A British and A Romanian Walk Into a Bar...
A British and A Romanian Walk Into a Bar...
A British and a Romanian walk into a bar.
Now, the outcome of this joke depends on a series of circumstances. Is the British person university educated? Is the Romanian? Is this a bar up North, a bar in Ireland, or a student bar? Then again, bar jokes are never that complex.
But do you know what is? Being a white person in Europe.
I was nineteen years old when I first came to Oxford, my home for the amazing, stressful, wild and rewarding three years that were yet to come. I still remember how surprised I was to find out that seven in ten British citizens were calling for a ban on Romanian and Bulgarian workers. This blatant show of xenophobia fell through on January 1st the following year because it was a violation of EU workers’ rights. This was the beginning of experiencing British bigotry. But instead of this turning me complacent and apathetic to the image Romania has abroad, it made me question the relationship I had with my country.
I realised what kind of privilege I had in university when despite the worries of my parents and the degrading media coverage, mentions of my nationality were met with excited ‘ooh!’s and ‘aah!’s by my fellow students and lecturers. University was always a safe space. But every time I stepped outside of it and made my nationality known, I could feel the hostility, the dismissal and the suspicion. However, it would never be on the same level as other Romanian immigrants would have experienced.
I imagine this is the case for a lot of Eastern Europeans. Countries in the West have a special way of making us feel inferior, of mocking our accents and reducing us to lazy workers or criminals running away from a sentence. For Romanians, it ranges from issues such as being turned away from jobs and being attacked by hateful groups, to having our culture downsized to Dracula. And I bet I am not the only Eastern European internally wincing after admitting to my nationality.
But more importantly, this has led to strong self-deprecation among Romanians. It is saddening to see Romanian millennials shrug at the anti-Romanian sentiment. It leads to self-hatred and self-doubt, which are slowly taking grasp of an entire generation, just as they have in the past. And it creates the hopelessness that drives people away from living in Romania. I suppose that once you have enough hatred directed at you, you start believing it. In the face of adversity, my pride holds more meaning than Western pride. And the West’s hatred cuts deeper than any parody the East could come up with.
Though I have a degree in the UK and have lived here for three years, the aftermath of the Brexit has left me wondering if talks of those bans on Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants will return. I am left wondering if I have a future here, or if the xenophobic will rise enough to ban me from living and working in the UK.
As a white woman, I still hold a healthy amount of privilege. Even as an Eastern European, I hold privilege over the people who share my nationality, but not my race. It is safe to say that in this case, the issue of ethnocentrism is interlaced with the rampant, but poorly disguised racism of Western Europe. Perhaps you are wondering why the ‘Leave’ flyers in the Brexit campaign made it a point to mention that Romania and Bulgaria were among the last countries to join the EU; a statement that almost felt like a warning to the good citizens of the United Kingdom. And it would be hypocritical of me to talk about privilege and xenophobia in Europe without mentioning the strong correlation between Romanian workers and Romani immigrants.
I could write essay upon essay about the struggle that Romani people have to face in Europe. Even the most liberal of people who are shouting out that #BlackLivesMatter, will whisper the ‘G’ word in the same breath, with no regard to the hatred behind it. But alas, I have a word limit, and a conclusion that I am writing towards. One of the reasons for the open dismissal of Bulgarian and Romanian workers is the fact that the UK has also had an influx of Romanian and Bulgarian Romani immigrants. So, is it xenophobia disguised as racism, or is it both? If you don’t think it’s both, you are lying to yourself.
And still, we are meant to hold Western Europe to high standards. Romanian people see France and the UK as role models for the culturally diverse and welcoming as well as the staple for Western society. There are still some Romanian people, even those who hold a powerful position, who seek the support of Western Europe so strongly that they would, in turn, disrespect their own citizens because of their ethnicity. It has led to such a strong sense of racism amongst Romanians and towards Romani people that years of activism have barely scratched the surface.
All for the approval of the UK.
So, back to the joke and let’s say the British person is ignorant and the Romanian one is a worker.
“Why are you stealing our jobs?” asks the British.
“Because the position was offered to me. Because you are demanding a job while I am actively looking for one. Because I struggle financially and I would like to provide my children with a better future. Because Romania has had less than thirty years of being a democracy and we are slowly finding our footing, whilst your people voted ‘Leave’ without knowing what it meant and might have cost the UK a great deal.”
“You got me there.”
Written by Alina Bojescu,
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