Letter to Derby Telegraph.
In the week following Holocaust Memorial Day on the 27th January we heard many stories from people with personal insights into genocides and racism under the theme of “Journeys”. We heard from Ferid Kevric of the Bosnian Community Centre who still could not explain how integrated communities in Bosnia turned on each other in a matter of days in the 1990s. Members of the Kurdish community explained the plight of a nation of 40 million people who were left stateless following World War I, and who have been persecuted and ostracized within the countries that they live. We were also reminded of the shocking list of massacres and genocides that have been committed against the Kurdish people. Edna Williamson, who migrated from Jamaica in the 1960’s, recalled the unashamed racist comments used against her when she first arrived in Derby.
At a talk in the Multi-Faith Centre on the 27th about the Roma people, Simon Williams, made the simple and profound comment in his introduction that, Roma , are individuals, and that we should see them as such. Whilst grouping people can be a helpful “shorthand” it can also quickly become insidious when used to communicate a negative perception. When differences are not respected, and stereotypes are used which lead to division, then this is the path to genocide. We might say that it will never happen here – but that’s what they said in Bosnia.
In recent weeks the volume of dialogue and negative sentiment about the Roma people in Derby has grown. This has not been helped by the national frenzy over the removal of employment restrictions for people in Romania and Bulgaria. This mix of different issues has become contorted into generalized headlines about “East Europeans flooding into the UK to claim benefits” and anyone in this broad category is stained by this allegation.
The article on 31st January (Derby Telegraph) entitled “Partnership aims to heal migrant issues” summarized many excellent initiatives by a range of organisations actively working on integrating people within Normanton, Arboretum and Pear Tree. This strong story was undermined by the caption to the photograph of 2 Council wheelie-bins, and overflow refuse at the front of a terraced house which stated – “Rubbish allegedly fly-tipped by Roma people in Normanton”. ( A different but similarly innocuous photograph used on the Derby Telegraph website has since been removed). This is a perfect example of how language can display a clear prejudice in the absence of facts.
Many Roma were killed during the Nazi holocaust. To this day they are being persecuted and subject to racist abuse in their home country, simply, for being Roma. A situation that we would all find abhorrent. As they settle in Derby, despite all of the difficulties of starting a new life in a foreign country, surely we would all wish to show that we do not tolerate the treatment that they have received in their home countries and that we, in Derby, have all learnt the lessons of the past.