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Grenfell: Should we cancel Carnival?

CELEBRATION?: A reveller dances at last year’s Notting Hill Carnival

I POSED the question: Should this year’s Notting Hill Carnival be cancelled out of respect for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, their friends and their families?

It was just a thought. But given the vitriol that I have received for even considering such a proposition, I can only conclude that I have touched a raw nerve at the very epicentre of the black human condition.

It’s not an unreasonable question, given that Grenfell is in the Carnival neighbourhood. If you like, at the Western periphery of Carnival, but in the vicinity nonetheless.

We won’t get within a hundred yards of it come Carnival, but it will loom eerily over the proceedings when it comes to the August bank holiday weekend unless they have managed to pull it down before then. I doubt it.

So we are faced with the prospect of Grenfell staring down at us as we calypso our way around the streets of W10 and W11. It will be a shadow watching us as we do our sweet sugar boom-boom to the sound of a float or a steel band.

And as we drink and smoke ourselves silly with careless abandon and a bottle of rum, Grenfell will be the cloud hanging over our hangovers when the Carnival is done and dusted for another year.

And heaven forfend that we should be feeling ‘hot hot hot’ too, given the heightened tensions in the area over Grenfell and the remembrance of the 1976 and 1977 carnivals when we were feeling ‘hot hot hot’.

That is what the police, the local councillors and the Government fear.

No doubt there will be an increased police presence for our days of jollity, especially if it is 96 degrees in the shade. That’s what they think of us. For some reason, the authorities in this country believe that we can’t handle the heat.

Given all of that, am I the only one who isn’t feeling Carnival this year? Like I say, I have to be careful what I say, because I don’t wanna kick up another rumpus among those who feel that to touch the Carnival is to desecrate a fundamental part of the black human condition.

In part, they are right. Carnival is our fundamental connection with the most magnificent survival of the African race. It is our direct remembrance and celebration of the triumph of the African spirit, singing:

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
in the face of the oppressor, until they were finally able to rejoice in the words of that old negro spiritual:
Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last.

Our forefathers and foremothers were beaten, but not broken. And they who represented those glorious generations of mothers and fathers and children should never be forgotten. That is what Carnival is all about.

Of course, conversely, Carnival is the most inglorious period in white history. Not only did they show an inhumanity that defies civilised imagination (white man to black man was so unjust in dem days that sometimes, even now, we don’t know if we can fully trust them – in the same way that many Jews are, to this day, wary of Germans), but they also failed to subjugate us.

Having said that, white people who ‘get’ carnival and understand what it is all about, stand side by side with us in celebration of our ancestors. And we welcome that. Not just because we are a loving race, but because we stand side by side with them in remembering their inglorious generations. They, too, should never be forgotten.

Grenfell Tower

Particularly in light of all the speculation that surrounds Grenfell and the conspiracy theories and the question of whether this kind of thing could have happened if it was mostly white families living in Grenfell rather than black, Muslim and immigrant families.


We cannot get away from that. It makes you wonder whether it is appropriate, in light of all of that and the imperative to do something intelligent and say something profound that makes a difference, to continue with the business of carnival as usual.

We, the black community (if there is still such a thing, even in these times of crises), cannot just stand by and carry on as if Grenfell never happened.

When it comes to Carnival at the end of August, we cannot simply carry on partying like it’s 1999. It would look like black lives don’t matter.

And it would give all those white folk (and black folk) who don’t ‘get’ carnival and don’t understand its history and its umbilical link to the black human condition, carte blanche to party like it’s 1999.

Come Carnival, we have the opportunity to show this country and the world that we will not stand for black lives don’t matter as much as white lives any longer.

But how do we show that in a way that would be constructive and respectful of the victims, their families and friends and of our ancestors?

On reflection then, cancelling carnival is a hasty consideration. It would hurt us. It would hurt UK tourism even more, which is another way of saying it would hurt us even more. Would it get the message out there? I doubt it.

The disgraced councillors of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea would rejoice. And the press wouldn’t be that bothered. There are better ideas.

A minute’s silence has been mooted as one of the best ways to protest. And I quite agree. Not just a minute’s silence. Five minutes’ silence.

And when I say five minutes’ silence, I don’t mean among the revellers, although they are welcome to join in. I mean five minutes’ silence among the official stalls and music makers. Five minutes in which everything shuts down – every sound system, and every float stops just where it is.

Five minutes in which we can all come to a standstill or march on the procession in silence. Five minutes for Grenfell. Five minutes in which the world will take notice.

Five minutes in which black and white, despite our conflicting ancestry, can come together as one nation under one unity groove.
Can it be done? Yes it can.

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