Carnival is a vital celebration of community, and in the wake of Grenfell, that makes it even more important
The Notting Hill Carnival is undoubtedly the greatest 48 hours in the British party calendar, not least because the annual event – which brings millions together to eat, drink, be merry and dance to bashment across the Sunday and Monday of August bank holiday weekend – has its roots in political activism and a foundation in the power of community. Founded by Claudia Jones, the Trinidad-born editor of The West Indian Gazette, the celebration of black culture was arranged as a response to racially motivated riots in west London in 1958, five violent days and nights that saw ‘Keep Britain White’ mobs battling black residents, something which seems horribly familiar in light of recent events in Charlottesville.
Jones’ Caribbean Carnival grew and grew, and by the mid-1970s it had become a party of major proportions, with floats, sound systems, steel bands and an almighty parade running through the same streets where West Indian immigrants had settled after the Second World War. It’s an area of London that remains powerfully diverse, with people from all over the world living side by side. But as evidenced by Grenfell Tower, it was BME and working-class residents in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea who were disproportionally affected by the disastrous results of living in some sub-standard housing, a damning indictment of the way certain groups of people are treated in this country.
To Londoners, Carnival – only amateurs say the ‘Notting Hill’ bit – is a vital celebration of community, and in the wake of Grenfell, that makes it even more important. So when Greg Hands, the newly appointed Minister for London, suggested that the event be moved from the area it’s so intrinsically linked with because he thought it would be inappropriate for it to take place in the shadow of a major national disaster, locals were rightly pissed off. Thankfully, all-round excellent man and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan had no time for Hands’ bulls**t.
“Notting Hill Carnival is a firm London tradition and incredibly important to the local community. It should not be moved,” he tweeted. Yes, the burnt-out shell of Grenfell Tower will be seen by many people attending Carnival. Yes, it will be upsetting, and yes, it will be difficult – but it’s been a lot more difficult for those directly affected by the fire. The fact that it’s no longer headline news doesn’t mean that the victims no longer need their stories told and no longer need help. It’s been two months since the deadly fire and none of Grenfell’s survivors have yet been placed in permanent accommodation, despite Theresa May promising that everyone would have a new home within three weeks of the blaze. Reports have also emerged that suggest only a small fraction of the millions raised to help have actually been received by the residents.
There’ll be a minute’s silence at 3pm on the Monday of Carnival for Grenfell – but don’t forget the tragedy still needs a lot of noise made about it as well.