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
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.