From Windrush to Grenfell – Carnival Love Trumps Hate
By Alison Williams
It is 70 years since the Windrush docked in London, bringing over 800 new migrants from the Caribbean. They arrived with hope in their hearts for a new life and economic prosperity. Many of these early migrants settled in North Kensington where rents were cheap and there were already many other migrants from other parts of the Commonwealth, as well as poorer British citizens.
Many of the early migrants did get jobs – often doing the sort of low paid work that the British didn’t want to do. Fitting in wasn’t easy. Not everyone in North Kensington appreciated the arrival of thousands of Caribbean migrants. They experienced discrimination and sometimes open hatred. In 1958, the Notting Hill riots saw right wing extremists in open confrontation with Caribbean migrants.
It was partly in response to the feeling of exclusion and discrimination that gave rise to the Notting Hill Carnival. Carnival meant the opposite of exclusion. For the first time, migrants and their children could take to the streets and feel free to express who they were in a whirlwind of colour, music, flamboyant dress and love. Carnival was the first time that many people from the many different Caribbean islands were able to come together as a community.
As years rolled by, the Notting Hill Carnival has grown in size and popularity. It has also had its ups and downs. The Carnival has somehow survived its many obstacles and is bigger and better than ever. It has become Europe’s biggest street carnival and has inspired others across the continent, just as Trinidad and Rio’s famous pre-Lent Carnivals helped to inspire London’s own.
The poverty and discrimination that the Windrush generation experienced hasn’t entirely gone away. In June 2017, the substandard Grenfell tower block burned almost to the ground. It was home to a recent wave of migrants and refugees with many from the Middle East and Asia, rather than from the Caribbean. Grenfell’s blackened hulk lies on the meandering path of this year’s Carnival revellers and is a reminder that the reasons for the Carnival’s birth are still present.
Some of the Windrush generation have also suffered atrociously. Bit by bit, the scandal of the recent treatment of some of those early migrants who believed they were British has been exposed. The cruel policy known as the ‘hostile environment’ has seen hundreds of older British residents of Caribbean origin forced to lose their entitlements and their jobs. Some have even been sent back to their place of origin just because they had never thought to confirm their rights to stay in Britain.
The Notting Hill Carnival in 2018 is into its 51st year. It has had a lot of bumps along the way. The Grenfell debacle and the Windrush scandal are just two more. And yet…a million people jive, dance, sing and enjoy an annual spectacle that demonstrates that Carnival love trumps hate.
People consult a newspaper in the Southampton arrivals hall Photograph: Haywood Magee/Getty Images