Selena Gomez turned 21 over the weekend, and on Saturday night, she threw a "gypsy"-themed birthday party. Uh… is that okay?
Many consider the word "gypsy" to be a pejorative. At the very least, it's an exonym — a word assigned to a group of people by outsiders. The Romani people (among others) have been called gypsies for centuries, and a certain stereotype persists, but their true history is not well known.
From an article by Kay Randall for the University of Texas at Austin:
“Most people don’t know that appending the name ‘gypsy’ to my people is both wrong and pejorative,” says Ian Hancock, the official ambassador to the United Nations and UNICEF for the world’s 15 million Romanies and the only Romani to have been appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. “‘Gypsy’ is simply a shortened form of Egyptian—that’s what many outsiders thought Romanies were. Using a little ‘g’ in ‘gypsy’ also compounds the problem because that indicates that as a common noun it’s a lifestyle choice and not that we’re an actual ethnic group.
“Most people don’t even have a minimal education about Romanies. They don’t know that seventy percent of the Romani population of Nazi-occupied Europe were murdered during the Holocaust. Or that we’re the largest ethnic minority in Europe but have no political strength, military strength, economic strength or a territory. Or, for that matter, that there are over one million Romani Americans.”
Hancock goes on to say that "gypsies" have been stereotyped as "free-spirited, promiscuous, indigent criminals who dance around campfires and are fortunetellers, thieves and liars."
Of course, Selena's "gypsy" theme meant that the ladies in attendance wore headscarves, long skirts and bare midriffs; there were belly dancers with snakes as entertainment (as seen in her friends' Instagram pix). Kind of a mash-up of Esmeralda from Hunchback, Aladdin and I Dream Of Jeannie. According to Us, Selena's birthday cake was shaped like an elephant on a pillow, which is vaguely South Asian by way of Moulin Rouge?
But the "gypsy" thing probably happened because Shakira has a song called "Gypsy," and she and Selena did a duet of that track on Selena's Disney Channel show, The Wizards of Waverly Place. But throwing on a scarf and calling yourself a member of an oppressed people is not very sensitive. And since Selena recently performed her single, "Come And Get It," which has Indian influences, while wearing a bindi, it certainly seems like she's fetishizing, exoticizing and appropriating other cultures because she thinks it's cool or edgy. Maybe now that she's older someone will tell her that none of those things are cool.