Tuesday, 8 April 2014

International Romani Day: and why this year will be my last.

Last year I asked the question “Why are Britain’s Romani not at the forefront of International Romani Day action?”; a simple question, you would expect, yet, one that seemed to unsettle the so called activists who had turned this day into a Dale Farm Remembrance day. This was the first year in which I felt uneasy celebrating International Romani Day, in fact, it was the start of a year long journey of confronting and rebuffing everything I had ever taken for granted:  my knowledge of self and my knowledge of us – the Romani people. This year will be my last International Romani Day – an unexpected statement some may say, given my usual forthright support of all things Romani. I’m still a proud Romani man; I’m still passionate and sincere about equality; but on my journey of discovery I recognised how distant this day has become from us – the Romani people – who it superficially aids. 

I have always been vocal on what I understand as an appropriation of my oppression. For as long as I have engaged with the Romani rights ‘movement’, it has been led by well educated, non-Romani, individuals. At first, I found this somewhat perplexing; it was almost humorous to learn that the ‘enemy’ – whom I had always been told to avoid and whom were the source of my exclusion – were ‘fighting’ for my rights. Their support, however, I have always welcomed - it is mostly offered with good intentions – but their leadership is something I abhor. “I’m organising Roma Nation Day” wrote one well known, non-Romani, activist to me in an email. This is an individual who has built his entire career, and to an extent his life, on cultural appropriation and speaking for other people. Should anyone dare to criticise his monopoly over Romani activism, his antagonistic tactics, or categorically incorrect homogenisation of anyone who has ever been within 5 foot of a caravan; he has a herd of Oxbridge educated followers ready to defend him and bombard his critics with emails.  As a matter of fact, I have been on the receiving end of this: but Pip, why can’t you just let us speak for you? There wouldn’t even be a Roma day if it wasn’t for He Who Must Not Be Named. 

Sadly, they are not far from the truth. The International Romani Union, whom first declared International Romani Day back in 1990, have always counted non-Romani activists amongst their ranks. This is something I’ve learnt relatively recently; until I read a friend’s paper last year, I had not the slightest indication of who the International Romani Union were, let alone that it had established International Romani Day, and even the Romani flag. These realisations were a turning point for me and my understanding of what it is to be Romani, as beneath the rhetoric of cultural celebration and equal rights, is something that has always sat in firm opposition to my beliefs – nationalism.  In truth, the International Romani Union is established on the belief that the Romani people are some kind of dispersed nation, descending from India, whose culture and language has been polluted through the coercion of the nation states in which we have come to settle. They yearn for our reunification – for us to recognise and somewhat pine for our Indian homeland – and to purify our muddied tongues so that we may speak a standardised, unpolluted, dialect of the Romani language.

To learn that the flag I had been flying stood for something that would not be out of place in a far right manifesto was somewhat hard to swallow. For as long as I can remember, I have stood in opposition to nationalism and considered it the root and the cause of our oppression, yet I began to wonder: was I, too, guilty of employing nationalist beliefs? I had considered my B+ blood type and thalassemia as some form of genetic authentication of my true Romani blood, given their prevalence in India; I had been guilty of branding others widos – fake Gypsies – for their lack of knowledge of the Romani tongue; I had told the story of our supposed Indian homeland time and time again to anyone who had asked who we – the Gypsies – were; and I had referred to us so often as ‘we’ – as though we were a homogeneous people separated by nothing but borders. I realised, however, that I am not a nationalist; I am merely the victim of my own inquisitive mind. In my search for the answer to - ‘who am I?’ - I had turned to the studies, the theories, and the literature popularised by those who adhere to this nationalist way of thinking. Now I understand, however, that the answers cannot be found in books. They’ll only inform me of someone else’s agenda or their understanding of self and others. My truth – my ­ understanding of who I am – can only be found in my words and my experiences. 

‘Agenda’ – I think this is where my concerns with International Romani Day are rooted. I have always understood this day as a time for Romani people across the world to celebrate our cultures and raise awareness of the inequality that we face, but now I only see it as an instrument of nationalism, especially now it’s increasingly being referred to as ‘Roma Nation Day’. The people – like He Who Must Not Be Named – who profess to be the ‘organisers’ of International Romani Day, appear to have a much different understanding of what it is to be Romani. I won’t speak for 12 million people, but I have never met a Rom who places India as central to their identity and it’s certainly not central to my own. I’m aware that our language has its origins in India, but I do not feel Indian – I will never feel Indian – and I feel no connection to my supposed homeland in any way at all. My Baba always tells me that the Rom are the lost tribe of Moses – whether it’s true or not, this is how she makes sense of her history. Who is anyone to tell her that she’s wrong? To tell her that she has somehow internalised one of the many fallacies disseminated by the non-Romani people? 

This however, seems to characterise the International Romani Union or whoever else is behind this nationalist rhetoric. Here we have highly educated Romani men and their interfering non-Romani associates, who believe they can non-democratically decide what, who and where is Romani and what, who and where isn’t. Apparently, we should all speak in a perfect Kalderas dialect of Romani, call ourselves the Roma, and mourn for a homeland we didn’t even know existed. I speak a mishmash of Bugurdzi and Anglo-Romani, I call myself a Gypsy and I have more nostalgia for Bulgaria than I do India – does this mean I’m not a true Rom?  I can speak only for myself, but Romani is not a nationality, it’s more like a state of mind.  Yes, we are born Romani and we are raised Romani but we are also citizens, and have been for centuries, of the countries in which we have built our cultures and lives. 

I do not see it as pollution or impure to speak a dialect of Romani that has been influenced by the migratory path of my ancestors, nor do I see it as wrong to have adopted elements of the culture of the country in which I have grown up in. I am not impure, I am not less of a Rom; rather, the hybridity of our identities and cultures is a clear illustration of our nomadic pasts.  Whether we still travel or not, we are the nomads and it is this which I believe runs through our blood. Our cultures and identities are so complex and diverse because of the journeys our ancestors took, and this is what makes the ‘Roma Nation’ seem so bizarre to me. Part of the reason we are seen as so at odds with society is our rejection of place and our rejection to conform to societal expectations. Romani nationalism asks us to reject our nomadic past, irradiate any influence it has had on our culture, and conform to the non-Romani notion that we are no one without a homeland. 

Other people always wish to tell me who I am – even the non-Romani apparently know more about me than I do. It is almost a weekly tradition now, that a born again Gypsy (and I don’t mean the Light and Life kind) will preach to me from the book of Hancock. Usually the discovery of great granny born in a tent is enough to qualify them as Romani experts. “The word Gypsy is offensive” they tell me as they plan their April 8th demonstrations. Our very own brand of Zionism has, at least, registered in their minds even if it has bypassed the rest of us. These people don’t speak for me, and I doubt they speak for the 12 million Romani people living in deplorable conditions. When you are confronted with neo-nazi violence, continual eviction, poverty, educational segregation, sterilisation, unemployment, poor health and racism, the flashmobs of middle class activists, unwittingly propagating nationalist agendas, do not even register. I am not someone’s political play thing, nor do I accept the nationalist ramblings of the self-elected Romani leaders. I will always celebrate my culture and I will always fight for equality, but I will do this with sincerity and not within the nationalist framework in which International Romani Day is currently positioned.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

What is in a word? 'Gypsy': pride or prejudice.

Every week without fail someone asks me “is the word Gypsy offensive?” There really is no simple answer. ­How can there be when there are 12 million Romanies in Europe alone – all with their own opinions, experiences and identities. It is this fact which complicates almost every debate amongst and about the Romani people. We are considered as this one, gigantic ethnic group with a single Romani identity. It is assumed we speak one language, share one identical culture and, indeed, unite under one name. This, however, is far from the truth and in reality we are a collection of many different groups with varying cultures, languages, histories, and identities. What we have in common, however, is that together we are the Romani people.

When I write, I try to do my best to avoid slipping into the trap of referring to the Romani people as a single group. It is a practice easier said than done though, considering how complicated it is to explain to non-Romanies (gadze) the complex makeup of the Romani people.  Truthfully, it is sometimes easier to homogenise us when there is an important point to make to those who have for so long kept us on the margins of society. This, of course, puts me at risk of incorrectly speaking for others who quite possibly would not recognise our sameness. Certainly, this is a huge issue within Romani politics as those of us who are ‘educated’ and able to stand up for our communities, often claim to be representative of the entire Romani population which is simply not possible. 

I’ve discovered through the years, that the key to explaining this complexity is to explain it in terms that the gadze can relate to – Harry Potter. In the Harry Potter series, Harry and his lovely wizard friends attend a magical school called Hogwarts. On that first day in the Great Hall, Harry and his fellow students put on a manky old hat and are sorted into four school houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. That said, while Harry and his friends are all students at Hogwarts, they are also divided into four separate houses which produce four very different Hogwarts identities and experiences. Despite the rivalry, and at times utter hatred, between the four houses, they are all united by the fact that they all Hogwarts Students and to the outside they are a distinct group. By now you might be thinking that I am entirely mad, but let’s replace the word ‘Hogwarts’ for ‘Romani’ and all should fall into place.

If we think of Romani as a school as opposed to an ethnicity, then the Romani people would be the students and their subgroups would be the school houses. Instead of Gryffindor and Hufflepuff, there would be Romanichal, Kalderaš, Lovari, Ursari, etc. Each house (subgroup) would have a house identity, culture and language but would also be part of the wider school (Romani) community. As such, when a Romani speaks on behalf of the Romani people, his/her opinion and experiences may only reflect the subgroup to which they belong. I am part Romanichal and part Bugurdži, thus, my beliefs, my language, my culture, my identity, the blogs I write and the words that offend me are entirely influenced by this and will not be identical to every other Romani in the world. 

It is important, therefore, that people recognise this when determining which words are offensive and which are not. The Romani people are referred to by a number of different terms: Gypsy; Gitano; Tsigani, Zigeuner; and Traveller, to name just a few. Many of these terms were assigned to us by the Gadze; for example, the origins of the word ‘Gypsy’ can be traced to the word ‘Egyptian’, as the first Romanies to reach the shores of Great Britain were thought to have travelled from Egypt. At first glance this can seem highly problematic to some people. These are the words that were used to categorise us as ‘others’ but we can’t ignore the fact that many Romani communities have adopted these words, used them to define themselves and their identity, and use them with a sense of pride. Others reject these words: they may instead use the name of their subgroup when referring to their ethnicity – the Bugurdžis, the Kêldaraš, the Sinti. Others may simply just refer to themselves as the Rom, the Roma, or the Romanies. What is clear is that there is not a single term that is universally used, nor is there one that is universally offensive. 

The debate around the self-designation of the Romani people is, itself, relatively new. It was at the first world Romani Congress in 1971, when the International Romani Union (IRU) made the decision to condemn the use of all other terms for the Romanies except ‘the Roma’. Their declaration was problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was part of the IRU’s wider agenda to homogenise the Romani people and deprive them of their subgroup identities and languages. Secondly, the IRU is an organisation that is dominated by ‘educated’ Romani men who make exaggerated claims about their ability to represent ‘their people’. For the majority of Europe’s Romani people, education is a right which they are denied. They are, therefore, also denied entry to the world of Romani politics and, as such, are entirely excluded from the self-designation debate. On top of this, the complete lack of a female presence means that Romani women are left entirely unrepresented. Finally, it is concerning that many non-Romani (gadze) men were also involved in the decision to condemn these words and we must, therefore, question if this can even be considered as self-designation. In spite of this, their declaration has trickled down to the politically correct who believe using the term ‘Gypsy’ is more offensive than denying us our right to self-designation. 

Growing up in the Romanichal culture, I have come across hundreds and hundreds of fellow Romanichals who happily and proudly refer to themselves as Gypsies. I define myself as a Romani Gypsy, and this is the way I wish other people to refer to my ethnicity. What I do find offensive, however, are the terms ‘Gypo’ and ‘Pikey’ which have so often been hurled at me throughout my life. There has been a growing tendency recently, amongst academics, MPs and the ‘politically correct’, to refer to us as a ‘travelling community’ or simply ‘Travellers’. This is largely due to the fact that, in the UK, the Romani people have been lumped into a special category with any other group that have ever had a nomadic existence. Despite our very different cultures, histories and identities, we are grouped together with Irish Travellers; New age Travellers; Fairground Travellers; and countless others. When asked to define our ethnicity there is no Romani Gypsy tick box on the form, just an option to declare ourselves Gypsy/Roma/Traveller – an option I always refuse. I am not a GRT as we are so lovingly referred to and we should not be categorised this way, just as we wouldn’t use the category Black/Asian/Arab.  

The result of this categorisation is that people often refer to me in terms which I deem offensive. I have so often been referred to as a ‘Traveller’ or from a ‘Travelling community’. For me, this does not reflect the reality of my experiences. I would not describe my lifestyle as nomadic: I sometimes travel to find work and I travel throughout the summer to Gypsy fairs, yet, I wouldn’t label myself a ‘nomad’. What is more, given that one half of my family are Bugurdži Gypsies from Bulgaria; it seems somewhat comical to refer to them as Travellers. Nomadism died with the rise in Communism in 1946, and it ludicrous to refer to a group of people as nomads when they have been ‘settled’ for over 60 years. For me, the use of the word ‘Traveller’ is dangerous: it can be used by those who wish to oppress us, to deny us of our ethnicity by aligning it with an activity or lifestyle that very few of us uphold. My ethnicity is not a lifestyle choice, and for that reason I reject the term Traveller. 

It is important to point out that this is a personal choice. There are many Romanies who are not offended by the term ‘Traveller’, and many who would identify as a ‘Traveller’. By rejecting the term myself, I am not attempting to deny anyone else of their right to self-designation. Rather, I am highlighting the fact that we must all be giving the opportunity to self-identify as whatever we wish to. It is not for me, the IRU, the Gadze, or any other Romani person to tell anyone else what they can and cannot be called. So, in answer to the question ‘Is the word ‘Gypsy’ offensive?’ I can give you two answers: to some yes, to others no.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Genocide by another name? Blunkett, assimilation and the 'Roma question'.

"We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of…the Roma community, because there's going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that." – David Blunkett. 

Change a culture – what does that mean? Assimilation, I expect. Indeed, in recent months the ‘Roma question’ has been at the centre of political debates, media campaigns and televised debates. Fuelled by the impending expiration of the restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians freedom to live and work in the EU, attention has fallen on the Roma community. It was without surprise that the likes of Nigel Farage, the Daily Mail and the Express have used this as opportunity to foster an anti-immigrant and antiziganist sentiment, yet, when these words come from the mouth of  a supposedly ‘left wing’ Labour MP, it is, perhaps, time to start worrying. 

The Rom are by no means strangers to intolerance – it has defined our past, our present and, without a doubt, our future. Our history is not one that we look back on with nostalgia, indeed, we have long been maligned. From five centuries of enslavement in Wallachia; to orders for our expulsion which date back to the 15th century (and persist to this day); to being put to death for the mere crime of being Romani; and to the ‘Porajmos’ – the Nazi genocide of 500,000 Romani people. What is clear is that antiziganism has come to define the gadjo (non-Romani) population as much as it has the Rom. 

Why? That is a question I have asked myself my entire life – why have we been so severely loathed for so many centuries? For sure, we were a mysterious stranger when we arrived in Europe in the 14th Century. Where we came from, no one can really say for certain. Whether it’s India, Egypt, or even the moon, what we do know is that we have remained in Europe ever since. We are no longer strangers, we have been part of Europe for 700 years, yet, we are still as mistrusted, as detested, and as enigmatic as the day we arrived. I suspect that Blunkett and Farage would suggest that there is something inherently wrong with our ethnicity that justifies the discrimination that we face, a view which was shared by Hitler. What that is though remains a mystery – is it, like Blunkett claims, our predisposition to congregate on the street and socialise or was Hitler correct to suggest that we are racially impure?

It seems almost inherent in the human race to suspect the unknown. We fear what we do not know and it is only with knowledge that our fears are eradicated. Once upon a time we believed the world to be flat and we feared fallen from its edges, yet, with knowledge we learnt it was round. We can, perhaps, then justify why Europe feared the Rom when they arrived from an unknown territory, in the 14th Century. There have been attempts to map our origins – linguistic evidence suggests we originated from Northern India – yet, our history is unwritten and, thus, theories of our origin are simply educated guesswork. That said, there is no concrete knowledge to lessen fears and suspicions and despite our 700 year presence in Europe we remain the stranger from an unknown land. 

Still considered as the ‘unknown’, we are yet to be deemed ‘European’. We are not Bulgarians, Romanians or Brits, nor are we deemed to have any other national identity. We are simply the Romani – the strangers who wandered here from somewhere outside of Europe, and who have continued to wander through the borders of Europe’s territory. We have, thus, never been deemed as full citizens. This excuses Europe from providing us with the equal rights bestowed to its ‘real’ citizens – the citizens with a history and a homeland. We have, therefore, faced centuries of persecution for not being European enough. It is this persecution, however, that has led us to become so isolated from mainstream culture.

Romani cultures have remained strong and almost unchanged for centuries. They have adapted only to the oppressive policies which police our lives. How does one integrate into a society that has rejected them from the start? Indeed, policy has coerced us to part with many of our cultural traditions. Nomadism, for example, has essentially been outlawed which prompted our move into ‘bricks and mortar’ accommodation. This is arguably the process of ‘assimilation’ but certainly, within my own experience, this did not ease the discrimination that we face. The strangers in the caravans become the strangers in the gadjo neighbourhood – adhering to mainstream culture, yet, still visible as a target. Nomadism is unwelcomed; however, we are also unwelcomed as the neighbour next door. 

If we look across Europe we will find neighbourhoods in nearly every big city that are inhabited entirely by the Rom. Politicians tell us that we have segregated ourselves, but we were unwanted elsewhere. For centuries, therefore, we have built networks of dependence amongst the Romani communities in which we live. Our ethnicity, our cultures, and our shared experience of oppression have been the links that have bonded us together. The longer our persecution prevails, the stronger our cultural identities have become. In a society that denies us our basic rights, our cultures are our only weapon. We have been denied equality and our rights have been taken, but the one thing they can’t take from us is our identity. 

My grandmother is a Bulgarian Roma migrant. She arrived in the UK in the 1980s looking for a better life. Communist Bulgaria had a policy of forced assimilation for all ethnic minorities – the Romani way of life, the Romani language, and even Romani surnames were outlawed. Sedentarist policy forced the Romani away from nomadism, and the freedom to practice traditional occupations was restricted. “They hoped to eradicate us” she told me. “I left all my family behind to come to England. Back then we thought England was the land of the free, the land of opportunity. Now it’s like being back in the dark days – first, they take our homes, with the scrap license they have taken our jobs, and now we are banned from the streets. Banning us from congregating - did they not ban the Jewish people from the parks?” After the fall of communism in Bulgaria, conditions did not improve for the Rom. “Communism took our skills, our traditional crafts. There were no more jobs when communism fell and the Rom were left with no means to make a living. No one wanted to help the Rom, we were left in ghettos, no jobs, no money for water or electricity, not even a toilet.” 

This is how conditions remain for most of Europe’s 12 million Romani people. Like my grandmother, they come to the UK looking for a better life. Instead, they are met with intolerance. These people have come to the UK from neighbourhoods where they have never had a refuse collection, yet, we assume they will understand our colour coded bins and waste disposal systems. They come from poverty that is unfathomable in this country, then criticise them for ‘stealing our jobs and our benefits’. Overcrowding has characterised their lives, both here and at home, yet, we chastise them for exercising their freedom to gather outside. The Rom do not congregate outdoors to ‘intimidate’ their neighbours, yet, this entirely harmless act is observed as menacing by a society who condemns them for simply being Romani. 

Whilst writing this article, the Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, endorsed David Blunkett’s attack on the Rom.  “We have every right to say if you are in Britain and are coming to live here…you have got to be sensitive to the way life is lived in this country. If you do things that people find intimidating, such as large groups hanging around on street corners, you have got to listen to what other people in the community say." Coming from the ‘far right’ I’d perhaps not be shocked, but I find it increasingly distressing that antiziganist attitudes and scaremongering are creeping into mainstream politics. There is something quite eerie about David Blunkett’s words. The notion that we must ‘change’ a culture for the greater good of our society is heavily draped with Nazi connotations. To change our cultures, to assimilate, to lose the one thing that has bound us together through centuries of oppression, is genocide by another name.

The Nazis sought to eradicate Romani cultures by taking our lives, in Britain, seventy years on, they wish to take our souls instead. When they take away our culture there is no longer a need to kill us, for they have taken all that we have left. The Romani have a saying – Na bister 500,000 (never forget the 500,000) – but how could we forget when the genocide lives on.

Monday, 21 October 2013

How do you solve a problem like Maria? Racism, racism and more racism.

There are 12 million Roma in Europe. There are poor Roma, there are rich Roma, there are fat Roma, there are thin Roma – my God, there are even blonde Roma. Then there are two Roma in Greece who may or may not have abducted a blonde girl called Maria. Two Roma. That’s around 0.000017% of Europe’s Roma population. The media, being it’s ever so rational self, have concluded that this statistic is beyond shocking. You will be relieved to know, therefore, that they have alerted the world to the imminent threat that Europe’s Roma pose to the safety of your children (especially the blonde ones). 

Of course, this sensationalism is nothing new. The Gypsies have always been known for their baby snatching ways and their real life Fagin gangs of feral pickpocketing children, probably trafficked from Romania or somewhere with an equally bad infestation of Gypsies. What is different this time, however, is that it has come in the midst of an already full blown media attack upon Bulgarian and Romanian Roma. This is a priceless piece of propaganda for the Daily Mail and friends who are hell bent on encouraging casual racism towards any Roma who dare to step over the borders come 2014. Not only will they steal your jobs, your benefits, your council houses, and your child’s place at primary school, but they will now steal your children too. 

Don’t get me wrong, my heart breaks for little Maria if she has been abducted or mistreated, however, clear and alarming messages have emerged from the media coverage. Maria has made headline news across the world not because she was ‘abducted’ but because she is white. Not only is she white, she is the epitome of whiteness – blonde hair, blue eyes and beautiful. The purity of a little white blonde girl fiercely contrasts with the perceived ‘dirtiness’ of the Roma. Media reports refer to the dilapidated and filthy Roma neighbourhood in which she was found and the ‘obscure Roma language’ in which she speaks. Essentially what the media are saying is that it is more than ok for the Roma to live in such an environment as they are a dirty and unwanted race. When a pretty little white girl is discovered amongst this poverty, however, it is a shocking case of child abuse. 

The media have been able to ascribe the heartlessness, cruelty and criminality of child abduction to a ‘dirty’ and ‘criminal’ ethnic group. Forgetting that there is, and will always be, white child traffickers, the media have predictably referred to Maria as the ‘Greek Maddie’. Just last week, the same newspapers circulated artist impressions of the two main suspects in the Madeleine McCann case. They were thought to be white, fair haired, and possibly German. In spite of these new leads, the media are now implying that Madeleine was almost certainly stolen by Gypsies. Some ‘journalists’ have even gone as far to suggest that Ben Needham was abducted and held at the same Roma camp as Maria. In effect, they are insinuating that white people couldn’t possibly abduct or murder cute, white, blonde children despite all the evidence on the contrary. 

The reporting of this case has not gone without criticism. I am not the only person who has noticed the blatant racist undertones within the majority of articles and TV news broadcasts. Much of this criticism, however, is unhelpful. Often people believe that defending ‘the accused’ is helpful to the community under fire. It is not our job to decide the guilt or innocence of Maria’s alleged abductors. In every community, ethnicity and race there are good and bad people and if little Maria has been mistreated then those responsible must be punished. What we must condemn, however, is the sensationalist reporting, the stereotyping, and the assumptions made about the Roma people. Maria’s story, if we are to believe she was abducted, is undoubtedly a sad one. Perhaps what is just as sad, however, is the fact that people are still prepared to condemn 12 million people for the actions of just 2.

Monday, 29 July 2013

An Open Letter to Carol Vorderman

Dear Carol Vorderman, 

I was somewhat shocked to discover that you still have a career after coming across your ignorant, vile and derogatory rant about Gypsy and Traveller communities in Closer magazine. This shock, however, was short lived when I remembered that, as you point out, there is one rule for us and one rule for the rest of society. Nonetheless, I am still rather bewildered as to why you feel so hard done by, thus, I would like to highlight to you the special privileges that you, as a rich, white and successful celebrity, are missing out on by not being part of a Gypsy or Traveller community. 

Under the Race Relations Act 1976, Gypsy and Traveller communities are recognised as ethnic minorities, thus, supposedly should be protected from discrimination. I guess you find this very unfair – why should a bunch of delinquents who decided to live in caravans be entitled to these extra rights that the hard working white tax payer doesn’t get? Maybe if you bought a caravan and became a Gypsy then you would also be able to bask in the privileges that the Race Relations Act supposedly brings, such as: being refused registration at your local GP surgery; being refused service from pubs and restaurants; being forced to deny your identity so you are not bullied at school or refused employment; and being refused planning permission whether it be on the green belt, a remote mountain peak or the moon. 

What more could Gypsy and Traveller communities want? All these extra privileges and still they have to snatch away the very few pleasures that the rest of society are given, such as cricket pitches, village greens, playing fields and the roadside. Of the 19,413 Gypsy and Traveller caravans in England, 84% are on authorised sites while 16% on unauthorised sites. Under the Housing Act 1996, a person is considered homeless if they have accommodation but “there is no place where he is entitled or permitted both to place it and to reside in it”. Therefore, any Gypsy or Traveller living on an unauthorised site can be considered homeless. The Coalition government have withdrawn funding for and repealed targets to provide sites for Gypsy and Traveller communities whilst introducing greater powers for local authorities to challenge unauthorised developments. This was introduced in spite of the fact that there is a widely documented pitch shortage. In Preston, the home of the Hoghton Cricket Club whom you speak of so fondly of, there are an estimated 111 Gypsies and Travellers but just 14 pitches. The presence of unauthorised sites, thus, is hardly surprising. 

But what about the people “who pay their taxes and work hard to keep their homes and villages nice”? Why should they be subjected to the injustice of having homeless people living in their white middle class villages? Why can’t Gypsies and Traveller just live in houses like everyone else? Turns out, that around one half to two thirds of Gypsies and Travellers are living in bricks and mortar accommodation. If you would like the rest of us to join them then we will happily ditch centuries of nomadic tradition and move in next door to you and your hard working neighbours Carol. Oh wait, that’s right, you wouldn’t want the likes of me living next door to you would you? So where should we go? Should we only ‘invade’ the not so “pristine” parks situated in council estates, after all, as long as we’re not leaving behind “faeces” on the precious cricket pitches of middle class villages, does it really matter? Or do you simply want the “Gypsy problem” to disappear as Hitler advocated during WWII when he murdered 500,000 Romani Gypsies, including members of my own family.

The truth is that you are entirely correct. There is one rule for Gypsies and Travellers and one rule for everyone else, except it is your rule that comes crammed with extra privileges. Gypsies and Travellers are hated not because they ‘invade’ fields and cricket pitches, but because they have been a hugely maligned and despised minority since their arrival to Europe and the UK, centuries ago. They have been subjected to slavery, extermination, sterilisation, segregation both geographically and in education, evictions, poverty, hate crime, and the criminalisation of their entire culture. In spite of this, the rest of society wonders why we remain so resistant to assimilation. The sad truth is that despite Hitler’s attempted extermination of Europe’s Romani community, attitudes towards Gypsy and Traveller communities have not changed but instead have remained hostile and prejudiced. "Discrimination against gypsies and travellers appears to be the last 'respectable' form of racism” and goes without the same level of outrage that racism towards other ethnic minorities receives. Had your column included a similar article about any other ethnic minority, I am certain that you would be surrounded by shame and scandal. Perhaps then Carol, you are a very lucky that there is one rule for Gypsies and Travellers and one rule for everyone else, as if there wasn’t your career would certainly be over. 

Yours sincerely,

Pip Borev.