Notting Hill Carnival 2018: Why the Caribbean origins of Europe & # 39; s biggest street party is so important

I went to Notting Hill Carnival for the first time last summer.

I read the stories in the newspapers that seemed to repeat themselves about carnival as a hotbed of violent crime and debauchery, so I presumably took the decision to be more spectator than a participant.

When I finally joined the crowd gathering behind Westbourne Park station, I quickly realized that I did not have much choice. I was unwillingly dragged into the epicenter of the parade. Melted chocolate from one of the many Mas bands was pelted from every angle and it is sufficient to say that my carefully selected outfit is ruined within five minutes.

Everywhere I looked, people were laughing with freedom, hips swaying at the soca music that blared out of the sound systems. Strange strangers pulled me into the crowd and made me dance, and soon I was whining with the best of them.

Although I had Jamaican roots, this environment was completely foreign to me. When I grew up in the most white Kent countryside, I was shielded from my Jamaican heritage for most of my life.

Although I have always shown interest in my culture, I have never been confronted with so many aspects of it, from the sweet and spicy smell of jerk chicken to dancehall music to just carefree black people. I loved every minute, and it is these factors that make the Caribbean and African origins of what is now the largest festival in Europe unmistakable.


Dawn-Maria France is a journalist and broadcaster who has written about the history of Notting Hill Carnival. She says that the carnival tradition comes from the struggle of the Caribbean people.

"In the emancipation, liberated African slaves from the Caribbean have forever changed the old European festival tradition, with their mix of African and Caribbean culture," she explains.

"It was a celebration of the end of slavery – rejoicing in the freedom of enslaved Africans liberated from the evil of forced human labor."

The Caribbean and African carnival issue of the Caribbean and Africa eventually spread across several countries, including the United Kingdom. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Notting Hill had one of the most concentrated populations of West Indians in the country after Windrush.

Racial tensions between black and white arose and eventually the Notting Hill racing riots of 1958 arose – the worst case of racial violence Britain had ever seen.

In search of a safe place for the black community, Trinidadian political activist Claudia Jones had the idea of ​​holding a carnival as a celebration of Caribbean culture. In January 1959 the first carnival was held in the City Hall of St Pancras and broadcast by the BBC.

Although many people now regard Rhaune Laslett, a white community activist, as starting the first outdoor carnival in 1966, the Caribbean influence and anti-racism stance on which the event was founded continues to nourish the spirit of the Notting Hill Carnival we know and love today.

The only difference is perhaps that the true essence of carnival is often overshadowed by the focus on crime and disorder.

Last year, dirt artist struck Stormzy at the Metropolitan police for linking drug failures in Catford and Lewisham to the Notting Hill carnival.

In a critical tweet, he wrote: "How many drugs have you seized in the run-up to Glastonbury, or are we just tweeting for black events?"

Such examples of casual racism were unfortunately all too familiar to black Britons and do well to perpetuate stereotypes about us during an event that should be a celebration of our true self.

Sorry: Stormzy win the prize for Best RnB, Hip Hop or Grime at The Global Awards (Joel Ryan / PA)

Joyann is 27 years old and has been attending carnival for a number of years. Like me, she feels like carnival is one of the few places she can express unashamedly.

"I grew up in Trinidad, so carnival is part of my culture – it's in my blood," she explains.

"It's great to be able to experience an event with a history that is directly connected to me, and it's one of the few times I feel welcome in the UK."

Joyann's experiences of belonging gave a poignant reflection of the state of racial relations in Britain since the Windrush scandal, with members of the Windrush generation and their children being wrongly targeted by the & # 39 hostile environmental policy of the government.

The debacle was a grim reminder of the fact that we were born here and created a life here for ourselves, but for some we are still not considered "British".

This is why having a room such as carnival is so important to black Brits and why it has served as a tradition in many Caribbean families for years.

Kyra is 24 and works in TV production. She goes to the carnival since she was a baby.

"Carnival is my life, I would go with my mother, who is Ugandan and my father, Jamaican and my brother, I sat on their shoulders and watched all the costumes, colors and dancers that passed and also took the sweet smell of Caribbean food in itself.

"I love soca, I love my culture and I love to see everyone who wears his flags that represent their roots.

"There's a real sense of community, I literally make carnival friends all the time, you'll encourage a girl you do not even know to give her worst whining, and it's just fun, it's like ultimate happiness."

And it's this sense of community that attracts 2 million visitors every year, giving people a sense of freedom and connection that we do not always have the privilege to experience every day.

Discussions about moving carnival out of the area after the fire of the Grenfell Tower last year were thrown away by Sadiq Khan with the claim that dragging it away further damaged the community relations.

The mayor wrote: "The Notting Hill carnival is one of the biggest street festivals and has been a solid London tradition for many decades, born from the African-Caribbean immigrant community in North Kensington in the 1950s, and it's just precisely that this remains at home. "

While the final preparations for masked floats and parade costumes take place in the run-up to carnival next weekend, Mr. Khan's words still sound.

Wherever we come from and what we have experienced, for black people the Notting Hill carnival is our home. And we can not let people forget that.

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