Until the UK can accept they have a problem with bigotry against the travelling community, highlighted by heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury, they cannot lecture the rest of the world on standing up for racism.

The rush to show unconditional and unwavering solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement has impacted most UK sports with major names from tennis to football and boxing eager to jump on the BLM bandwagon, but it seems the virtue-signalling stops short of extending to bigotry and inequality directed at other less well-know marginalised groups, such as the traveller community.

Racism in Lancaster 2020.How is this even possible in today’s society? Totally unacceptable behaviour. Racism at work.

Discrimination toward travellers, or gypsies as they are more commonly known, has recently been highlighted by world heavyweight champion and proud traveller Tyson Fury, who uses the moniker ‘Gypsy King’ as his ring name, a nod to the title awarded to the best bare knuckle boxer among the travellers, a pastime deeply ingrained in their heritage. 

Fury himself, perhaps the most famous gypsy in the world, is more famous for being an instigator rather than an orator. The Mancunian motormouth has used his verbal skills as an effective tool as much in his self-promotion as in his self-destruction, and has amused, bemused and angered the public in equal measure. But Fury’s latest speech, standing in the middle of a mass protest calling for an end to bigotry against the travelling community in his adopted hometown of Morecambe, came from the heart, rather than a wish to antagonise.

It’s NOT ok to be racist to travellers.

“It is NOT ok to be racist to travellers!” was the caption attached to a clip where Fury led a few dozen supporters with signs reading “Equal rights for all” and “Traveller Lives Matter” around a tour of local pubs and restaurants which had denied a group of travellers entry for fear they would cause disorder, claiming UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a duty to visit the northern English seaside town and “out the racists”.

Fury’s anger stems from travellers being refused to eat and drink in establishments because of their heritage, which reminds of the legendary story of Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, returning from the 1960 Rome Olympics where he had become champion in the light heavyweight division for his country only to be turned away from a local diner due to their “we don’t serve negroes” policy, and subsequently dash his gold medal into the river.

Ali’s cause was considered noble, and has become etched in the annals of boxing history as a testament to a man who placed morals above a medal, but the reaction to Fury’s stand against identical circumstances has been one of derision rather than defence and almost unanimous agreement from the UK public that travellers deserve to be discriminated against.

Every travelling community that has come to my area have stolen and trashed numerous areas. Every. Single. Time. Sure sucks to be pigeonholed but unfortunately there will be MANY people that have had the same experiences.

Lancaster University sports centre had to be closed for 4 days a few weeks ago because travellers set up camp in the car park, spat at staff and customers, shit in the car park and left the place like a tip. Wonder why they’re being refused to go in places 🤔

It’s not ok when our fucking tools going missing out of our vans when the fuckers are in town. #thenorm

The theatre in Blackburn next to a caravan park is a dodgy place to park. People blame travellers for the break ins. Also growing up in Rossendale and Hyndburn friends were often beaten up by travellers for walking past. Scary me also walking by. Let’s all change 4 the better.

Travellers have a bad rep for a reason. I don’t generally like to stereotype and I’m sure it’s not all of them but on the numerous times I’ve encountered them they’ve turned up with no regard for the locals, let their kids terrorise the area, then left the place a shit hole.

There has been no rush to take a knee, there was no mass media coverage and support, there were no statements from celebrities and sponsors and there was certainly no outcry from the general public. Instead there was apathy and a feeling of affirmation.

So where does discrimination towards travellers rank in UK society? We can say with some certainty, that if all Asian men were refused entry to South Yorkshire schools because of the  spate of South Asian grooming gangs that were endemic in Rotherham, there would be a furious reaction the likes of which police were so petrified of facing that it incidentally initially stopped them from shining a light on the issue as a whole.

And of course, if all young black males in London were refused a knife when buying a basic kitchen cutlery set put into effect by companies owing to the majority of knife crime perpetrators in the UK capital originating from their demographic, there would rightly be an outcry that would be felt on every level of society. Why then, is the same incredulity not applied to instances where travellers suffer the same ludicrous inequality?

The discrimination and persecution of gypsies is evident throughout history, and includes the genocide of the Romani people – similar in their way of life but not genetically related to travellers – the ethnic cleansing committed during the Holocaust in World War II by Nazi Germany, and attitudes towards members of the travelling community as second class citizens remain prevalent today and are perpetuated by skewed public opinion.

Fury himself already predicted his lack of a platform in airing his concerns on discrimination when reacting to fellow British heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua, who read a statement at a Black Lives Matter rally in June encouraging people not to invest in white-owned companies and instead put their money into black-owned businesses. “Abstain from spending your money in their shops and economies, and invest in black-owned businesses. Show them where it hurts,” he told the gathered crowds in Watford.

This is despite the fact Joshua’s promotional company Matchroom Boxing, and exclusive broadcaster, Sky Sports, which have contributed to him becoming one of the best-paid prizefighters in history, are in fact white-owned. Fury quite rightly predicted he would have been “crucified” if he had said not to invest in black-owned businesses, and surely if his reaction in the current situation was one to order the traveller community not to visit pubs owned by those of any ethnicity other than his own, it is unlikely he would have been idolised in the same vein as Joshua.

Tired stereotypes and tarrings with the same brush have no place in a society committed to tackling racism, so bigotry should not be accepted when it is shown against a community long the victim of snobbish and degrading sneers from the wider public and deemed not worthy of equality afforded to others. Quite simply, the UK has a deep problem with double standards when dealing with discrimination, that seems to be based not on what matters, but a hierarchy of which prejudice matters more.

By Danny Armstrong