At the beginning of the month, I set myself the challenge of posting something related to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller history every day for 30 days.
Here’s what happened:
Expectations: “This will be a really enjoyable project because there are literally millions of references to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people in the archives. SO MANY STORIES. Where to begin?!”
Reality: *Overwhelming feelings of genuine sadness and depression. Not an ounce of celebration anywhere.*
Now, let me give you some context.
I’m fairly resilient when it comes to historical research. For most of the last two decades, I’ve researched some pretty dark topics. I’m talking child sexual exploitation in the mid-19th century, the *horrendous* conditions in early Victorian “madhouses,” murders, poisonings, … the list goes on.
But none of what I’ve done this month feels like the history I’ve done before.
Around Day 20, I was at the point of throwing the towel in. And it’s not because I’m not used to the dark stuff; it’s because I’m not used to reading so many awful stories that are based on genuine racism. That’s it, in a nutshell. The stories of child-stealing, of abuse, of cutting up children into tiny pieces for anatomists to study, all of these so-called crimes never happened. Each story sat on a foundation of suspicion and mistrust. GRT people were stigmatised and blamed over and over and over for some truly heinous things.
Because this GRT hostility was so widespread and because it reached across social and gender divides, stories that should have been shelved at source routinely made their way into courtrooms and onto newspaper front pages where they are forever recorded in our archives.
Today, on Day 26, I’ve realised something else, too. If I did nothing but post these stories, what messages am I sending about these communities? Yes, all of these stories are based on false (and racist) assumptions and all form part of the GRT big picture, but what is the impact when we continually give voice to something so negative?
At the moment, I’m doing a lot of review work on GCSE History topics and I see the same stuff pop up over and over again. Women as housewives, Germans as Nazis, Muslims as terrorists. It’s my job to teach people how these portrayals are harmful and negative (not to mention historically inaccurate). And during a very mindful moment, I think of all the things I wanted to post for the remainder of GRT History Month but know I just can’t do it.
So, for the rest of GRT History Month, I’m bringing in some balance. Because that’s what real history is: it’s the good, the bad and the ugly, all woven together to make one messy but beautiful tapestry. I’ve done the bad and the ugly, so now we need some of that goodness.
Until next time,