‘It’s cultural genocide’: The grim truth about GRT’s life in the UK
Three members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveler community explain the shocking reality of everyday racism – from the Jimmy Carr joke to the conservative police bill
Comedian Jimmy Carr faced backlash last week when footage went viral of him joking that ‘no one talks about the positives’ of the Holocaust, in reference to the genocide of hundreds of thousands of people from Roma communities , Sinti and Travellers. Carr followed this joke, taken from his 2021 Netflix show Its dark material, complaining on stage that he had been “cancelled”. No apologies were offered.
While Carr was able to count on messages of solidarity from a number of famous friends, the reaction of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveler (GRT) community was almost universally condemnable – and rightly so. GRT people not only face high levels of prejudice and discrimination, but an increasingly hostile legal environment. The Conservative Party’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PSCS) Bill, currently pending in the House of Lords, effectively criminalizes their traditional way of life, introducing fines and jail time for unsanctioned encampments. authorised, as well as the confiscation of vehicles and homes. While other amendments to the bill are under consideration, the section concerning the TSO community has indeed already been adopted.
To make matters worse, a combination of unfriendly councils and rampant property development has resulted in a staggering shortage of licensed sites for GRT communities: according to a 2021 study report by the NGO Friends, Families and Travelers, there are only 59 permanent places available, 42 transit places available and more than 1,696 families on waiting lists. A whole way of life is being eroded, and with the introduction of the PCSC Bill, this situation is set to get even worse. It is in this context that Jimmy Carr jokes that the genocide of the GRTs is a good thing and that people in his audience cheer and applaud.
Dazed sat down with three people from GRT to discuss the racist attitudes embodied in Carr’s joke, the challenges they currently face, the issues they’d rather people talk about instead, and what can be done about it. show their support.
Nicole, campaigner and campaigner who has written for To listen
“You only have to read any newspaper to see how negatively gypsies and travelers are portrayed in this country. It’s so normalized. People know they can get away with cracking jokes and everyone will laugh and agree with them. Jimmy Carr was not holding “a mirror to society” – just about every gypsy called him offensive, racist and unacceptable.
“I would prefer to talk more about the PCSC Bill, which seeks to essentially make it illegal to be a nomadic person. It’s a form of ethnic cleansing or cultural genocide, but people don’t like those terms because they find them too harsh. But genocide doesn’t happen in a vacuum, there’s a path that leads to it – and this type of legislation that bans people’s existence is one of those steps.. Part of the reason things are so bad right now is that there aren’t enough venues or locations across the UK, and it’s no longer up to any council to take the adequate arrangements. This is how you end up with “illegal” camps.
“Genocide doesn’t happen in a vacuum, there is a path that leads to it – and this kind of legislation that prohibits people from existing is one of those steps”
The harsh reality is that there is a huge waiting list for all legal locations and sites, which means thousands of families will be separated. The government criminalizes nomadic Gypsies and Travelers for their existence, which in itself is racist and a form of forced assimilation. We are a protected minority: human rights groups and the courts say we are entitled to our traditional cultural values, which includes being nomadic. But even though it’s technically protected, conservatives are still able to pass legislation that makes it illegal.
“We need people to keep speaking up. We need peopleo get physically involved in stopping the evictions. The outpouring of support we’ve had over this joke has been really positive, but I haven’t seen that energy going towards the PCSC bill. Bands like Kill the Bill and Sisters Uncut were absolutely amazing, but the general public wasn’t very interested. If you want to help, call out racism when you see it – don’t expect us to.
Luke Smith, campaigner and campaigner who wrote for Grandstand and Open democracy
“The joke is hurtful, but compared to what we’ve had to deal with before – documentaries like The truth about traveler crime Where My Big Gypsy Wedding – It’s nothing. If someone makes a joke like that, and people start laughing and screaming and clapping, I think the only reason they find it funny is because it’s based on the truth: that’s what people really think of us, they just don’t want to say it out loud. Jimmy Carr is the person who had the guts to say it, but the majority of our country really thinks that way. That’s why the Conservatives put the PCSC bill in their manifesto: nothing gets more votes than potholes and travellers. Ultimately, the government’s bill encourages far more hatred than Jimmy Carr ever could. The really important thing is to make sure the PCSC bill becomes unworkable.
“That’s what people really think of us, they just don’t want to say it out loud”
“As for the damage caused by this bill, it only makes things worse. We already have some of the lowest levels of education, higher rates of homelessness and poorer health care outcomes. We die, on average, 10 to 12 years younger than the rest of the population. It sets the stage for how bad things are already for TSO communities. But it will criminalize trespassing – before it was a civil matter, so you stayed on a site and then people had to go and get a court order to evict you, so you could stay for a few weeks and then move on. With this new bill, it is now a criminal offence: they impose massive fines of up to £2,000, and police can confiscate vehicles and homes. These people are also among the poorest in the country. There is also the prospect of three-month prison sentences. If you imprison a child’s parents for that amount of time, what happens to the child? We already have a huge problem with social services removing children from their families and placing them with non-GRT families. This will make the situation worse.
Mikey Walsh, author of gypsy boy
“I wasn’t so angry at the joke, I was more angry at the shouting and hissing. People applauded him! Here, people defend anti-Gypsy racism; discrimination against TSO local authorities is something people actually support. That is why the Police Bill was passed. This is why the Conservative manifesto promises to destroy our culture won with a landslide victory. We have a Tory MP defecting to Labor and being welcomed with open arms, who only returned in May rose in Parliament to attack Traveler communities. Under the new bill, the police will simply be able to enter a camp, seize all of your belongings – including your caravan, which is your home – and lock you up for three months just for trespassing. So what happens to your children? And how are you going to get your kids back when you don’t have a home? It’s just racist.
“We are a free-for-all – not just jokes, but vicious headline stories. And people still want to kick us?
“Travelling is not a crime. It’s not something magical. It’s social. When I was very young, there were hundreds of permanent gypsy camps across the country. During the summer, we moved from place to place to visit friends and family. It’s part of who we are. But now less than a quarter of those sites remain. We have nowhere to go. And every time we try to find a place to stay, as soon as people realize who we are, we get kicked out again. What struck me about this Jimmy Carr controversy is that we already know nothing will come of it. It’s the saddest thing. Netflix will be delighted with an increase in viewership figures and that’s it. [I feel like] we are a dead race: we have been brought up over the years and hijacked from council to council, our homes stolen from us. We are a free-for-all – not just jokes, but vicious headline stories. And people still want to kick us?