The media seem to be in a pickle over the removal of a blonde girl from a Roma family in Dublin, which followed the arrest of a couple in Athens who had a suspiciously Nordic-looking child with them.
It’s a fascinating story because for the first time I can remember the two great hysterias of our age have finally clashed – racism and child-snatching, the Guardian’s obsession versus the Sun’s.
It has also pitted the almost immovable object of media taboo against the unstoppable force of the human-interest story. The highbrow media maintains a sort of code of decency about reporting the Roma, so that you will never read anywhere an accurate analysis of anti-Roma prejudice. I don’t think this actually sways anyone, because you’d have to be a total cretin not to see the causes, rather it informs the official opinion people are supposed to have in public.
However ‘missing child turns up alive’ is the most powerful story of all time and nothing will keep it off the homepage. It goes back to the Bible and the Greeks and early-modern European fairy tales, and it’s a narrative still poignant because of the children who are missing today, such as Madeleine McCann.
Perhaps because of the BBC’s remit to promote multiculturalism, their coverage of the affair has seemed highly editorialised towards informing the public that Roma are not going around snatching children, rather than just reporting a story. And as it is, it strikes me as extremely unlikely that there is any sort of trend here, and the Dublin family may well be innocent victims of circumstances.
But neither does that mean there is some campaign against the Roma, or that the Gardai should be blamed for their actions. Roma tend to have a lot of informal family adoption but they rarely adopt non-Roma and, knowing this, someone in Greece understandably got suspicious and then someone in Ireland did.
Contrary to the media cant, this doesn’t suggest that in Europe we treat blonde children better and want to snatch them away from swarthy parents. We just live in a society where it’s impolite to notice social patterns, yet one where it’s the police’s job to look out for them; to hone all those evolution-bred skills to notice when something doesn’t quite fit, like the wrong person in the wrong place or a child with someone very unlikely to be her birth or adoptive parents. So pity the poor policeman who has to traverse between the Scylla of race relations and the Charybdis of child-snatching hysteria.