Jonathan Lee

Perspectives Writer

Jonathan is a Romani activist from Swansea. He works for the European Roma Rights Centre, a Roma-led law organisation based in Budapest which takes racists to court across Europe. He spends a lot of time talking and writing about antigypsyism, to people who don’t want to hear it. Tweets @jon_j_lee

Articles:

(12.01.18) – Digging for Palestine in the Age of Trump

Last week President Trump, with a push of his tiny thumb, attacked Palestinian leadership via Twitter and threatened to cut all US funding to Palestinian recipients. His angry tweets were in response to unrest across the occupied territories following his December recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, “that the Jewish people established in ancient times”. Despite the fact this came from Donald Trump, he does pose an interesting point. How accurate is this claim? How far back do the State of Israel’s ties to the land really go?

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(29.12.18) – A Beginner’s Guide to Antigypsyism

Content warning: article explores discrimination, racism, hate speech and antigypsyism and includes derogatory language.

Don’t say gypo or gypped.  Pikey or tinker. Don’t put up ‘No Travellers’ signs.

If you are not Romani, never wear Gypsy-themed costumes at Hallowe’en. And don’t call yourself Gypsy because you think you’re free spirited. Or because you’ve been to India, or believe in chakras, or live in a campervan or something. These things are racist towards Romani people and Irish Travellers. It’s called antigypsyism.

This is the specific form of racism directed against Roma, Sinti, Travellers, Manush, Balkan Egyptians, Ashkali, Yenish and others who are stigmatized as ‘gypsies’ in the public imagination.

Unfortunately, there is a lot more to it than a few nasty words and some garishly tacky costumes. In order to fight this phenomenon in our society, you need to understand how deep the rabbit hole really goes.

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(21.08.17) – Sorry, are you a Traveller?

“The Gypsy and Traveller community complain that they don’t get enough media attention, but crime watch is on TV every week.”

This was the name of a team at a pub quiz I attended in Oxford recently. When it was read aloud, half the pub laughed and jeered. The other half remained silent, either through complicity or complete indifference. No one challenged the offending team, no one called out, no one made a disapproving noise. When the woman behind the bar saw my apparent discomfort, she asked:

“Sorry, are you a Traveller?”

Unsure whether she was apologising for the hate speech coming through the pub’s speaker system, or for the actual ethnicity itself, I answered:

“Yes I am.”

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(17.01.16) – Sexy Filthy Gypsies: The Struggle for Romany Identity Through the Arts

In the post-imperialist Western world, liberal society is becoming ever more self-aware of social and cultural sensitivities, most evidently in the influence of the arts as a vehicle for perceptions of race, gender, sexuality and culture. Cultural appropriation is a topic hotly debated, and one where the divide between appropriation and appreciation can sometimes be uncertain. This ambiguity and subsequent argument is usually tied to power relationships, dichotomy in stereotypes (e.g. black hairstyles being perceived differently on white heads) and most often, the struggle for the appropriated culture to control its own identity.

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(20.10.15) – The Shame of Europe’s Forgotten Slaves

In the mid to late 19th century, Bucharest was a city typical of the reformist changes of the era. The influences of the Late Enlightenment and Romanticism in cultural arts were emerging in public administration, economics and politics. The growing call for egalitarianism across Europe had given birth to revolutionary movements and philosophies, out of which Marxism, Idealism and Existentialism, to name a few, began to take shape. Bucharest saw increasing civil mobility as anti-aristocratic sentiment spread, culminating in Prince Bibescu renouncing the throne. The increase of Liberalism across Europe was matched by feats of human endeavour and the creation of centres of intellectualism in the major cities of the continent.

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(15.02.15) – The Problem of Extremism

“The term ‘moderate Islam’ is ugly and offensive; there is no moderate Islam; Islam is Islam.”
− Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan.

Prime Minister Erdoğan was speaking in reaction to the Obama administration identifying Turkey as a moderate Islamic country. The blunt statement challenges much of the narrative coming from Western governments, and forces the West to question the validity of the term as well as another of its favourite loaded words: ‘Extremism’.

(20.10.14) – Romany Gypsies: Modern Apartheid in Western Europe.

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of anti-ziganism, and the oppression of Europe’s spectral nation is growing to staggering heights.

Numbering around ten million, Romany gypsies constitute Europe’s single largest minority ethnic group and are almost certainly the continent’s most discriminated against. The Romany people, uniquely bear both the intense scrutiny of outright persecution and the simultaneous off-hand dismissal of their very identity, allowing and even justifying racism to go unchallenged.

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