Date: 05 June 2020
It's June and the start of another Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month. On Monday in a heartening display of solidarity, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan tweeted his support for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. What followed his tweet was a slew of racist comments and disparaging remarks from members of the public, many expressing their disdain at the Mayor for showing his support.
While anti-Traveller rhetoric is nothing new, it does seem like these past few months has been one disheartening incident after another, which makes us wonder: is 2020 an open season on Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller communities? This comes at a time when Black people are, rightfully so, discussing the appalling racism they are experiencing daily with the murder and policing of Black people, as well as the structural racism which is resulting in the overrepresentation of covid-19 related deaths. It is important that we challenge racism and discrimination in all of its forms. Groups like Operation Black Vote, and Black Lives Matter are challenging these toxic, racist narratives, and it’s important that we do the same.
Gypsy, Roma Traveller (GRT) history month was established in Britain in 2008 as a way of raising awareness of GRT communities and their contributions to society, and to offset negative stereotyping and prejudices. Since schools don't teach anything about Gypsies and Travellers, the majority of people get their information from the media, which is 99% negative. While organisations like the Traveller Movement develop resources and attempt to offset negative narratives, GRT communities continue to experience extreme levels of social exclusion, discrimination and demonisation.
Political leaders are often the cause of racism against Gypsy and Traveller communities. In fact, the Mayor is an outlier and instead leads by example by showing his support for GRT communities, as many in politics cannot be relied upon to do the same. Quite often it is the lazy, discriminatory or racist throwaway comments by an MP our councilor that leads to the avalanche of racist bile against GRT communities. In fact, racist hate speech by politicians is so frequent that last year the Traveller Movement launched a new campaign with charity, Rene Cassin asking politicians to cut out hate speech in politics altogether. It is astounding that we need a campaign at all, as politicians should lead by example and set a tone that is respectful, inclusive and free from discrimination, however this has not been the case.
While a history month is no panacea to overturn hundreds of years of discrimination, clearly it is one way of highlighting positive contributions and fight back against anti-Traveller rhetoric. And it's needed now more than ever. In the last few months GRT communities have been hit hard, first by the Home Office consultation to criminalise trespass, then by Covid-19 and then in April by Channel 4 with the airing of Dispatches – the Truth about Traveller Crime. Although harmful media portrayals of Gypsies and Travellers is nothing new, programmes like these often stoke underlying tensions and give permission to the general public to unleash vile comments such as those calling for mass sterilization of Gypsies and Travellers, or for Travellers to be guinea pigs for a coronavirus vaccine. This appalling narrative is sadly nothing new, but it is dangerous and requires a serious response.
What can be done?
Public authorities can learn more about their Public Sector Equality Duty, and seek out unconscious bias training. Supporters can show their solidarity online by re-tweeting positive messages and by using the hashtag #GRTsolidarity
Racist tweets can be reported on social media platforms, and we can call out others who are openly racist. Encourage your peers to do the same, and support positive platforms like GRT organisations on social media.
More Gypsies and Travellers can register to vote and hold their polticians to account. To learn more, take a look at our Operation Traveller Vote page.
You can write to your MP using one of our templates asking them to endorse anti-racism campaigns like Operation Report Hate. You can also ask politicians and councillors to sign the Cut It Out pledge to call out racist rhetoric in parliament, or online and show their support with all BME communities.
Or, like Mayor of London Sadiq Khan politicians can show true leadership and allocate resources, thus elevating the community and showing respect and tolerance for all. This is worth applauding.
Education policy officer, Chelsea McDonagh said the following:
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month is an opportunity celebrate on the histories of our peoples and their contributions to this country, which are often not spoken about, particularly within our schools and classrooms. It is an opportunity to challenge the negative discourse surrounding Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and encourage a more balanced and nuanced understanding and discourse. At a time when covid-19 is hitting all communities hard, it is imperative that we stand together to challenge anti-Traveller rhetoric.
Tel: 0207 607 2002
To learn more about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History month visit Traveller Movement website: https://travellermovement.org.uk/campaigns/gypsy-roma-and-traveller-history-month