Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange mental health worker speaks out on impact of Jimmy Carr comments
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It took 41 days from Jimmy Carr’s Netflix special’s release for someone to make noise about using Roma Holocaust deaths as a throwaway punchline.
Of course, that noise came from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community - the same communities directly affected by the racist indifference towards entire ethnic groups that meant his 'joke' was even broadcast.
I was actually looking for something else online when it popped up, an article about what Jimmy Carr had said. I found myself waking up in the night multiple times thinking about it because it wouldn’t leave my mind.
I am a Romany Gypsy man, and I know I’m not the only person feeling this way. But hatred towards my community is so normalised, I had to speak up.
Anger at Jimmy Carr as an individual for what he said is justified - the hurt and pain was and still is raw. The mental toll on people in immense.
Over the weekend though, people defended Carr crying out to “protect free speech”, saying “but you’re missing the context”.
So let’s have a look at some context…because we feel this is missing the point.
While he referred to the Roma people specifically and “The Devouring” during the Holocaust that killed between an estimated 500,000 to 1.5 million people, it’s effects are felt in the wider Gypsy and Traveller community across the UK.
Due to the lack of education, most people might not even know the difference between these distinct groups and how rich each of their cultures are.
But this isn’t just about the need for more education.
People in government have called for a boycott of Carr and his comedy, with the Prime Minister’s spokesperson calling the joke “deeply disturbing”.
However simultaneously, they are so close to signing their Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill into law.
This Bill is the most outright discriminatory attack on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people in recent history.
Part Four will criminalise trespass, meaning stopping on any land you do not own, essentially attempting to end the nomadic way of life that has been a part of British history for millennia.
It will give the police increased powers to arrest people, issue £2,500 fines and seize vehicles, which are also people’s homes.
This will separate families and increasingly place children into care. More bluntly, it says Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people are the problem to be 'dealt with' not communities to understand.
Content like Carr’s that incites discrimination and racist hatred towards Gypsy, Roma and Traveller individuals just living their lives in so commonplace.
For us, it has become horribly normal. If politicians are shocked, they’ve spent too long wilfully looking the other way.
But exposure of this truth isn’t what we see in the UK media. Our recent research report Media That Moves highlights the scale of this crisis.
Stories on Gypsy and Traveller people appear on average once every three days in national newspapers.
We see outlets at best acting in ignorance and at worst platforming discrimination from local government, councils and the public with articles focused on crime and rubbish and allowing comments sections to run completely unmoderated.
On the other hand, Carr had the most streamed comedy special in the UK in 2021, despite only being released on Christmas Day.
At least 1.8 million people watched it in that final week of the year. Netflix has paid comics anywhere from $50,000 to $20 million for a single show, with the most common price tag now about $500,000.
We’re not taking part in an equal fight and to say this harms free speech is the joke. Carr is only a tiny part of a whole system.
When people are targets anyway, humiliation like this justifies the direct attacks that are still happening today.
We are not the butt of someone else’s joke.
Those who have died should be honoured, and those still alive should be treated with dignity and respect. We need solidarity in remembering our history and the space to have our stories told.
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