This month is Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month. With this in mind we have chosen Ian Hancock as our Inspirational Diversity Champion for June.
Hancock was born in Britain of both British and Hungarian Romani descent and was raised according to Romani traditions. He experienced firsthand the prejudice, discrimination and alienation that so many centuries of Romanies before him had endured.
Although he dropped out of school to go to work, which was very common for Romani people, Ian went onto study at London University and became the first Romani in Britain to receive a Ph.D. He has since devoted most of his adult life to dispelling ignorance about his ethnic origins.
Since his London University days, Hancock has used his somewhat unique position as a Romani-born, university-educated scholar to speak for an oppressed population that has traditionally had no voice or representation, to preserve information about Romani customs and history and to fight for Romani political and civil rights.
He is the Chairman of the United Romani Educational Foundation Inc., 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.
Educating the public about Romani history and culture has been a colossal task for Hancock because most individuals do, unfortunately, have a graphic mental image of the “typical gypsy,” but they have formed their ideas from all the wrong information.
“They do not know that seventy percent of the Romani population of Nazi-occupied Europe were murdered during the Holocaust.”
“This ridiculous fictional image has taken on a life of its own,” says Hancock. “The cliché description of Romanies is so deeply rooted that it may never totally be eradicated. There are countless representations in films and books of Italians as Mafia members, but no one actually believes that all Italians are Mafia members. That is not true for my people”.