Anti-Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Racism

As the UK Schools Minister Lord Adonis points out many GRT pupils are among the lowest-achieving in UK schools (see also Department for Children, Schools and Families 2008), and the situation is not improving. Fear of racism and bullying means that many children and families are too afraid to identify themselves (The Guardian, 11/03/08). In a 2007 survey of over 200 GRT children by the Children’s Society, 63% said they had been physically attacked and 86% report that they have been verbally abused as a result of their ethnic origin. The report pointed out that poor attendance and achievement in schools may reflect these high levels of racism (Davis 2008, p. 5). Although many GRT children now go to primary school, very few enter secondary education. Of those surveyed, one-third had dropped out by the time they reached 10, and three-quarters by the time they reached 13 (ibid.) Rowenna Davis (ibid.) concludes that the problems are likely to grow as GRT populations grow with EU expansion.

The UK’s most popular (right-wing) tabloid—read predominantly by the working class (and here I am using working class in its sociological sense—see chapter 2, Note 3 of this volume), The Sun both captures and creates working class racism (see Cole 2004b, pp. 161-163). In its 24th March, 2008 edition, the front page headlines screamed, ‘Gypsy Hell for Tessa’. The article was referring to the fact that 64 travellers had ‘set up camp just yards from the country home of government minister Tessa Jowell’ (p. 1). Above the headline was the caption, ‘Easter Holiday Invasion’. Other descriptors included ’30 caravans swarmed on to the ... field’ (p. 1); ‘Gypsy Nightmare’; ‘crafty gypsies’ (p. 4); ‘these families’ (p. 8). The travellers had actually bought the site—‘secretly’ according to The Sun (p. 1), and needed to move in while council enforcement officers were on holiday (p. 1). The land is zoned for agricultural use, and has no planning permission for homes (p. 4). As one of the travellers told The Sun

‘we ... have been evicted thousands of times while on the road ... over the past seven years. We just want a permanent home’ (p. 4). The travellers may be able to seek redress from the UK Human Rights Act 1998 which entitles everyone to ‘the right to own property’ and ‘the right to respect for private and family life’. The Sun described the Act whose main planks are the right to life; freedom from torture and degraded treatment; freedom from slavery and forced labour; the right to liberty; the right to a fair trial; the right not to be punished for something that wasn’t a crime when you did it; the right to respect for private and family life; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of expression; freedom of assembly and association; the right to marry or form a civil partnership and start a family; the right not to be discriminated against in respect of these rights and freedoms; the right to own property; the right to an education; and the right to participate in free elections (The Human Rights Act 1998) as ‘detestable’ (p. 8).

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