When it comes to racism, some forms of racism are clearly more equal than others. In our currently febrile social climate this has never been more true a statement. Our present public discourse has become polluted by notions of free speech absolutism, put forward by zealots like the right-wing libertarian outfit, Spiked and their associates on one hand, and the self-appointed anti-Semitism language police in the Labour Party and their media allies on the other. Anyone with a brain in their head could see where the weaponization and cheapening of anti-Semitism for political ends would lead to: a sharp increase in attacks on minorities – especially people of colour. Indeed, those who spend much of their time complaining about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party tend to be, for the most part, white and they’re not too concerned about other forms of racism within and outwith the party.
Anti-Semitism witch hunters will scoff at any suggestion that, through their words and deeds, a hierarchy of racism now exists in which weak claims anti-Semitism are prioritised over genuine cases of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. What passes for anti-Semitism these days is more often than not, a conflation with anti-Zionism or criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people. Other claims are the product of lazy thinking. One such incident involved the right-wing Labour MP, Siobhan McDonagh, who in an interview with John Humphrys on Radio 4 deliberately conflated anti-capitalism with anti-Semitism. This anti-Semitic trope, which is heavily reliant on the knowledge of the Other, was allowed to pass unchallenged by Humphrys. Worse, the usual witch hunters kept schtum. Meanwhile, stories of anti-Semitic attacks like the one in Islington in February of this year, are rarely, if ever, afforded national airtime nor are they mentioned by our supposedly objective broadcast journalists. Furthermore, the media focus on anti-Semitism gives the impression to other ethnic minorities that the racism they experience is either imagined or of no importance (this has happened to me quite recently when I complained about racism directed towards me). Other forms of racism simply aren’t sexy or cool enough, and don’t possess the same emotional value as anti-Semitism.
So it is with the racism experienced by Gypsies, Roma and Travellers (GRT), one of the country’s most marginalised and persecuted socio-ethnic groups, not just in the United Kingdom but across Europe in countries like Hungary, Italy, Romania and Slovakia among others. So normalised has anti-GRT racism become that even our elected representatives are given a free pass to air their obnoxious racist views on the floor of the House of Commons. In April, the Conservative MP and former leader of Wandsworth Council, Paul Beresford, said in an adjournment debate to the House of Commons.
“We’re now in what we call the summer traveller season, it’s like a disease.”
That something like this can be said in the Commons without fear of censure, either from the Speaker, his party leader, the usual Labour MPs or the national media, speaks volumes. The fact that Beresford used the word ‘disease’, a word associated with the Nazi and BritFash discourses to refer to people not deemed as “Aryan” reveals to us the extent to which racism has become normalized in everyday political discourse. The Surrey Live website was one of several sources to carry the Beresford story, the other was Show Racism The Red Card. There is nothing on the BBC News site or any of the other national carriers, nor did the national press mention it. Beresford has been pressed to make an apology, but has, thus far, not done so. Moreover, the most vociferous anti-Semitism witch hunters in the Labour and Conservative Parties have said nothing.
Beresford is by no means the only Tory MP to openly express hatred towards GRT people. In 2017, when asked what he want to see more than anything else, Tory MP for Moray, Douglas Ross told reporters:
“Tougher enforcement against gypsies and travellers”.
In 2017, Tory MP, Julian Knight also attacked GRT people.
The Tories aren’t alone when it comes to anti-GRT bigotry, Labour MP, John Mann, himself a self-appointed anti-Semitism witch hunter, sent an anti-GRT booklet to his Bassetlaw constituents and yet, national news broadcasters said nothing and his fellow MPs said nothing. Instead, broadcasters like the BBC eagerly provide him with plenty of airtime to denounce someone, usually a left-wing figure, for anti-Semitism, or pronounce them a “Nazi sympathiser”. The interviewers, for their part, will always entertain his rants and his poorly-reasoned judgements without a semblance of criticism. Why? Because he makes “good telly”.
So where’s the outrage? The media’s silence appears to indicate an often casual complicity in the perpetuation of anti-GRT racism,which is both structural and institutional. GRT people are discriminated against in terms of access to education, medical treatment and even the law as this research paper from the London School of Economics makes clear.
On Twitter, recently, I had someone purporting to be a Corbyn supporter tell me that he “didn’t like Travellers but the old-fashioned Romanis were okay”. I blocked them. These kinds of views aren’t unique nor are they limited to one political party or another. They are informed by a knowledge of the Other, and further serve to illustrate the role in which myths and stereotypes play in shaping many people’s views of, not just GRT people, but people from other ethnic backgrounds. Moreover, it also reveals a fundamental ignorance of GRT history and, in particular, the Porajmos, the Romani Holocaust.
When it comes to anti-GRT racism, some of the worst offenders are the self-declared, hair-shirt wearing, anti-racist politicians, especially right-wing Labour politicians, who ignore anti-GRT racism while pursuing phantom claims of anti-Semitism. Their anti-racism is selective and no one, whether they are a member of a minority group or not, should be fooled by the calculatedly cynical flaunting of their flimsy credentials. If your anti-racism is selective, then you’re not an anti-racist but a person with an agenda: in other words, you’re someone who uses a selectivized form of anti-racism for political motives. That means you’re no better than the people of whom you’re accusing of anti-Semitism. In short, you’re a racist and you’re no good to those of us who are involved in the daily struggle against racism.
Anti-racism, therefore, must be intersectional. Since the EU referendum and the ensuing political turmoil, much of it the making of the professional politicians themselves, few MPs are capable of fathoming, not just the complex political situation they’ve found themselves in, but are reluctant or just too stupid to understand the powerful and dark forces that they have unleashed; forces for which they clearly lack the intellects and philosophical nous to defeat. Instead, they would rather blame anyone but themselves. Not only that, they show no concern that the fallout from their baseless accusations will hit other minorities, namely people of colour and GRT people.