Let's play discrimination bingo!
Working for Amnesty International there are always some easy hits. There are few people who will argue that the Chinese Government isn’t executing enough people for tax offences. And I’ve yet to hear anyone defend the armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo who use rape as a weapon of war.
Yet when you turn back to the "small places, close to home" (as Eleanor Roosevelt put it) such cosy consensus can be a little harder to achieve.
In flagging up discrimination against Scottish Gypsy Travellers we were always heading towards choppier waters. Whilst I can see that this is a human rights issue (access to health, housing and education, the right to culture life and of course freedom from discrimination in realising the above) many others are less sure.
Repeated studies agree that Scottish Gypsy Travellers experience discrimination throughout their lives. Yet settled communities (and their cheerleaders in the local papers) can make valid claims to their own rights (for example to property and to family life). So much so that I think the human rights framework has a valuable and unrecognised part to play in such conflicts – setting out and balancing the rights and needs of different communities.
But in order to do this fairly we first need to get rid of existing bad feeling, prejudice and discrimination. And therein lies the challenge.
The tried and tested method is to produce a "myth-busting guide" – setting out the various negative stereotypes and perceptions which stand in the way of progress, and unpicking them one by one. We produced one in Amnesty’s Scottish office, to help in responding to negative press articles. Ours includes "They are all thieves", "They don’t pay taxes" "They leave behind a mess" and of course "these people aren’t genuine Gypsies" – with our arguments for responding to each.
On rainy days we sometimes raise our flagging spirits with a game of "discrimination bingo", playing the various media clippings off against each other to see which can produce the most of our myths in the shortest article.
Recently we received an outstanding candidate, sent by a staff member at one of Scotland’s largest colleges and – copied in to us by mistake when forwarding a response to one of our email action requests.
The correspondent, who shall remain nameless, but who really should have known better, managed to pack the following into a mere ten-lines of text:
"Will resort to stealing" – check !
"They don’t pay taxes" – check !
"Endless costs in cleanup operations" – check !
"The true gypsy and common tinker are a different kettle of fish" – check !
I believe we have a winner – an Amnesty goody bag is in the post.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.