The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality has visited two gypsy sites as it launched a review of how travelling communities are treated.
The CRE is investigating how local authorities respond to their needs and what facilities have been set up.
Trevor Phillips was at east London sites in Hackney and Newham.
The review was launched after Gypsy and travellers' groups complained about councils' treatment, especially in planning, site provision and eviction.
Mr Phillips recently said: "Great Britain is still like the American deep south for black people (was) in the 1950s.
"Discrimination against gypsies and travellers appears to be the last 'respectable' form of racism.
"It is still considered acceptable to put up 'No traveller' signs in pubs and shops and to make blatantly prejudiced remarks about Gypsies and travellers. "
A CRE spokesman said: "Many public bodies, including local authorities have a legal obligation to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and good race relations.
"This applies to all racial groups. CRE is keen to establish the extent to which local authorities are meeting these obligations in relation to gypsies and Irish travellers.
The organisation said the information from the scrutiny exercise will be used to produce guidance for local authorities.
It will set out what they should be doing in relation to gypsies and Irish travellers, to meet their statutory race equality obligations, and giving good practice examples.
Sarah Spencer, CRE Deputy Chair, will also be visiting a site in Leeds.