at Roma through anthropology, political science or even identity politics. To find such a viewpoint, I turn primarily to philosophical hermeneutics, then circle back to other approaches such as critical whiteness, analysis of power, feminist thinking and action research to help explain and operationalise my inquiry.
As an academic, Violeta Vajda writes about the role that critical whiteness theory can play in Romani Studies and how it may be possible to re-conceptualize non-Roma identity so that it becomes a progressive and positive driver that can ultimately underpin the emancipatory efforts of the Romani movement. Since 2014, she has worked as the Resident Program Manager for the National Democratic Institute (ndi.org) in Hungary. In this role, she has managed a series of regional programs in Central and Eastern Europe, focused on grassroots activism in Romani communities; Roma political and civic participation; interfaith and interethnic coalition building; and participatory action research in Roma communities.