Angela P. Harris
'In a riddle whose answer is chess, what is the only prohibited word?' I thought a moment and replied, 'The word chess.'
JORGE LUIS BORGES, “THE GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS”
The contributors to this book struggle throughout with a problem that they do not name but that surrounds their thoughtful and informative essays like a mist: the problem that arises when the academic enterprise and unequal power relations meet. Roma have for many centuries been the target of discrimination, persecution, stereotyping, forced assimilation, and violence.1 Survival for cultural groups in this situation becomes what Native American scholar Gerald Vizenor calls “survivance, ” for survival through resistance; and the primary Romani tactic of survivance has historically been invisibility. As the essays in this book document, Roma have been able to maintain an impressive degree of cultural integrity not only by absolutely excluding gadje [non-Gypsies] from their private lives, their law, their personal practices, and their values, but by excluding them even from knowledge about Romani language and social institutions. While the subordination of other “people of color” in the United States—notably African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Latino/as—has resulted in a complex cultural interchange with European America, the Roma have been able to remain a people apart, largely invisible both to the dominant culture and to other racialized minorities.
As the publication of this book also suggests, however, this situation is changing. Walter Weyrauch notes that “[t]he appearance of Romaniya or Gypsy law in legal literature is of extraordinary moment for jurisprudence and the comparative study of law. ” With this unprecedented visibility come new opportunities and new pitfalls, and a series of strategic choices. In this essay I do not attempt to predict how Roma will choose to negotiate their increased visibility;rather, I briefly sketch
I am grateful for comments on previous versions ofthis essay by Dick Buxbaum, Ian Hancock, Colin Samson, and Walter Weyrauch.