The media should call it slavery, not ‘Traveller slavery’ Much reporting of a Bedfordshire slavery case has been racialised and sensationalist
An article from the Guardian UK. I have to state upfront, that I do not like the way this is written. I don’t like the use of the words ethnic Travellers, Romany Gypsy and Gypsy. Why is it that they qualify “Travellers as “Ethnic”” but then use the slur Gypsy? I grew up largely in the UK - I understand that there is a muddy pool of ethnicities over there all scrunched together under the word Gypsy. Many Travellers are “Proud” to be Gypsy…. and many Romanichal and Romany too. However, these groups have a historical distance from the Holocaust (Porajmos) and do not have the same level of animosity bound up in the word (many of the Romanichal/Romany/Kale families were in England long before WWII). I just wish newspapers would understand that when trying to report about misrepresentation and stereotypes, using the word Gypsy ONLY CONTRIBUTES TO THIS.
Anyway, otherwise, it’s a good article:
Slavery is not a new concept to ethnic Travellers, but historically they have been the victims. In fact in 1930s Nazi Germany there was even a “comic” song about Gypsies as slaves, called “Come Gypsy; Show Me How You Can Work!”. The song was adopted by the German press and quoted in headlines and articles to mock and denigrate German Roma, linking them to crime, brutality and squalor. Many European Roma were subsequently wiped out in the gas chambers and slave labour camps of the Third Reich – this holocaust is known in the Romany language as the Porajmos – or ‘devouring’.
With this history of their own forced labour, it’s not surprising that most ethnic Gypsies and Travellers, like the wider public, will have been horrified and disturbed by the details that have emerged from the recent Bedfordshire slavery case which has seen four Travellers being jailed; the shaved heads, the scurvy and the violence experienced by the vulnerable victims was shocking. Yet, I must admit, my own heart sank when, on Wednesday, the jury returned verdicts of guilty on four of the seven defendants.
Like most of the wider public, I had never knowingly met an ethnic Traveller until I started to report on Traveller issues two years ago. Until then, almost all of my experience of Britain’s most marginalised ethnic minorities had come from the media. And that’s my problem with the verdicts: they have already fuelled a storm of headlines, copy and images that link Gypsies and Travellers – yet again – to crime and brutality. A lot of the reports were sensationalist, highly racialised and will inevitably leave a stain. It’s “Traveller slavery,” that is the story – not “slavery”.
This has an impact. Gypsy and Traveller schoolchildren face a constant barrage of prejudice in the form of taunting and bullying fuelled by media representations of Gypsies and Travellers. Thanks to the likes of Top Gear’s Richard Hammond, “pikey” has become an acceptable term in the playground. But there are two sides to the racism against Gypsies and Travellers. Alongside the focus on brutality, lawlessness and ruthlessness there is the racist trope of Travellers as exuberant, lovable and childlike. “Poor widdle Travellers syndrome”; as one Traveller education expert puts it.
School heads, for instance, dread the announcement of yet another series of the Big Fat Gypsy Wedding brand for the bullying that can follow. Bridy, an Irish Traveller teenager from south London, was a confident and popular girl at her school. Then came “Big Fat Gypsy Weddings”, then Dale Farm, then “Gypsy Blood”. All of this added to the perennial articles presenting Gypsies as violent, criminal and begging. Then a “Bigger, Fatter, Gypsier” billboard appeared opposite her school. Now, her friends have melted away and she is aggressively questioned about her ethnicity by her class-mates. She dreads going to school. Next week she will have to brave the sniggers, the whispers and the taunts about “slavery”.
There is little regulatory defence. The Press Complaints Commission only upholds complaints about racism targeted at named individuals. Racism against groups is, by default, deemed acceptable. This regulatory blind-spot is compounded because most mediated anti-Traveller racism is about generalisation, insinuation and juxtaposition rather than direct linking.
The commissioning editor responsible for Big Fat Gypsy Weddings has said Channel 4 is not responsible for the actions of those who watch its programmes. This approach to media ethics was described as “reptilian” by Damian Le Bas, the Romany Gypsy editor of the Travellers’ Times magazine and website.
Media ethics and responsibility regarding Gypsies and Travellers is an area that Lord Leveson should examine. It affects the wellbeing of Gypsies and Travellers and the moral health of the wider public. Racism corrupts everyone. Travellers are feared and mocked and the processes of ghettoisation are reinforced. Most people know that racism against other ethnic minorities is unacceptable. This is not the case for the last acceptable racism and the media play a big part in this.
A Gypsy policy officer at the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain said this to me: “It’s a vicious circle. But the media have more power to break the circle than we do.” Going by the recent headlines, there is not much sign of that happening yet.
Source: The Guardian UK