I suppose this is what it must have felt like before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Where signs some 50 years ago read 'No Blacks', this year a sign at a Blackburn ice rink was put up stating 'No Travellers'.
I watched the first series of Channel 4's My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. I found it fascinating, entertaining and shocking in equal measure. Shocking, because the travellers featured highlighted the inequality they experienced on a daily basis. It was heartbreaking to watch a newlywed woman worrying that the hotel she had booked her wedding reception with might turn her away if they realised she was a gypsy; apparently they had done it before.
I had, perhaps naively in hindsight, buoyed the first series' ratings figures because I believed we could learn something significant about a long-standing community which, until the 2011 census, had not been recognised as an ethnic group.
I won't be watching the new series, though. The advertising billboards, stating 'BIGGER, FATTER, GYPSIER' disgust me and have resulted in complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency. I wish I could take credit for the defaced poster I spotted on Chapeltown Road in Leeds, which has 'MORE RACIST' graffitied under the strapline. Indeed, it seems Channel 4 has sided with those racists - I don't use the term lightly - who watched the first series and responded with derogation.
Examples of the kind of language I've read and heard used openly abound in the comments section on the previous link regarding the 'No Travellers' sign - incidentally taken down because it was illegal under the Equality Act 2010 - including "scum bag", "sub-human garbage" and "lying, cheating, thieving bunch of scum who give sewer rats a bad name". Those commenters must be rubbing their hands with glee at these posters; using the word 'gypsier' has implications of racism just as 'Jewier' or 'blacker' do.
A Channel 4 spokesperson has said. "The word 'gypsier' refers to the fact that this series offers even greater access and insight to the communities featured, and the terms 'gypsy' or 'gypsier' are not being used in a negative context."
It's a nice line, but it stinks of exploitation. Channel 4 even leans on the David Brent defence - remember when he asks his black employee whether he is personally offended by a racist comment? "Everyone featured in the campaign has seen the posters and is happy with them," says Channel 4.
I hope that, sooner rather than later, society will accept that racism directed at anyone is ridiculous and unacceptable. If it was any other minority community which was being exploited and having new terms coined for the purpose, I'm sure more of us would be outraged. 'Bigger, Fatter, Gypsier, More Racist' indeed.
Follow Ali Schofield on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Ali_Schofield
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