I'm going to break that rule today, because I think it IS important to shed some light to the real situation at hand, even though I know that whatever I say here will not do true justice to the reality faced on a day to day basis.
Since the moment I opened the Peace Corps Welcome Book for Bulgaria back in the spring of 2008, I knew that God was bringing me to Bulgaria to work with the Roma/gypsy youth population. Despite Peace Corps best efforts to prepare me for my work here during Pre-Service Training, though, it wasn't until I actually moved to Samokov and started working that I truly started to see the disdain, disgust, and all-around racism towards Roma. To be honest, though, I have yet to truly understand where this resentment comes from, even though everyone you meet has their own theory.
A few weeks ago I mentioned that a friend of mine was reading Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. Griffin was a white Texan, and the book describes his 6 week experience traveling the deep south on greyhound busses and hitchhiking in 1959, all while passing himself (undisputed) as a black man. I've often heard people comparing modern day Roma issues to the Civil Rights Era in the United States not so long ago, but it wasn't until I felt inclined to pick up my own copy and found myself unable to put down Griffin's story that I began to realize how true that comparison must be. I don't have page numbers because I read this on my Kindle, but one of the quotes that made me think of the life my children have been dealt here is this: "When all the talk, all the propaganda has been cut away, the criterion is nothing but the color of skin. My experience proved that. They judged me by no quality. My skin was dark." I've seen Roma kids get chased away from vendor stands because they are all automatically labeled as thieves due to their darker hair, eyes, and skin. I've seen paying adults from the same community denied rides on public transportation even though there was plenty of room for them. I've seen Roma families approach a table with a 'reserved' sign in a restaurant, only to be turned away because the table is reserved only for suitable (read white/Bulgarian) patrons.
It breaks my heart to see such a beautiful, loving, generous, community-based demographic deemed void of all of these positive attributes, and be judged by their skin color or the sins of a minuscule minority. It also makes me proud to be serving in the role I do here - to be working alongside determined, passionate advocates for the Roma population in Samokov - but unlike the start of the Civil Rights movement in America, I wonder if there are enough enraged individuals out there willing to take a stand for population that has been denied their own voices.