Getting Up Close With Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities

Updated: May 13

Of all the groups that are forgotten by the mainstream historical narrative, Gypsies, Roma and Travellers (GRT) are at the top of the list. It’s a sad fact that most of us will never cross paths with the diverse histories of GRT communities in our time at school, college or university.

In June, Britain celebrates GRT History Month, but I’d like to get the ball rolling a little earlier.

First things first, who are the GRT communities?

Interesting fact: Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers are protected under the Race Relations Act (1976 and 2000), as well as the Human Rights Act (1998), though they continue to face significant prejudice and discrimination. In a report from 2009, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “Racism towards most ethnic minority groups is now hidden, less frequently expressed in public, and widely seen as unacceptable. However, that towards Gypsies and Travellers is still common, frequently overt and seen as justified.” There’s a LOT of work to be done to reduce the racism experienced by these groups and I believe that education is part of the solution. There are so many false assumptions and misconceptions about the GRT communities. In fact, the word “gypsy” is borne of a false assumption. When Romani Gypsies first arrived on British shores in the early 16th century, people (mistakenly) believed that they came from Egypt because of their darker skin tone – hence the term. It is now accepted that Romani Gypsies came from Northern India in a series of migrations that took place over a few centuries, not just a few years. Historians believe that the first Romani Gypsies to come to the UK worked as performers. Certainly, this applies to Scotland where we have records of the earliest arrivals. In 1505, under the instruction of King James IV, the Scottish Treasury paid £7 to a group of gypsies, likely for entertainment purposes. His successor, James V, later paid gypsies to dance at Holyrood House in 1529.

While this first chapter of GRT history speaks of mutual benefit and prosperity, the next is characterised by a dramatic change in attitudes. I can't wait to share it with you.

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Kaye x

Herstorian, Author & Culturally Responsive Education Specialist Telling the extraordinary stories of ordinary people; Fighting for equality in history and equity in history education. Visit Me / Connect with Me / Tweet Me / Join Me

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