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The last acceptable form of racism?

The pervasive discrimination and prejudice experienced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities

This research by the Traveller Movement tells a powerful story of the pervasive prejudice and discrimination Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) people face in their everyday lives. These experiences of prejudice are seemingly so common that they have almost become normalised for these communities.

Gypsies, Roma and Travellers share, in some cases, traumatic experiences of prejudice and discrimination. Their negative experiences in education in particular have a lasting impact on GRT communities. This has fuelled a lifelong impression that British society does not value or respect their culture and certainly does not recognise the rich contribution they make.

The importance of education and schools goes beyond teaching children how to read and write. Schools are often the first place children meet people outside their family and community; it’s an opportunity for children to learn about different people and different cultures, and it is often the first official contact they have with wider society.

A child’s experience in this context is therefore not only vital in shaping their views but also in ensuring that they feel accepted and part of society. The pervasive discrimination mentioned by GRT people in relation to schools is therefore very troubling. If this experience is mostly characterised by fear, ridicule and an overwhelming sense that they are not welcome, it is no surprise that these communities have widespread distrust for institutions and authorities as found in this research.

These negative experiences with authorities and public institutions, which begin with schools, have led to GRT individuals regularly attempting to hide their ethnicity in an effort to avoid discrimination and prejudice.Most troublingly of all, the pervasive discrimination reported by GRT people was more often than not coupled with a sense of helplessness and a feeling of nowhere to turn to challenge prejudice.

The experience of bullying, discrimination and prejudice beginning in school and continuing throughout adult life has created a sense that, should help be needed, either services will refuse to help or no action will be taken.

This is a very worrying trend as, unable to overcome the barriers to legal support and seek help to confront unlawful discrimination, service providers and public bodies go unchallenged.

The pervasive discriminatory behaviour directed toward Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people is borne out of ignorance and is usually based on ill-informed cultural stereotypes. This lack of understanding or cultural awareness causes significant damage to the trust Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have in British society; and perhaps understandably leads to them withdrawing from the support and services they desperately need. This is precisely why education is so important. Prejudice and hate is not a characteristic we are born with: it is a learned behaviour. The most powerful tool to combating prejudice in this regard is to ensure children understand and are taught about GRT culture and people.

Schools are therefore absolutely critical when it comes to addressing racism and discrimination toward GRT communities. It is high time Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month was supported by the Department for Education and rolled out in schools across the country.

This simple measure would make an enormous difference in addressing the daily discrimination and prejudice these communities face. Just as importantly, it would send a message to GRT communities that they are a valued part of our society.

If action is not taken, Gypsies, Roma and Travellers will continue to face discrimination and will sadly continue to see it as a fact of their daily lives.