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Leeds GATE CEO thinks we need to talk about 'antigypsyism'

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  December 2, 2016 |

I was invited to an event in Brussels recently called "Which steps towards European policies against antigypsyism". The Alliance against Antigypsyism (I'm using their grammar there, if it was me speaking I would say anti-Gypsyism) are using this working definition In ‘Antigypsyism – a reference paper’ of July 2016, ‘..a historically constructed, persistent complex of customary racism against social groups identified under the stigma ‘gypsy’ or other related terms which incorporates;-

1. a homogenising and essentialising perception and description of these groups

2. the attribution of specific characteristics to them,

3. discriminating social structures and violent practices that emerge against that background, which have a degrading and ostracising effect and which reproduce structural disadvantages.’

This is contentious in different ways and for varied reasons, much of which is influenced by where in Europe you live. For example in some places in Europe the word gypsy [sic] is a stigmatised word.  In the UK and Spain this word is not regarded of itself as a stigma. I think the Alliance against Antigypsyism is likely to have influence in Europe at least, if less so, possibly, here. Whether we remain in the European Union or not, this line of thinking is likely to affect UK Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers, Scottish Gypsy Travellers and Roma.

I think it is important to generate a discussion about this here in the UK. The questions we might need to address seem to me as including –

  • Is the concept of structural (state) anti Gypsy bias valid?
  • Is coining a label for that bias a useful thing to do in assisting people to combat and address that structural bias?
  • Can we agree with the definition and labelling of that structural bias as suggested by the Alliance against Antigypsyism?
  • If it is not possible to accept the definition as it now stands, can we influence a refining of that definition which does not compromise our values?
  • If, whilst taking a pragmatic approach, that is not possible, can we coin a better, safer, more inclusive term?
  • Is labelling structural bias against a broad group of people who have a relationship, positive or negative, to the word Gypsy or [g]ypsy, via use of this term likely to cause greater benefit or harm?

To put it in the way of my simple understanding, however we write it, anti-Gypsyism might be a useful way of identifying a problem which is not with Gypsies (Travellers, Roma et al) but is with the state and its functions. It might be similar to understanding anti-Jewish bias via the term antisemitism, but to be honest I'm not familiar enough with any Jewish people's thoughts to comment on that.

Although if we are talking about structural racism in what might be called the Gorja communities (correct my spelling/grammar if you want), or settled communities perhaps we need a snappy term that describes that?

I dunno, I thought stopping was the right word when I suggested 'negotiated stopping' but it doesn't work in the hearing of some people. They hear the word ‘stop’ as the end of something rather than as ‘stopping’ as in ‘stopping place’ or ‘getting stopping’ which is more like the context in which Travellers use it.  Words are powerful.

*you can read more from the Alliance against Antigypsyism on www.antigypsyism.eu

*you can join our discussion on Facebook here, where the article was first published, as long as you have an FB profile 

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