Notting Hill Carnival: A show of strength by immigrant working class communities of London | Nadine Batchelor-Hunt

A few weeks ago, whilst attending Notting Hill Carnival, I noticed that the tone was markedly different to when I had been previously. As sound systems blasted dancehall anthems and the smoke from the vast array of BBQs and dutchie pots wafted enticingly across the streets, Grenfell was visible throughout the carnival; the tragedy coloured the event.

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This was illustrated in the first five minutes of my arrival at the festivities on the Sunday: a moment of silence was held for Grenfell by one of the huge sound systems near the tube station we arrived at. Shortly after, it had blasted “One Love” by Bob Marley. Elsewhere, carnival goers embraced firefighters that risked their lives to save those trapped in Grenfell Tower. And, as I wandered around, I saw signs up on almost every float, and almost every road, with the words “Justice for Grenfell”, or just simply “Grenfell”. Once home to vibrant working-class immigrant communities, these signs of solidarity were strewed across streets that now house the wealthiest in our society, owing to the gentrification of the area. Along these streets, sound systems played reggae, whilst stalls selling pots of curry goat with rice and peas were surrounded by men, women, and children dressed in carnival wear.

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As we walked down one of the (many) streets that Grenfell Tower was visible from, someone mentioned that wealthier residents had tried to prevent carnival happening this year, allegedly out of respect for the victims of this tragedy. Although I am not sure how true this was, it got me thinking. As I looked around and saw such a celebration of different cultures, all I could I think was what a sign of resilience carnival was this year, and what an opportunity it was to pay homage to the victims of the Grenfell tragedy. Seeing thousands and thousands of people who were immigrants or descendants of immigrants, celebrating themselves so proudly in a society that does not care about them, in a city, and a neighbourhood, that increasingly tries to push them out, felt exactly right. Notting Hill Carnival presents itself as a challenge to the gentrification, to the racism, and to the classism that is pervading our society – in the best way possible. With good food, with music, with laughter, with dancing, with resilience, and with life – open for all to experience.

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Year after year the police, or the wealthier residents, complain and try and prevent the carnival from happening. And year after year carnival returns, despite the scare-mongering and false information spread about its safety or security. Indeed, despite the disproportionate attention afforded to Notting Hill Carnival with respect to risk to personal safety, videos always emerge on Facebook and Instagram of police officers wining and dancing with carnival attendees, participating in the festivities.

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Picture6Events like Notting Hill Carnival must be protected. The demonisation and criticism of them in the press, or the attempts by the wealthy and  powerful to shut them down, must be challenged. Immigrant lives, and by extension, immigrant culture, must be celebrated. The horror of the Grenfell tragedy was not a shock to working class immigrant families in London, or across the country. In actual fact, it had been predicted multiple times. Grenfell was a result of the systematic silencing and marginalising of vulnerable, working-class people of colour in this country. When you silence a person’s culture, when you prize them out of their homes, when you completely disempower them and devalue their lives, they become invisible and their voices easily ignored. 

Fundraising still continues for Grenfell Tower residents and their families. You can find more information about it here:

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/categories/emergencies/grenfell-tower-fire

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