To George Monbiot and The Guardian…

Racism against Travellers leads to violent attacks, verbal abuse and continued impoverishment. In 2011, hundreds of riot police evicted and destroyed the largest Irish Traveller site in the country, Dale Farm, leaving dozens homeless, including children. Over the past year, Romani people in Hungary, France and Italy have been attacked and killed by right wing groups. Anti-Traveller racism is far from a laughing matter. That George Monbiot decided it was appropriate to devote an entire article to a racist anecdote about meeting a Traveller man is unforgivable. (‘The day my inner anarchist lost out to the bourgeois me, December 26th‘).

At length, Monbiot describes the Traveller man he meets as ‘filthy’, telling crude jokes, being interested only in animals, and – for the greater part of the piece – as a thief. He implies that all Travellers are stupid and bestial. This caricatured sketch of a nameless representative of an ethnic group is as venomous as far-right propaganda against Muslim or Jewish communities, and should be answered with as little tolerance and as much opposition.  The apologism he offers the reader by stating he has written about, or even campaigned against, the harassment of Travellers only serves to make this drivel appear more socially acceptable, the equivalent of stating “but some of my best friends are black.” The title essentially states that although his “inner anarchist” would like to be open-minded about Travellers, this is impossible due to the harsh facts of the “reality” he constructs through a generalisation of Travellers. One incident he recounts, in which a couple of men (who he describes as Travellers) are violent and dishonest, serves to criminalise an entire group of people: a case study in modern day racism.

The title of the piece encourages the perception that all Travellers are thieves, and that any argument to the contrary is simply ‘anarchist’ fiction. He even jokingly acknowledges that this form of racism is bourgeois, as if by sheepishly admitting that he is speaking on behalf of the police and the state he can get away with it. By contrasting the man’s experience of the police assault that landed him in A&E with his portrayal of him a thief and violent thug, he delegitimises reports by Travellers of police violence, turning the victim into the accused.

Despite having reported on years of police attacks against environmental campaigners, Monbiot has failed to allow these confrontations with the law to open his eyes. Instead, the prejudice of the police and the injustice of the state are omitted from his account; forces which would otherwise be suspect are now affirmed for the sake of Monbiot’s racist monologue.

The petty version of revenge Monbiot enacts by writing this article only exposes further the intense inequality of power between the liberal establishment and criminalised communities, an inequality which he has no desire to examine. The Guardian is also implicated in this racist drivel, which  shows it to be as blind, ignorant and malicious as the other British newspapers which continue to print the material which bolsters both vigilante and state attacks against
Travellers.

The Traveller Solidarity Network believes that both Monbiot and the Guardian Group should apologise unreservedly for the article. But beyond this, journalists should understand the situation Traveller, Gypsy and Romani people face and the role the media could play in helping to put an end to this ‘acceptable’ form of racism.

Until then, this kind of writing should be seen to be as damaging to Travellers’ lives as fascists and riot police.

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Comments
19 Responses to “To George Monbiot and The Guardian…”
  1. orbital10 says:

    So it wasn’t his coat, then?

  2. I’d say that your attack on Monbiot has a lot of the hallmarks of the over generalisation you accuse him of making…much more than his personal story does.

    I think your piece is ultimately the more damaging to travellers lives – ( being a defensive over generalisation) – if this is the view of just one person or more, be a good idea to use the name(s) – so as it didn’t appear to be unhelpfully anonymous, and it gives some sense of mirroring to what Monbiot was saying.

    How does this sound, “The Travellers Solidarity Network is also implicated in this racist drivel” ?
    helpful?

  3. I completely disagree! It was clear throughout the piece that he was referring to one traveller only, and that his rejection of anarchism was nothing to do with racism against travellers, but his desire to see a thief brought to justice. You have completely ignored the fact that before he realised the individual he was speaking to, he was continuing to have a conversation with the man, long after he realised he was a traveller. He was genuinely interested when he learned that he lived in a vehicle rather than a house. I think this is a massive over-reaction to what was simply an amusing anecdote.

    • The point our response was making was that as a privileged Guardian reporter, with widespread readership, he should recognise the effect his articles have. Too many Travellers and Romany families hear the same anecdotes when they are refused entry to pubs, jobs, shops and even schools. Anecdotes are commonly the refuge of the racist in 21st century Britain, and as someone who professes to be an anti-racist campaigner, Monbiot should know this.

      • orbital10 says:

        So, you’re 100% certain that he made up the entire anecdote, then? That it wasn’t his coat, and that by posting the anecdote, he in fact had an ulterior motive, then, which is to undermine the entire community?

        Interesting.

  4. The traveller man was easy pickings… he is hardly likely to sue! GM is SO obviously trying to prove how BALANCED his blogs/tweets are… go figure.

  5. I am not often left speechless . . . !

    see you on January 17th

  6. mhairi says:

    It was a dreadful piece. As you say its the extended equivalent of “some of my best friends…” and “I’m not racist but…” It also put me in mind of this post over on the Good men project

    http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/id-rather-risk-rape-than-quit-partying/

    There seems to be a thing these days of confessionals of racism/misogyny which seek to excuse the behaviour. Where writers try to get PC brownie points by pointing out how racist/misogynist they are because they recognise it. In the above post its a case of “yes, I’m a rapist, but look, at least I understand that what I am doing is rape, so I’m not like those “bad rapists” that think that its OK”.

    In the same vein Monbiot here peddles racist shite and then expects everyone to feel sympathy for him and his long lost coat. Apparently they “went out of their way” to make travellers “feel welcome” in a place that they considered “a common treasury for all. In fact they were so bountiful that the travellers were “in heaven”.

    Given that those kinds of spaces are the spaces that travellers usually inhabit, it wasnt his place to “make them feel welcome”, instead he should have been considering whether he was welcome – which it would appear he wasnt given that they wanted to burn his tent – yet not a sausage of reflection on why that might be.

    Such a good thing the friendly neighbourhood bobbies were at hand to sort the whole situation out, or Georgie-boy might have lost his wellingtons as well as his coat and joined the EDL.

  7. And what about the gypsies’ regular and unprovoked violence toward police? The world saw this for themselves, broadcast on rolling news during the Dale Farm evictions.

    Monbiot’s article was about one scenario with one group of gypsies – YOU are trying to twist his words and make out that he is a bigot. Shame on you.

    • Joannepsi if you describe the eviction at Dale Farm as ‘unprovoked violence towards police’ I’d ask you to have a longer think about what happened. 1. Police were, on the day, enacted the first and worst pieces of violence [smashing through peoples homes at dawn and tasering and hospitalising residents and supporters]. 2. If the eviction from your home is not a provocation, could you tell us what is?

      Monbiot describes the man as a Traveller [again no mention of whether he described himself as that- some do not, many also find the word Gypsy insulting]. Monbiot, in his article, and subsequent response to our letter, showed no amount of reflection on the effects his article will have. Last year the Advertising Standards Authority found that My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding advertising actually encouraged racist bullying against Traveller children in schools. Funnily enough Channel 4’s response to that was very similar to Monbiot’s. Neither showed a jot of self-reflection, and for Monbiot [who claims to be an anti-racist campaigner], that is unforgivable.

  8. Chris Boyd says:

    Monbiot started pimping nuclear power a few years ago and now this. I hate liberals!

  9. pcon12 says:

    In order to be sensitive towards the feelings, reputation and well-being of a group is it necessary to never say anything bad about any member of that group? Clearly not. That would be absurd as we would never be able to say anything bad about anyone. So, telling this story about a particular individual who happened to steal some things is not, in and of itself, offensive. It is offensive if this individual is said or implied to be representative of their group. That is, if one suggests that if an individual Traveller stole a coat then all Travellers are thieves.

    I don’t find anything in Monbiot’s article to suggest that all Travellers are thieves because one particular individual apparently was. I don’t see any generalisation of this sort at all, just a story about an individual. Perhaps he didn’t go out of his way to say that this man was NOT representative of his group but that isn’t the same as actually saying or suggesting that he IS representative. Consequently, I don’t think the accusations of racism are at all fair.

    As I understood it, the article was not about Travellers in general but rather about liberal guilt and anarchist naivety. It was about how a group of people who thought that they could found a community based on dialogue and understanding, rejecting all violence and coercion, reacted when some individuals moved into that community who didn’t share their nice, bourgeois, liberal sensibilities. They found that their community was lacking a mechanism to deal with such individuals, so they had to resort to the mechanisms of the state, the Police.

    That is the only moral of the story that I can see. Beyond that it was just a story about a coat and a coincidence — an “it’s a small world” moment. I find that the article is actually quite sensitive to the individual involved, it acknowledges the hardships he has likely endured at the hands of the Police and so on and indicates no enduring malice towards him. Consequently, I find this whole storm-in-a-teacup rather shameful.

    “Racism” is not a term that should be thrown around so loosely and baselessly.

  10. dojero says:

    It’s utterly absurd to make these allegations against Monbiot. Absurd first because the article is clearly about a singular incident and contains no racist intent or feeling (you use the word imply often; I would suggest that you stop inferring where no implication is made). Absurd second because Monbiot’s entire history is one of fighting against such prejudice and for the victim. If we want to infer anything from his unstated intentions, we should infer the best of intents on that basis of that history. You do yourself no credit by writing such hysterical charges against a decent man.

  11. I read Monbiot’s article, then re-read it after reading this blog. I don’t see any racism. I think you’re overreacting and mis-reading both the intent and the narrative of the story. The post above mine explains why better than I can.

  12. dicegeorge says:

    I agree with almost everything almost everybody wrote here!

    George Monbiot’s reply is at:

    http://www.monbiot.com/2013/01/10/as-it-happened/

    where he writes:

    As It Happened …

    January 10, 2013

    A letter to the Travellers’ Solidarity Network.

    By George Monbiot, published on http://www.monbiot.com, 10th January 2013.

    Dear Travellers’ Solidarity Network,

    You have made some grave allegations about me on the grounds of a radical misinterpretation of an article I wrote. It is hard to understand how you could have misread it so badly, but I’m prepared to believe it’s an honest mistake.

    You accuse me, among other faults, of racism; of “imply[ing] that all Travellers are stupid and bestial”; of believing that it’s impossible to be “open-minded about Travellers”; of constructing “a generalisation of Travellers”; of “serv[ing] to criminalise an entire group of people”; of “encourag[ing] the perception that all Travellers are thieves”; of “delegitimis[ing] reports by Travellers of police violence; of turning the victim into the accused”; of seeking revenge and of acting maliciously.

    These are extremely serious charges, and I would have hoped that, for the sake of your own credibility if nothing else, you would have ensured that they were well-supported before making them. I challenge you to show where I have said or implied any of these things. Your account of the story I wrote is pure fiction.

    My views of the situation concerning travellers are contained in the following articles, and they have not changed since I wrote them:

    http://www.monbiot.com/1995/05/15/britains-cultural-cleansing/

    http://www.monbiot.com/1999/11/04/criminally-different/

    http://www.monbiot.com/2003/11/04/acceptable-hatred/

    I have long argued against the kind of racism, generalisation and persecution of which you are accusing me. However, I do not accept that this defence must extend to pretending that all travellers are at all times virtuous. Nor do I believe it trumps the duty to tell a story truthfully and well.

    What I described was exactly what happened. I made no generalisations, no implications, no comments on travellers at all – except one: “Travellers … were often – and for good reason – wary of telling people much about their lives.” My article sought to make no points, draw no lessons, extract no morals. It was an account of a remarkable coincidence – nothing more, nothing less. What you read into it simply was not there.

    I see the man I met as part of life’s rich tapestry, and have no malice or feelings of revenge towards him. After I lost my coat, I bought a new one of the same kind; it wasn’t expensive. Every community contains a wide range of characters, and it seems to me that travellers are no different in this respect from anyone else. I made no claim to the contrary.

    When I first read your response, it struck me as so crazy that it was not worth answering. But it has been picked up by other people and circulated online, and has become the basis of a new tranche of hatemail. You have made some very serious false accusations and attacked someone who has a long history of support for your cause on an entirely groundless basis. I am writing to ask you to put the record straight. At the very least I’d ask you to publish this letter on your website.

    Yours Sincerely,

    George Monbiot

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