THE world was captivated this week by the removal of a blonde, green-eyed girl found living with a Roma couple in Greece. But was the four-year-old dubbed the Blonde Angel "rescued by racism?" asks Tunku Varadarajan in an article for the Daily Beast?
Varadarajan, the editor of Newsweek International, says the last time the global imagination was so engaged by the rescue of a "blonde from the custody of dark beings" was when "Fay Wray found herself in the meaty, black clutches of King Kong". In headlines repeated around the world, the girl's "blondeness became her talisman, the marker of her plight, her grace, and her salvation".
The possession of a blonde child by "dark-skinned adults was wrong, ipso facto (as lawyers might put it)," Varadarajan writes. "The fact spoke for itself. There was no scope for debate. The child had to have been abducted."
Writing in The Guardian, Louise Doughty agrees that "age-old libels are being replayed". Whatever the truth of Maria's origins, she says, one element of this case is not in doubt: "Even before charges were brought, it was widely reported as a case of abduction."
Doughty labels much of the reporting of the Blonde Angel case "racist" and says it is based on the "medieval myth" that the Roma steal children. "We don't yet know the truth of the adoption of Maria by the community in which she was found, and this myth should be consigned to the historical dustbin," she writes.
The racism and antipathy levelled against the Roma is well documented, of course. The removal of a second blonde child – this one a blue-eyed seven-year-old – from a Roma camp in Dublin, has prompted claims that old prejudices are being stoked.
Siobhan Curran, from the Pavee Point charity which campaigns for Irish Traveller rights, told the Irish Independent it was concerned about "witch-hunts against a vulnerable community". She added: "Old stereotypes of an entire community [are] being propagated in the media coverage of this development."
My daughter looks nothing like me or my partner. Blond Curly hair with blue eyes. Should I be worried? - Oh wait I'm not Roma #racism
— Mark Collins (@mcollinsgreen) October 23, 2013
The Independent points out that a video showing Maria dancing to clarinet music with an older woman has been widely disseminated by the press. "From the footage, some media outlets have suggested the child's parents were forcing her to dance in hopes of making money," the paper says. In fact, the video was shot after a baptism and a religious celebration.
Terrible whiff of racism coming from media reporting of Roma children stories.
— Short Strand (@Short_Strand) October 23, 2013
A human rights expert told the Independent that the prosecution against the Roma parents in Greece is "disgusting and condemnable" as it is based on appearances. Maria is not on Interpol's list of missing children, the expert said, and there have been no claims that she was kidnapped.
Varadarajan says he does not condone the Roma couple, but insists double standards are at play. "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," he writes. "But the converse — as is Maria's case — is not merely fishy, it is almost inconceivable." ·