France deports Roma: The last acceptable racism?
Whilst I’ve written quite a number of posts blasting the British government lately, I thought it would be good to return to a wider viewpoint and write something pointing overseas. Yesterday (Saturday) saw two notable sets of protest coverage (Blair in Ireland being the other), but the marches in Paris and elsewhere caught me eye, because they speak of a topic largely unmentioned in Britain: racism against the Roma peoples.
I have heard numerous allegations that one or other expression of racism is “the last acceptable form of racism”. The horror we see when someone says something now unacceptable, for instance when someone uses the word paki or nigger, is a sign of how far things have come. Anti-Semitism is jumped upon in an instance, with special laws in much of mainland Europe.
Yesterday’s wave of protests against the deportation of Roma from France is a clear sign that not everyone will turn a blind eye to the sufferings of this one particular race, even though the government appears to be trying to dismiss the protest out of hand. Perhaps the history of government action against the Roma is supposed to justify this as “nothing new”, and the lack of numbers involved as “quite a small issue”, but a human rights violation is still a violation even against a minority of one.
The government’s reasons seem to be the classic case of Roma being a burden on the state or more prone to committing crime. I can understand why the Roma might commit more crime: when the most you receive from the rest of society is abuse and the smearing of excrement on your property, its a real problem. The Roma, as they move from place to place, are the perfect fit for an outlet on our sense of fear of the outsider, and they in turn grow up internalising a sense of worthlessness.
When I’ve had the chance to meet with Roma and discuss their troubles, one thing is clear: they have no hope whatsoever. I’ve met asylum seekers who have been abused and jailed and still had more hope of a positive future. I remember a discussion about how we could raise awareness of the Roma situation, getting people to see the community in a different light and appeal to notions of human rights in the wider public. The response from the Roma in the room was that it could not work – either they were too tired of trying or they had simply lost all hope, despite a room of 30 people sat in front of them. They are perhaps also Europe’s most depressed people group.
Breaking the cycle of physical, cultural and systemic violence towards the Roma must start from the cultural, the stuff that reproduces itself in government policy after government policy, and in occasional mob violence. This means it will be a very long process. Anyone who has pondered the historical basis for Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame will reason the huge history of Roma as a people group despised for their cultures and for simply being different. Yet it is a task that must be undertaken, or the hatred will simply continue as an outlet for unchecked racism, a convenient direction to send our human insecurities now we can’t push them at Blacks, Asians and Jews, and ultimately an injury against us all.