Last week, Greek police, searching a Roma family's home during an unrelated criminal investigation, came across a pale, tow-headed little girl among the family's gaggle of dark-haired, dark-skinned children. Immediately, they were like, "HOW DID THIS GET HERE," and swept the girl up into protective custody. DNA tests confirmed that the child was not biologically related to her Roma family, but the parents claim they adopted (or, were "given") her legally.
Authorities, concerned that the girl had been kidnapped and trafficked, have launched an international campaign to reunite the "blonde angel" with her birth family. The Roma parents have been arrested for abducting a minor.
Then, yesterday, another blonde child was removed from a Roma family in Dublin.
The cultural complexities here are daunting. "We noticed your kid didn't look like you, so we took it" seems like it sets a bonkers precedent. People are notorious shitheads to Roma communities (anecdotally, when I was in Romania, I was told explicitly that Roma beggars are less than human), and the glee with which these families are being vilified (their crimes still unproven, by the way) feels like it's as much about feeding racist stereotypes as it is about caring for children.
Qristina at Golden Zephyr writes:
The Greek child, "Maria" as case workers have called her, was found, according to Smile of the Child spokesman Panagiotis Pardalis, "amid bad living conditions, poor hygiene." It strikes me as ironic that police and charity workers are using the living conditions at the Farsala camp as proof that Maria was abducted. Conditions in most Roma camps consist of "bad living conditions, poor hygiene."
...Yet, the case of little "Maria" is being heralded as a substantiation of "child stealing lying Gypsy" stereotypes. There has been no question of why [armed] police repeatedly raided Romani camps and why Maria was removed simply for being blonde. There are many blonde-haired, blue-eyed Roma out there, none of whom are marched away by the police because they are "strikingly different" or as Fox News reporter Greg Palkot stated, "look nothing like [their] Gypsy parents."
And the European Roma Rights Centre has urged the media to exercise caution when reporting on such child removal cases:
Criminality is not related to ethnicity. Roma children are, however, much more likely to be put into state care, trapped in segregated education, and forcibly evicted from their homes. These are the stories that don’t make it to the front page.
We urge restraint, and we urge all local authorities, media outlets and other stakeholders to fully examine the facts before acting.
Exceedingly troubling here is the beatification of the girls' blondness—the way it's so obviously being used as a signifier of worth, as though it's somehow more of a crime to traffic a pale child than a dark one. It's a jarring distillation of Missing White Woman Syndrome. Is anyone concerned about the parentage and safety of the other, black-haired children in these families' care—if, as has been reported, they have other illegally adopted children? Is anyone concerned about entire communities of human beings living in poverty and squalor? (A story out of Mexico last year raised similar questions.)
Yes, of course, kidnapping should be investigated. If these little girls were kidnapped and can now be returned to their birth families, there is some good in that outcome. But regardless of specific circumstances in these cases, the broader implications—the assumptions we make about historically marginalized groups and their fitness to raise their own children—are discouraging.
Here's Tunku Varadarajan at the Daily Beast:
I am far from hysterical about matters of race, and I pray that this child is restored to her biological parents (assuming they are alive). It goes without saying that I feel for the child: I find her portrait disturbing. She looks fragile, scared, and unhealthy: It is easy to imagine trauma behind those blue eyes. But this story has made me very queasy. Without condoning the Roma couple at the center of this international genetic mystery (who seem, by most accounts, to be dodgy people, found to be in possession of weapons and balaclavas), I was struck by the alacrity with which the official mind raced from mere observation to damning conclusion, the alacrity with which an international incident flared up in the space of a few hours—all because a blonde child was found in the custody of dark, Roma parents. A very dark-skinned kid in the keep of blonde people is part of the natural order, proof, in fact, of benevolence, of the bigheartedness of the adoption process. But the converse—as is Maria’s case—is not merely fishy, it is almost inconceivable. What is wrong with this picture? Everything.
At play here is a swarm of feelings, prejudices, instincts, paranoia—many age-old and atavistic—that most civilized people in the West (and many civilized people in other parts of the world) have taught themselves to suppress. The leap to racial conclusions, when it occurs, is a disconcerting impulse, particularly so when (as in the case of blonde Maria and her Roma “parents”) the leap is so unabashed, so artless, so unreflecting.
It's clear that something has gone terribly wrong here, perhaps on all sides. But at the very least, I hope these little girls' stories end justly and well. And that people following these stories become a little more cognizant of the fact that all kids have value—not just the blonde ones.
Images via Getty.