Introducing Betsy Mobey: “Why I’m an activist for Romany Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Rights and you should be too!”

Betsy Mobey joined Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) in June 2017 as an Intern. During her time at FFT, Betsy has been an enthusiastic member of the youth work team, learnt about tackling discrimination at two international gatherings and shared her opinions and views as a young Romany Gypsy at a number of meetings and conferences. Betsy’s position at FFT is funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Betsy celebrating International Roma Day in London on April 8th 2017.

Firstly and foremost, who am I? I’m Betsy Mobey and I’m an English Romany Gypsy, from the South of England.

My mother’s a Mobey and my fathers a Pannell, both very well-known and respected Romany families. Altogether I have 46 uncles and aunties and god knows how many first, second, third and fourth cousins I have. I’ll be making it a personal project of mine soon – what a glorious family tree that’ll be!

When I was ten, I was in my last year of primary school and I desperately wanted to go to secondary school. I asked my father and straight up he said, “No”, with a capital N, followed by, “Ask no question get told no lies”, which is one of dad’s favourite sayings and essentially means, “Leave off and do as you’re told”. So then I went to ma and she pretty much agreed, she said “You don’t want to go there, there are drugs, bullies and funny geary (dangerous men) and perverts there, best stay here with us.” That was it; they pretty much sold secondary school to me as an institutionalised prison. Of course, I wouldn’t have it. If my cousins and friends were attending, then so was I. I was determined. Later that evening, I filled in all the school forms and finished them with forged parental signatures, sealed it with sellotape then stuck about five first class stamps on it and ran out the door like no tomorrow to post it, all in secrecy. I was quite chuffed with me self and all. Looking back at it though, God knows what the person was thinking when they saw it. They probably thought quite the opposite- that the parents couldn’t wait to get rid of me!

Betsy pictured with another delegate at the Mirrors training course on combating antigypsyism through Roma youth participation in Strasbourg, June 2017

What an experience it was. I had ups and downs and got into a few scruffs because of that demoralizing word ’pikey’, which was uttered by misinformed and uneducated folks,  that don’t have a clue where that word derived from. As they say, you’re not born a racist! None the less I would always recommend it, because it is important to have a formal education in this century, even if you’re on the move. There should be designated drop in community centres on sites or situated close by so that people of all ages whether nomadic or settled can access the facilities so that they don’t fall behind.

Alas, in my eyes, the Romani nomadic way of life, nothing can beat it. No system, no institution, no book can teach you what we learn on the roads. Survival, intuition, instinct, values, morals, the skills, the hardships and the way of life is a different type of education altogether.

So to have best of both worlds, well, that would be called equity!

Moving on, the grammar school I went to failed me. I fell through the net.  Many of my teachers saw me as disruptive, though I saw myself as inquisitive and creative. Unfortunately I gave up on it and hardly turned up in the end, as i felt like teachers didn’t really care about my learning needs, but also didn’t really care about me as a person. They didn’t punish those that unapologetically and ruthlessly discriminated against me because of my identity. I felt that there were too many learning sets dividing children’s intelligence and setting up to fail those that attain information differently.

Betsy delivering a make up and special effects masterclass to young Travellers at St Michael’s Way site in October 2017.

After this, I auditioned last minute for Level Three Performing Arts at Northbrook College and got in to the highest level, with very few GCSEs. I guess because they saw something in me and decided to give me a chance! It was the making of me. I could finally express myself however I liked, with little or no judgement. In my opinion, people that tend to judge are often followers, sheep and insecure with themselves. That’s fine, but I think you should leave them to it and carry on doing what you do best, without a glance back.  When I finished the course I went on to study Hair and Makeup for Film, Theatre and Fashion, whilst also pursuing a modelling career on the side. I recently earned my first IMDB credit, in the film OBEY, which is currently in post-production and now I am taking part in an internship at FFT.

Long story, finally cut short, I’m an activist on behalf of my community. Why?

It’s the 21st Century and still, the legacy plagues us. We are treated like vermin, vagabonds and nuisances. Look at the wider picture; centuries upon centuries, we have been mass murdered, prosecuted, the victims of forced ethnic cleansing and even as recently as 2007, forced sterilisation of Roma women in the Czech Republic[1]!

Our human rights and our privileges are abused by governments, which then trickles down to the common people. Left, right and centre, we have our privileges taken away from us and for many this is on a daily basis.

Yes I’m crude, I’m honest and deathly blunt. There is no sugar coating, because the reality is we have discriminative laws in place against Romany Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, right this instant. There are discriminating authorities, prejudiced councils, institutes and racist politicians.

There is so much that needs to change right now and if I don’t speak up, then who will?

How many more families will have to lose loved ones?  The suicide rate in the Gypsy and Traveller communities is higher than the general population and still there are too many gaps in the data collected by the Office of National Statistics to even get an accurate recording. I’m here because enough is enough. This is the century of acceptance, individuality, equality and more importantly equity, so why are we still at the bottom of the heap?

No more shall we hide in the shadows, hiding our ethnicity for fear of judgement and worse. Take a stand with me and speak up when something isn’t right. Now is the time to stand together, now is the time to question the elite. Be an activist, speak for those that can’t. I’m not just talking to Gypsies and Travellers, but we need everyone else to stand with us in solidarity!

Do something empowering. Write to your local council, the Prime Minister, even the queen! Get in touch with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller organisations, report hate crime no matter how small or how big the incident. Be active, reach out for help and in return help those that struggle.

[1] https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/bernard-rorke-marek-szilvasi/racisms-cruelest-cut-coercive-sterilization-of-roman

Last updated Jan 15, 2018