Conditional Whiteness of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers
Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers find themselves in the odd position of being the point where all conversations and widespread thoughts around race and racism breaks down.
I am part of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) community (specifically a Romani Gypsy). We are a racialised minority suffering abuse, racism and denial of fundamental rights . When it comes to seeking help in claiming basic rights, we are then considered White British and therefore undeserving as "it's a choice" to be GRT.
We are unidentifiable in conversations around racism and prejudice until it comes down to someone picking us out of the crowd to deny us our basic rights or to attack us. Simultaneously, we are the minority peoples with the worst outcomes when it comes to housing, education, and healthcare but also the minority ethnic communities that are then rolled into the statistics for the ‘white working class’ for the purposes of bashing other minorities.
Our situation is being exploited to create a backlash amongst the white population against other minorities to claim there isn’t, and can’t be, racism in education as white children are peddled as allegedly doing the worst in regards to educational and employment outcomes. That is not to say that white working class people are not struggling, they are, but this is not on the basis of facing barriers due to their ethnicity. GRT people sit at the intersection of multiple structural barriers, of which our ethnicity is continuously used against us.
In fact, it’s not white children who have the worst educational outcomes - by the end of secondary school, GRT children are almost three years behind their white classmates.
GRT children are heavily bullied because of their background with little intervention from their teachers. Our GRT children are facing a mental health crisis as a result. 11% of Irish Travellers die by suicide, and life expectancy is 15 years shorter than the wider population. Then, we strangely have politicians blaming our culture for why we aren’t in school?
Some families don’t send their children to school because they believe they benefit more from working in the family business, but if you are going to say there is a problem with each groups’ culture towards education you can at the very least make schools safe for us. We are a racialised minority, where the blame for our outcomes is consistently put on us while real solutions to the structural barriers we face aren’t being considered, let alone implemented.
Unbeknownst to all is the fact that many schools make it difficult for GRT children to enrol in schools. If they do get in, the school body proceeds to make their lives a misery, often segregating them out of the class and putting them into isolation units or worse - expelling them and feeding them into the school to prison pipeline.
People would rather spend time debating whether we suffer from racism, or whether it is better defined as prejudice, than solving the problems we face. Gypsies and Travellers with no home or land of their own are told not to leave rubbish behind, then denied access to bins and local rubbish tips based on the fact that we are identifiable.
We are told we should live like other people in rented houses if we can’t afford to buy, then denied tenancy as we are identifiable, as the pandemic recently exposed. If you can’t get access to council sites or transit sites, we are told to buy our own land then denied permission to live on it because we are identifiable.
The Government’s recent Policing Bill is not only a crackdown on protest, but will criminalise GRT peoples’ way of life.
We are told we are white, but we are racialised and therefore identifiable when it comes to denying us entry to restaurants and pubs.
The point is we are a ‘race’ when it comes to racism and denying us access to our basic rights, but when it comes to receiving funding and help to correct the balance and level the playing field we are ‘just like everyone else’.
The idea of ‘race’ and ethnicity applied to our communities is so warped that the Government, for the purposes of planning law, has defined what a ‘gypsy’ is separately to what it means to be a Gypsy or Traveller or Roma in the Equality Act. Luckily, there is currently a challenge in the courts on behalf of disabled Gypsies, Roma and Travellers who are discriminated against by this approach.
Despite the uphill battles we as GRT people face everyday, we continue to fight simply to live as we are. That must start with educating people on who we are, where we’ve come from, and what we face daily in the face of prejudice and discrimination.
Luke Wenman is a Romani Gypsy law student