Are we ready to fight for the rights of the Roma?

By Xenia Daniela Poslon (Comenius University)

Antigypsyism is both the main obstacle in supporting the Roma and the main motivator in acting against them. Still, people seem to be generally quite indifferent to any kind of action, showed our latest research in Slovakia.

In a representative survey we asked people to imagine that a poor Roma family moved into their neighbourhood and to further indicate whether they would engage in various activities directed either against, or on behalf of the Roma family. We wanted to examine which sets of beliefs or factors are associated with different ways that people might respond to inequality. What we found is that there are both common and unique predictors of engagement in both ally and anti-Roma collective action.

We are a team of psychologists coming from five different countries, committed to fight antigypsyism and improve the situation of the Roma in Europe. Compared to other forms of inequality, until recently, academics have largely neglected the widespread anti-Roma sentiment and prevailing discrimination. Roma are the biggest minority in Central Europe, yet despite the various integration efforts they remain the most segregated ethnic group (e.g., Sándor et al., 2017). Even though most Western democracies condemn racism, openly negative attitudes towards the Roma seem to be the last acceptable prejudice in Europe (Kende et al., 2020). Antigypsyism — a term coined specifically for anti-Roma prejudice in order to draw attention to its unique characteristics — is common also in the media and political narrative, and is often accompanied with dominant and socially approved norms (Kende, Hadarics, & Lášticová, 2017). What sets antigypsyism apart from other forms of racism is its high level of social acceptance, since the moral stigma associated with racism does not always apply to antigypsyism. But what makes the challenge of understanding it even more urgent is that it is also deeply entrenched in cultural and institutional practice (Alliance against Antigypsyism, 2016).

One reason for continuous discrimination of Roma people might be the belief that they are not entitled to the application of basic moral principles. Moral exclusion occurs when people perceive that the moral values and considerations of fairness only apply to those within the boundaries of their moral community (Opotow, 1990). It often correlates with both blatant and more subtle (modern) forms of prejudice (e.g., Passini & Morselli, 2017) and negative stereotypes could be used as justification for the moral exclusion of the Roma people (Hadarics & Kende, 2019). In our research, we expected that both antigypsyism and moral exclusion would predict intentions to join pro- or anti-Roma movements. Antigypsyism can be understood as consisting of both old-fashioned blatant prejudice and a modern form of racism, encompassing beliefs that the Roma receive undeserved benefits and misuse the social system (Kende, Hadarics, & Lášticová, 2017). Additionally, given the narrative that describes Roma as a cultural threat to European values (Loveland & Popescu, 2016), and the well-known connection between feelings of threat and prejudice (e.g., Stephan & Stephan, 2000), we also assumed that perceived threat to national identity will be related to both antigypsyism and collective action intentions.

After reading the Roma family scenario, participants rated their agreement with the statements referring to three different types of collective action intentions: pro-Roma social change oriented collective action (such as “I would motivate others to participate in actions for the human rights of Roma people.”), pro-Roma donations (e.g., “I would donate clothing, school supplies or toys for Roma families.”), and anti-Roma social change oriented action (e.g., “I would participate in some form of action (e.g., signing a petition) against policies that strive for the integration of Roma in mainstream society.”). We assessed two different types of pro-Roma action, as previous research showed that there is a distinction between “collective giving” and “collective acting” (Thomas & McGarty, 2018), the former being a type of aid that does not challenge existing hierarchies. For this reason, we also measured prosocial emotions (such as empathy and sympathy for the Roma), since they are usually more associated with donation action tendencies.

The participants in our sample reported quite high antigypsyism and higher levels of perceived threat, yet in all three types of collective action intentions they responded with relatively low, and almost equal, mean values (see Figure 1). This indicates that even though anti-Roma sentiment is quite strong in Slovakia, people are generally rather indifferent to join any kind of movements that would change the status quo of the Roma minority. Further, as expected, the higher antigypsyism people reported, the less they would be willing to help the Roma and conversely, the more they would engage in some form of activities against the Roma. However, we found that different processes, apart from antigypsyism, might give rise to either pro-Roma or anti-Roma engagement.

Figure 1: Mean values of measured variables in a representative sample (N=1025). All variables were measured on a 7-point scale.

First, confirming our expectations, antigypsyism significantly predicted all three types of collective action in our sample. For the ally social change oriented action intentions, antigypsyism was the strongest negative predictor (meaning that the lower antigypsyism people reported, the more they would be willing to engage in pro-Roma collective action), followed by moral inclusion and prosocial emotions as positive predictors. Unexpectedly, even though there was a strong correlation between all three types of collective action and perceived threat, when threat was added to the model predicting pro-Roma collective action, its strength completely decreased to non-significance. Similarly, “collective giving” type of action intentions, such as donations or volunteering, was also positively associated the most with moral inclusion, followed by prosocial emotions and antigypsyism, but perceived threat was only marginally significant. These findings could mean that even though lower threat is associated with ally collective actions, moral concern and empathy seem to be decisive factors that inspire standing up for the Roma. On the other hand, motivation to engage in anti-Roma action showed a different pattern of results: it was most strongly predicted by perceived threat to national identity, closely followed by antigypsyism. In this case, however, prosocial emotions were a weak predictor, while moral exclusion showed to be completely non-significant.

So what implications do our findings have for combating prejudice and inspiring social change in favour of the Roma minority? First of all, antigypsyism is the main obstacle in supporting the Roma. Yet people that are willing to join pro-Roma collective action on the one hand, and anti-Roma movements on the other, might be motivated by different factors. Moral inclusion, together with feelings of empathy and sympathy, seem to play an important role in helping and fighting for the Roma. On the other hand, anti-Roma collective action showed to be driven the most by perceiving the Roma as a threat to Slovak national identity. Anti-discrimination interventions should therefore try to provoke moral concern and empathy in the less prejudiced, and aim to decrease the sense of threat in people that are openly willing to stand up against the Roma. Nevertheless, policy makers and activists should primarily shift their attention to inspiring people to challenge the status quo, as the majority of our sample seems to be indifferent towards any kind of collective action regarding the Roma. As Europeans might be overly accustomed to the deep-routed low status of the Roma in our society, we have a long way to go.

Acknowledgments

This research was conducted by the team behind the PolRom project, that aims to identify the effects of political discourse on antigypsyism and collective action intentions towards the Roma, as well as anti-discrimination methods to effectively combat prejudice in five European countries. PolRom project is supported by the Justice Programme of the European Union (grant no. 808062- PolRom-REC-AG-2017/REC-RDISDISC-AG-2017) and by VEGA SAV (2/0127/19). If you are interested in learning more about our work, visit our website on https://polrom.eu/ or follow @PolRomProject on Twitter.

About the Author

Xenia Daniela Poslon is a PhD student at the Institute for Research in Social Communication (Slovak Academy of Sciences) and Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences (Comenius University in Bratislava). Her research is focused on the connection between social norms and prejudice towards minorities. She is also a team member of PolRom project, which is committed to bringing about change in the situation of Roma people in Europe.

About the ISPP & its Blog

The International Society of Political Psychology is an interdisciplinary organization representing all fields of inquiry concerned with exploring the relationships between political and psychological processes. If you are interested in contributing an article or have any questions about the blog, please email them or visit the ISPP Blog’s webpage.

References

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