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Photography Cristiano Betta / Flickr

Stop trying to use Grenfell to close Notting Hill Carnival

The Tories claim that it would be respectful to residents to move the festival this year, but their concerns are just thinly veiled racism

After the Grenfell Tower fire in June, a lot of people decided to get upset at what they saw as the "politicising" of the tragedy by the left. Their argument was that we should be focusing on the loss of human lives, and respecting their dignity rather than organising the Day of Rage and storming Kensington Town Hall. These voices were neatly shut down by both the residents themselves and the commentariat who recognised that the loss of life was intimately tied to our political power structures in the UK. On who is deemed worthy of protection by the state.

Nearly a month on however, and with Theresa May's ratings plunging in the polls, the right wing have now taken it upon themselves to subvert the politicisation of Grenfell and attempt to use it to their advantage. Notting Hill Carnival, an unashamed celebration of black Caribbean culture, has been the bane of the upper class, snooty residents of the Kensington and Chelsea borough for many years.

As wrote Maurice Mcleod in an article for the Guardian last year, thanks to the gentrification of the area, "Carnival’s organisers are left with an annual fight against the party being moved to a sanitised Hyde Park or stopped altogether." Campaigners against the carnival cite high crime levels, but don't recognise that everyone's favourite chummy middle-class festival Glastonbury has a much higher equivalent arrest rate. It's not a stretch to say that the reason carnival has such a bad rep is due to its association with black culture.

“Most people who aren't power-hungry self-serving egomaniacs recognise that Grenfell was an awful loss of life that disproportionately affected the black community”

But recent events to compromise carnival have taken it into a whole new extreme. In the letter addressed to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Chelsea and Fulham MP Greg Hands writes: "We have to ask ourselves if it is appropriate to stage a Carnival in the near proximity of a major national disaster... I would like you to consider moving the location and the GLA, with its experience of running major events, taking over the Carnival, in conjunction with the current organisers.”

Thankfully Sadiq Khan almost instantly rejected the proposal. He, like most other people who aren't power-hungry self-serving egomaniacs, seems to recognise that Grenfell was an awful loss of life that disproportionately affected ethnic minorities; a racist and classist crime against those unfortunate enough to live in relative poverty. Black people like Kadija Saye and Mary Mende lost their lives. Others, like Jessica Urbano and Isaac Shawo are missing, presumed dead.

After tragedy, sometimes you need respectful celebration to move forward. The whole reason the festival started was thanks to the brutal murder of Antiguan immigrant Kelso Cochrane in 1959. More recently, we saw Ariana Grande's "One Love" concert taking place in Manchester after the bombing, and Borough Market reopening with a flourish to show defiance to the London Bridge attackers.

As Jessica Morgan, a reporter from the Evening Standard, pointed out on Twitter, after the attack at the market, no-one suggested we move restaurants or businesses because people were victims of a terrorist attack at the market. To then suggest we take away something that is so specifically for our community – a bright, sparkling dancehall and reggae-driven delight that can be used to honour the victims and spread a little bit of happiness to those who are still struggling with the poorly-managed aftermath, would be a mistake and a huge affront.

“To take away a bright, sparkling dancehall and reggae-driven delight that can be used to honour the victims would be an affront”

Speaking to The Independent, Jamal Williams, a local resident said: “Notting Hill Carnival is embedded into our community. It’s love, it’s unity and the one day of the year our community get together. The thought of having that taken away by a minister who is so culturally out of touch is unimaginable. I knew a man from Grenfell Tower who took me to my first ever Carnival. He took me to Carnival arts as a child.That very same man has perished.”      

It is Tory-style legislation that cares more about profit than keeping people safe that not only helped lead to the tragedy, but has meant that survivors have been left in such a precarious situation. The least they could do at this stage is support and respect a tradition that has helped elevate oppressed BAME people. We need to challenge the rhetoric that continues to allow the opinions and voices of black and brown people to be swept under the rugs.

Find out more about the origins of carnival below