Gypsies, Roma & Travellers
Essential reading for those who want to develop greater knowledge and awareness of the history, culture and lifestyles of GRT people.
A much needed and most valuable exposition of the vibrant culture and shameful abuses suffered by one of Britain’s most marginalised and disadvantaged minorities.
Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner
Gypsies, Roma and Travellers – A Contemporary Analysis
Allison Hulmes, Welsh Kale Gypsy
Co-founder member of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Social Work Association
I was honoured to be asked to write the foreword to this important and much needed book by Declan Henry. I am especially pleased, as Declan is a social worker whose writing is clearly rooted in our international codes of ethics and social work values.
Any book that begins with the powerful and raw words ‘Gypsies and Travellers are Britain’s internal refugees- shunned and abandoned by their country of birth…through racism and prejudice’ has got right to heart of the lived and living experiences of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people in the UK today. It is an honest book which delves into areas that have previously been viewed as ‘off limits’, and Declan Henry is able to do this, because his approach is rooted in integrity.
It is a thoroughly researched book which is illuminated by direct testimony, I have in fact, seldom read a book about the diverse communities which contains such a high degree of direct testimony, amplifying the richness, strengths and also the complexity which lies beneath the catch-all acronym GRT. This is a real skill, Declan has clearly created safe spaces, allowing it to be filled by three dimensional characters who leap up from the pages. This direct testimony is handled with empathy and respectful curiosity and gives unparallel access to the real lives, feelings, perspectives, hopes and fears of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers – they are telling their own stories in much the same way as the oral tradition, which has been the primary means of communicating, for centuries.
The testimonies also manage to capture some of the tensions between elders and younger generations when trying to protect ethnic identity and culture, whilst also wanting to access the same opportunities and choices as gorgers (not Gypsies and Travellers). Declan has shed light on the impact this has on health and well-being - particularly mental health - of all Gypsies and Travellers, irrespective of age or gender.
The book helpfully sets out to bust many of the myths and stereotypes – from the romanticised, to the misunderstood - which only serves to perpetuate racism and discrimination. Declan roots this racism firmly at the door of structural and societal oppression and not at the feet of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people. He challenges the reader to question their own internal biases and perspectives and helpfully includes lists of clear and unambiguous ‘Truths’ which we need to see spelt out in writing if we are to shift the stubborn, prejudicial mindsets which persist, even in some of those who espouse anti-racist views.
Declan Henry does not pull his punches or baulk from tackling the big concerns and taboo’s impacting on the lives of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people - such as domestic abuse, suicide, criminal justice, shame and LGBT issues - and nor should he. We need to shine a light on what’s happening, to challenge the stereotypes around these taboos and prevent this epidemic of grief and loss, which is often associated with these issues and threatens to overwhelm the communities.
The need for the general public, policy makers and professionals who support the communities, to fully understand the distinct histories, cultural practices and challenges faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, is vital. Declan sets out why this is important – it’s important because the needs of each of the ethnic groups is distinct to them – so targeted health, education and social care services that are based around ethnicity data, needs to be disaggregated to reflect, capture, and then respond to, the distinct needs of each of the ethnic groups. Currently, ethnicity data is not disaggregated, and Roma people have only been able to self-identify since the 2021 census.
This book has an important role in helping the public, policy makers and those who directly support Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. In chapters 2 – 4, Declan clearly sets out the distinctions between each of the ethnic groups. He even drills further into the differences beneath the overarching descriptors of ‘Gypsy, Roma and Traveller’ to highlight that Roma can also be Jewish or Muslim, that Gypsies can be Romanichal or Kale and a multitude of other tribes or clans which are central to ethnic identity and cultural practices. The different ethnicities may share similar experiences of oppression and discrimination, but their origins, history, culture, values, and norms are particular to each of the ethnic groups. How each of the ethnic groups is supported, has to be nuanced and not a ‘one size fits all’ approach which we too often see.
It’s refreshing to see a book on Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people dealing with the experiences of LGBT Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people. Without taking an intersectional lens, we perpetuate the discrimination and suffering of LGBT people in our communities and deny them their fundamental human rights to exist as whole people. Experiences of guilt and shame already casts a long and damaging shadow within each of the communities and this is often rooted in the fundamental religious beliefs held by many community members and traditional attitudes around what constitutes a family. Being lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender adds further layers to these experiences of guilt and shame that shouldn’t be allowed to exist, and which often leads to rejection by family and community. We need to hear the stories of LGBT community members and understand how best to support them, in a way that they are in control of, because they have been taking control of their own grassroots movements for emancipation.
As community members, we also need to take ownership of the harm we visit on our children if we do not love, support, and accept them in their entirety.
If you really want to understand who Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people are - to hear directly from them in all their richness and complexity - their experiences of oppression, disadvantage and persecution, but also the fierce determination to mobilise, organise and create change from within - then this book is necessary reading and one I will be recommending to all social workers and social work students.
After all, Gypsies, Travellers and Roma people have been negotiating a hostile world for over a 1000 years and benefit from wisdom and knowledge that has been passed down through the generations. Despite multiple attempts at cultural and ethnic genocide, we are here to stay.