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Once Gypsy Roma and Traveller (GRT) history month commences Gypsy and Traveller histories are largely ignored. This is on par with the the erasure of GRT history and contemporary culture within mainstream Britain. Given this, I was surprised that the very popular Peaky Blinders starred Birmingham based main characters and their families who appear to be Brummies, of Romany, Gypsy and Irish Traveller heritage.
In many ways representation within Peaky Blinders is problematic, it is typical that once GRT people appear as main characters their lifestyles are associated with gangs, sex and violence. But there are a lot of positives, the episodes are filled with fabulous costumes, interesting characters, plots, settings and music. There is certainly a lot of pride that comes with the representation of Birmingham based lives of mixed heritage Gypsy and Traveller families on screen.
Peaky Blinders is set in a time era which is just after WWI and appears to end in the 1930s. Whilst the series is fictional, there are many parallels that can be drawn between the lives of the fictional main character Tommy Shelby and his family and the real-life lived histories of Gypsy and Traveller people.
Peaky Blinders does well to de-mythisise the assumption that Gypsy and Traveller people do not mix with gorgers and do not participate within mainstream society. To illustrate, Tommy and his brother’s fought in WWI and experienced the damaging aftereffects of war participation. In reality, despite previously being subjected to British colonial practices and being treated with distain by the State many British Gypsy and Traveller people would have had no choice but to fight in this war due to conscription. Many would have lost their lives because of this.
Note that Tommy’s family mostly lived within housing and were working within mainstream industrial society. In reality, in industrial cities like Birmimgham many nomadic Gypsy and Traveller lifestyles would have been under threat due to land purchases made by gorgers for the purpose of building factories and housing (Green, 2009). Upon purchase of this land nomadic groups would be evicted from it, this would have left many homeless, with the increased the pressure to assimilate. This would result in work life changes, hence, Gypsy and Traveller people worked alongside gorgers in factories, where the pay and conditions would have been poor (Green, 2009).
Just like prejudice in reality, even when living within housing Tommy and his family experience prejudice from within and outside of their own community. Tommy is referred to as a ‘dirty didicoi’ seemingly due to the perception of his mixed heritage and not being of ‘full-blooded’ Gypsy stock. In response to an anti-gypsy slur Tommy mocks stereotypes by stating that as well as his day job he ‘also sells pegs and tells fortunes’.
Towards the end of Peaky Blinders the promotion of fascism by elite figures is central to the storyline. Just as in reality, there was the development of the British Union of Fascists political party. Prejudice and fascist ideas contributed to categorising Gypsys as an inferior race. Whilst Peaky Blinders ends before WWII it is harrowing to know that these ideas influenced the extermination of Roma and Gypsies during the Nazi regime. Many British Gypsy and Traveller soldiers lives would have also been lost in fighting the Nazi’s in WWII due to this.
It is unfortunate that the women have less screen time in Peaky Blinders, but their personalities did shine. Ada’s character and response to prejudice is ace, whether this is responding to street hecklers, an elite eugenicist women’s ethnic cleansing ideas, or her son’s prejudice towards his sister. When her son refers to his sister as a ‘thing’ and states that she would ‘get them killed’ as she was a Black-mixed race child she responds by stating, ‘where will they send you Karl?’ whilst making him aware that he could also be subjected to persecution due to having a Jewish father and a Gypsy mother.
This year marks the end of Peaky Blinder’s episodes, the last episode is great. Tommy returns to his roots – choosing to end his days with his horse, wagon and photographs of his family. But he then wins against all the odds! Unfortunately, whilst Peaky Blinders has been celebrated there is less celebration of Gypsy and Traveller ethnicities, these were completely ignored within the documentary The Real Peaky Blinders.
Through whitewashing Gypsy and Traveller peoples histories are frequently denied. To adapt David Olusoga’s words, ‘[Gypsy and Traveller] history is British history’. An awareness of Roma Gypsy and Traveller history should not only reside with Gypsies and Travellers alone, or exist at the margins, as these are connected to all of us. As Taylor and Hinks (2021) indicate, if there is increased awareness that past and present themes of percecution this might enable increased support for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights – this is vital.
Olusoga, D. (2016) Black and British: A forgotten History, BBC [online].
Taylor, B. and Hinks, J., (2021). What field? Where? Bringing Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History into View. Cultural and social history, 18(5), pp.629–650.
My favourite TV show - Don't really watch much TV, though I do love David Attenborough and his nature documentaries ❤ I also love the South Park series! My favourite place to go - Ulm; Southern Germany. My partner got a job working in Germany, so I visited him in July 2019. Ulm is a very homely, colourful and picturesque place, home to the Ulmer Münster (world's tallest church) and a beautiful Danube! My favourite city - Birmingham! My beautiful, vibrant home city! My favourite thing to do in my free time - I love writing! I'm currently working on my second Everyday Miracles Book, I have a blog and I write in a daily journal, and monthly reflection 🙂 I also love walking, weightlifting and doing charity work and supporting campaigns My favourite athlete/sports personality -Tatsuo Suzuki; an 8th Dan Wado-Ryu martial artist, who helped spread Wado-Ryu throughout Europe and the world My favourite actor – I love Signourney Weaver and Saoirse Ronan My favourite author - Lorna Byrne My favourite drink - Latte - always love a latte ❤ My favourite food - Roast Duck My favourite place to eat - I have 2 favourite places; one is Blue Ocean, which is Singaporean and Malaysian food, and the other is Bombay Brasserie, which does British and Indian food I like people who - are compassionate, caring, open-minded, loving and respectful I don’t like it when people - are rude, disrespectful, arrogant, prejudiced and wilfully ignorant My favourite book - I've read many amazing books… my favorite at this point has to be The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath, and all of the Lorna Byrne books; ❤ My favourite book character - Not too sure… I've read lots of books… My favourite film - I don't really have a favourite film… I do love The Passion of the Christ though. My favourite poem - "First they came for…" by Martin Niemoeller My favourite artist/band - Tangerine Dream!!! My favourite song - Too Hot for My Chinchilla, by Tangerine Dream. This song always makes me so happy My favourite art - Star of Bethlehem by Sir Edward Burne-Jones My favourite person from history - Jesus Christ ❤ Jesus changed the face of the Earth by demonstrating unconditional love to everyone he met. He preached love, challenged religious authorities, performed countless miracles, and changed people's lives for the better ❤ John 15:12 'My Command is this: Love each other, as I have loved you'
My favourite TV show - Peep Show. I recently binge watched Noughts + Crosses which I thought was brilliant My favourite place to go -I am one of eight siblings so going to see any of my brothers and sisters (and their families) is always great My favourite city -I prefer going to rural places rather than cities. I loved going to the Amazon Rainforest, Kruger National Park and being stalked by whales in Puerto Madryn. My favourite cities are Rio De Janiero, Cuzco, New York, San Francisco, Athens, Lisbon and London to name a few. I also live in Birmingham and love it here; I think it’s underrated as a city. I really enjoy going to music or food and drink events and being surrounded by friendly Brummies My favourite thing to do in my free time - walk my dog, meet up with friends...have a nap. I am also obsessed with reading at the moment My favourite athlete/sports personality - I’m not a sports person. Although, as procrastinating options were dwindling whilst I was doing my Master’s degree, I suddenly became fan of football. Apparently, the team I like the most (Liverpool) is the arch enemy team of my boyfriend's beloved Man United. I also like Wolves and Tottenham but liking three teams makes me a deviant in the footballing world My favourite actor - Steve Carell. Especially him as Brick in Anchorman and as Michael Scott in The Office My favourite author - still undecided with this one. Obviously, since childhood I have been eternally grateful for J.K Rowling for creating the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My favourite drink - Tea My favourite food -Potatoes. Saag Paneer Balti with chips and a cheese naan bread My favourite place to eat - anywhere as long as its with good company I like people who - are empathetic, kind and encouraging of others I don’t like it when people - think and act as though they are better to others My favourite book - currently it's Milkman by Anna Burns My favourite book character - Yossarian from Catch 22. He’s hilarious- I love his nerve and his anti-war sentiments. My favourite film -I should be put off by the racist and misogynistic undertones within the Lord of the Rings films (and books) but I can’t help but enjoy the long adventure that Frodo and his friends embark upon. For a quick answer… Bohemian Rhapsody! My favourite poem - I need to read more poems as I don't know of many. I do like poems by Margaret Atwood and John Cooper Clarke. My favourite artist/band - I am sad enough to have a ‘Criminology Playlist’. It includes songs by Johnny Cash, Rage Against the Machine, Kano, Kate Bush, The Specials and Stormzy amongst others. My favourite song - I love music that helps me to relax after a busy day at work. I love What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, Pink Floyd’s live at Pompeii set, Radiohead and Hans Zimmer’s version of Bloom, Benjamin Clementine’s Nemesis and many more… My favourite art -I was mesmerised by Picasso’s Les Meninas collection in the Picasso Museum. Banksy’s work is brilliant too My favourite person from history - Those who contributed towards getting more rights/help for others. Only if they did this in a non-violent way, of course