“The things people have said to me because I married a Traveller are unbelievable. They wouldn’t say it if he was black.” Romany people speak out about their experiences in 2020
As PC Andrew Harper’s killers, Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers appeal against their convictions, and in the wake of the Black Lives matter movement, one can’t help but align the dots. PC Harper wasn’t just killed by any teenage boys with a disdain for the police. He was killed by Romany boys.
Known the world over for the slang term ‘Gypsy’ (which many Roma’s find offensive) they don't, rather awkwardly and so far unnoticeably by mainstream culture, fit into any one culture or cateogry. The category of BAME – which refers to all ethnic minorities that are not white, has not been used for Romany people. As they are technically ‘minority ethnic’ (their ancestors originating from India and still sharing cultural, lingual and genetic ties with the continent today) they are often overlooked as such.
As PC Harper’s death rightly caused an outcry, it is most curious that this racial element of his death has gone all but unspoken – except by Romany people themselves. On social media platforms many have commented how this ‘sets back’ progress made by the community. I was able to speak to some who feel that in 2020, as a ‘minority’, their experiences are not represented in an age obsessed with identity.
I speak to Georgia (name changed) 22, who is half Romany and married at 20 a Romany young man her own age who she went to school with “I did think I would be discriminated against, or be looked down on. The things people have said to me because I married (and at a young age) a Traveller are unbelievable. They wouldn’t say it if he was black. With what has happened, people will look down even more now. They’ll say oh look – they’re police killers. They think the rules don’t apply to them.”
A common thread is that many Romany people do not fit into the category projected onto them. Lily (name changed), 23, states ‘I wouldn’t consider myself BAME even though we are a different group – an ethnic minority – we are not treated as such. There’s a lot of talk about representation but I don’t see people like me being represented anywhere. I trained as a nurse, and I don’t live in a caravan. I’m not a stereotypical ‘gypsy’. I just think it’s unfair we get a bad reputation when we’re not all the same.”
Janette McCormick, deputy chief constable at the College of Policing, has urged people to ‘end the prejudice against Travellers. There seems to be a deep-seated and accepted prejudice that demonises people from the community. You wouldn’t call any other ethnicity inherently criminal.”
As America and many Western countries protested against the death of an African American man after being kneeled on by a white American officer – what does it mean when in the UK teenagers from an ethnic community kill a white officer. Are they BAME, an ‘ethnic minority’, or just British?
Georgia states “No, it’s not the same. Because Romany people are white, so I think it’s more of a cultural thing. But the differences are there, but there’s so much judgment and stereotypes. People watch ‘My big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ and think we all live like that. We don’t.”
Lily too states “I wouldn’t consider myself BAME because we aren’t considered it by anyone else. I look white, but if I fill out a form I don’t put White British. We’re in our own category and we are our own ethnicity, we have a different culture, even a language, but people judge us. It’s also okay to call us a ‘pikey’ but that’s still offensive. ”
Does she think this will change anytime soon? “No, because this has been going on for years. I think the sooner we stop talking about it and start treating each other as humans the better. As a nurse I don’t discriminate, I treat every patient the same. I think if everyone started doing that, we’d be better off.”
No date has yet been set for the hearing of the appeals by Cole and Bowers.