Guest post by David Bowles
In the UK, Channel 4's'Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' has proven to be an extremely popular fly on the wall documentary in the UK. The series looks at the lives of the gypsy and traveller communities in the UK and I think it is fair to say that many viewers have been shocked at what they have seen.The culture today seems to be an interestingmixture of strict traditional values with a splash of 21st century frills. Values that one might consider conservative include absolutely no sex before marriage,unmarried girlshaving chaperoneswhen out withyoung menandmarried womanbeing expected to cook and clean at home rather than going to work. The 21st century twists include fairytale wedding dresses, some of which were covered in hundreds of LED lights, making a grand entrance to a wedding in a helicopter andunmarried girls dancing and dressing in a provocative and very 21st century way.
A common theme throughout the series was the way that the Gypsy and traveller community is discriminated against. People had had venues cancel bookings when they found out that an event involved travellers, employees feeling that they could not reveal their Gypsy heritage for fear of discrimination and verbal attacks from the general public.
Discrimination againstethnic minorities is quite rightly not generally tolerated in the UK, but it seems to be different when it comes to Gypsies.Many people use phrases like 'Pikey scum' and mostwould probably not be over the moon if a group of travellers moved onto their street. So why is discrimination and bad feelingagainst this ethnic group seen as more acceptable than that against another?
Firstly it seems thatthere has been a lack of integration between the traveller community and the rest of society and this can be a vicious circle. Discrimination triggers an ethnic group to close ranks and keep their traditions alive in secret. Secret traditions in a minority group lead to suspicions amongst the general population and more discrimination. I think it is fair to say that the general population needs to be more open minded to Gypsy tradition and racist comments such as 'Gypo' or 'Pikey' should be as unacceptable as abusive terms for other ethnic groups.
However I don't think that it is right that it is entirely the general population that must change. There appear to be varioustraveller traditions that are not compatible with 21st century Britainsuch as bare knuckle boxing, discrimination against women, questionablestandards of animal welfare anderecting buildings without the necessary planning applications. Society must adapt to accommodate people of all ethnic backgrounds and traditions, butin return groups that want to become part of our multicultural society must adapt to meet us half way.