Sun, February 19, 2012 8 Comments
I was really shocked the other night when I watched two minutes of “Bigger, Fatter, Gypsier” on Channel 4. I was flicking around stations and was stopped by the horror of this show. Channel 4 is known for making programmes which degrade, belittle, horrify and ridicule, but it’s outdone itself with this one. Viewers are encouraged to laugh at “gypsies”, their culture, their beliefs, their lifestyles, and their customs. In short, Channel 4 appeals to the collective elitism in us all and asks to to join them in making fun of the “savages”. It’s horrible.
What I found almost more upsetting, however, was the numerous posts on my twitter and facebook feeds which were joining in the game. She’s wearing a pineapple!! OMG!, and such like. Not big. And not clever.
There have been several criticisms of the programme this week (from segmentpolitics, liberalconspiracy, and the guardian, to name but a few), but none more poignant than this open letter to Channel 4. It was written by a 17-year-old Romany male. Here is the link to his blog post. Below is the copy and paste for your convenience.
Dear Channel 4,
I am writing to you with the hope that you will stop ruining my life. While you’re obsession with my ethnicity is flattering, it has become somewhat apparent to me that you might have gotten the wrong end of the stick. This is sort of awkward for me, because I don’t want to be the one to break it to you, but your documentary, ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’, is unfortunately a work of fiction. There is no need to be embarrassed, it can happen to the best of us, and thus I hope my letter will help you establish the facts, after all I’m sure you are passionate about fighting discrimination against ethnic minorities. Don’t be modest now, we know you are…right?
It surprised me to discover that 99% of Britain’s Gypsy and Traveller population are Irish. Correct me if I’m wrong, as I am sure you have done lots and lots of research on this topic, but just 10% of the Gypsy and Traveller population are actually Irish Travellers. The majority, like myself, are in fact Romany, yet your ‘documentary’ seems to ignore our existence. While I have nothing but respect for the Irish Traveller community, you seem to be unaware that we are two distinct ethnic groups and thus there are many differences between our cultures. While Irish Travellers originate from Ireland, we can trace our routes back to India, so it was hardly surprising that I was somewhat confused when you use the word Gypsy in the title of your ‘documentary’ about Irish Travellers. I was even more confused when your ‘documentary’ about Irish Travellers seemed to feature an alien culture that even most Irish Traveller’s didn’t recognise.
You correctly identified that many Gypsy and Traveller children leave school at a young age, however you failed to mention that this is not because we are all born to terrible parents, but because our communities suffer from great social exclusion. State education fails to adapt to anything but mainstream culture, thus we have to contend with a curriculum that is totally irrelevant to our way of life. Moreover, both teachers and students seem ignorant of our cultures, thus we are labelled as troublemakers and bullied for being different. The myths that you have been spreading have not helped matters. Indeed, I was subjected to physical attacks during your last series of your ‘documentary’ which ultimately led to my expulsion from school (long story), whilst my 12 year old cousin was beat up on her way home from school by a gang of girls who were calling her a prostitute.
As you can see, there are many reasons as to why Gypsy and Traveller children are failing to attend school, but you seem to have forgotten to feature those of us that do stay in education. Take myself, for example, I’m currently at college studying a range of subjects such as, History and Sociology. Moreover, my sister trained to be a hairdresser, my aunty went to university and is now a social worker and some of my cousins completed apprenticeships, thus clearly dropping out of education is not a prerequisite of living in a trailer.