There was once a time when people believed the world to be flat, a time when people had no knowledge of those they shared the planet with, a time when it took months, not hours, to reach faraway lands. Yet, here we are in 2012, living in a globalised society where we are surrounded by cultures from across the world, where money is the only barrier from reaching the other side of the planet, and where overseas communication takes only seconds. Indeed, it would be safe to say that the United Kingdom is a multicultural state – there has undoubtedly been significant immigration, particularly since World War II. Yet, perhaps what is remarkable is how well these immigrant populations have, across generations, retained both cultural and ethnic identity, and the scope in which the United Kingdom has allowed these communities to do so.
Indeed, it would be wrong to suggest that the preservation of minority identities has been achieved without challenge. There has been a historic and well documented presence of ethnic and racial tensions in post war Britain, for example - the 1958 Notting Hill Riots, the 1981 Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side Riots and the 2001 Bradford Riots. Yet, despite the presence of far right extremists, such as the British National Party and English Defence League, the United Kingdom does offer protection to racial and ethnic minorities through legislation, such as, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Equality Act 2010. While it cannot be denied that racial and ethnic discrimination are still present both institutionally and within society itself, the United Kingdom is a state not characterised by fascism but by, though I use this term loosely, ‘equality’.
Since the expansion of the EU, and the growth of so-called ‘Islamic terrorism’, there has been a degree of scare mongering tactics, promoted by the likes of the Daily Mail, used to bring multicultural policies into dispute. Baa baa WHITE sheep, the nativity is banned, halal meat in your children’s school dinner, immigrants stealing our jobs and sponging off our welfare state, social housing filled with foreigners, terrorists have more human rights than us, they can’t speak a word of English!!! Of course, while these myths seem to be brought up in conversation increasingly more, it appears the majority of society do not wish any harm upon our minority communities – take for example- ‘My Tram Experience’ , the Shilpa Shetty race row, or the public trial of Liam Stacey.
Yet, underneath this veil of racial and ethnic tolerance, there is something very unsettling – something which tears apart and refutes every promise of equality legislation, something that disgraces the UK’s claims of multiculturalism, and something that leaves only devastation, destruction, and deprivation in its path: Antiziganism.
So what is Antiziganism? It is defined, on Wikipedia, as “…hostility, prejudice or racismdirected at the Romani people…”, yet as the majority of British people fail to differentiate, let us include ‘hostility, prejudice or racism’ towards Irish Travellers as well. But surely, in multicultural Britain, there is no room for these attitudes? It appears not, indeed one may say what they wish about the Romani and Travelling people with a simple get out clause: “I’m not Racist, but….”
If we replace the words ‘gypsy’, ‘gypo, ‘pikey’ etc. with racial slurs such as ‘nigger’, ‘paki’, ‘wog’, ‘coon’ and ‘chink’, can it really be argued that these attitudes are not racist? The ethnic minority status of Romani and Irish Travellers is neither recognised nor accepted by the British public. Instead, there are still widespread misconceptions that Gypsies and Travellers are merely a white underclass – ‘chavs’ in caravans – there by choice and thus somewhat deserving of discrimination. However, both Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers have been granted legal protection under the Race Relations Act and thus have legally recognised ethnic minority status. Still, prejudice and discrimination against the Romani and Irish Traveller communities has remained unchallenged, tolerated and unpunished.
The Irish traveller community, will indeed always contend with the fact that they are a distinct yet Irish minority, thus the British public view them merely as Irish immigrants, undeserving of ‘special treatment’. However, unlike Irish Traveller’s, perhaps what is most detrimental to the recognition of the Romani people’s ethnic minority status, is the exact opposite- their lack of a motherland. It seems easier for society to accept one’s minority status, if they can be pinpointed on the map. Andrzej is from Poland, he is Polish. Abena is from Ghana, she is Ghanaian. Kamran is from Pakistan, he is Pakistani. Anna is from England, she is A GYPSY? It seems if Anna is white, if Anna is British, then Anna should subscribe to white British ideals and culture. Anna’s motherland is England. Anna is not an ethnic minority.
If we look past skin colour, caravans and scrap metal, there is a fascinating history to be discovered. It is thought that the origins of the Romani people lie in India. Linguistic research has revealed links between the Romani language and Indo- Aryan languages such as Hindi and Marwari. What is more, similarities have been found between Romani and Indian blood types. Indeed, when the Romani people arrived in Britain some 500 years ago, their appearance was thought to be Egyptian – hence the creation of the term Gypsy. What is clear is that Romani people are a separate ethnicity, and that their culture has been shaped by origins that lay outside of mainstream British and European societies. Thus, one cannot become Romani, one can only be born Romani.
Perhaps what is perplexing is this preoccupation with choice versus ethnicity, for even if one could chose to be Romani, would this make them deserving of such extreme discrimination as the Nazi extermination (Porajmos). Indeed, the majority of society remains shocked by the Holocaust, the mass extermination of the Jewish people, yet Judaism is a religion – one may choose to convert and thus ‘become’ Jewish. Does this make a convert to Judaism deserving of discrimination? Do they deserve to die? After all, it was their choice. The simple truth is that hundreds of thousands of Romani people were murdered by Nazi Germany and still to this day they have not been giving the recognition that they deserve. Atrocities and discrimination against the Romani people are erased from the history books, and snubbed by the mainstream media.
June 1st marks Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month. Unlike Black History Month, there will be no celebrations in our schools, no special broadcasts on BBC Radio, no series of documentaries on TV. Perhaps if we’re lucky, More4 may play reruns of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, and a far left blog may write about our heart-rending tale, read only by those with an already established interest in our community. If you wish to learn more about the Romani people, you can read about our dirty thieving ways in the Daily Mail, or watch a documentary about one great big extended Irish family that represent the thousands of Romani people in the UK, or why not ask your mum’s friend’s sister’s husband’s colleagues’ daughter’s cousin about that time 3 Romani’s, out of a possible 300,000, stole her son’s bike. It seems, there is no place to celebrate Romani culture in the United Kingdom, only a thousand reasons why we should hide who we are. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History month comes once a year but Gypsy, Roma and Traveller discrimination is an all year party. Some choice.