Pride and Notting Hill Carnival: Who has the Right to Celebrate?
Pride and Notting Hill Carnival: Who has the Right to Celebrate?
With the Pride in London celebrations behind us for another year, and Notting Hill Carnival just around the corner, it’s worth reflecting on who really has the right to celebrate these events.
Both the LGBT+ community’s Pride and the British West Indian population’s Carnival were borne out of a formerly oppressed minority group’s need, and right, to celebrate their freedom. Both events have been staples of the London calendar for a similar amount of time, with the first official UK Gay Pride Rally taking place in 1972, and the first Carnival dating back to 1966. And both have also grown significantly since then, each now attracting around one million people each year. However a large proportion of the crowd at either event will be oblivious to the historical significance of what looks, to them, like a big old parade and a let’s-get-pissed-on-the-street party. This raises a question mark over who has the right to celebrate Pride and Carnival, and whether mainstream society is trying to take over the celebrations.
This year’s official campaign posters for Pride in London were heavily criticised for their suggestion that having a gay friend was a token accessory, while focusing on straight people’s acceptance of the LGBT+ community, instead of the community themselves. For those who missed the controversy, one poster read: ‘Befriend a gay person and win a prize – friendship’, while another said: ‘Being homophobic is sooo gay’, casually using ‘gay’ as a jovial insult. London Pride apologised, claiming they ‘misjudged’ some of the messages, and subsequently took down four of the posters, but not before causing outrage amongst the community they were supposedly trying to represent. So the question still begs to be asked: why was the voice of the straight community ever given such a prominent place in the campaign for Pride in London?
It’s arguably a similar story for Carnival. Did you know that it was the murder of Antiguan immigrant Kelso Cochrane in 1959 – at the hands of white youths – that inspired the first Notting Hill Carnival? I’ll admit, before writing this article I didn’t. Yet neither have I had the opportunity to take part in the event before. An article in the Independent points out that the festival appears to primarily cater for white British revellers today, which is disturbing given the history. Sure, black culture has become popular. And yes, we should be striving towards an inclusive London where all can celebrate different cultures and learn about other communities and traditions. However it seems wrong that people with no understanding of, or appreciation for, the historical significance of events like Notting Hill Carnival should be out on the streets celebrating them.
Holly O’Mahony, Culture Editor
Being part of the LGBT+ community as a bisexual individual, I am always very aware of homophobic displays whether this be verbally, visually or written. Especially because I constantly hear, “I never expected you to be gay” as I am incredibly femme. Whenever I witnessed the London Pride 2017 posters, I will admit I was a bit taken aback by the wording of the typography. Undeniably the posters were not created to empower but rather to encourage hype and attract a crowd. For all those that will contest my thoughts here, and I’ve heard this sentiment many times, “but gay people are always so overtly camp and over the top anyway” I would respond with; a minority group that has been oppressed continuously throughout history because of a core pillar of their identity deserves to be as overt as they want.
However, I’m not denying that there is a certain sentiment within oppressed minority communities, such as the queer or black community to adopt phrases or words that may have been seen as derogatory and use them in an empowering manner, such as the poster stating “soooo gay” from the series. It’s a way of sticking a finger up to those that have oppressed your community previously. But not everyone in the community approves of this and therefore it’s not all inclusive and it should not be held as a public image. That’s why the LBGT+ flag is such a beautiful symbol. It’s a rainbow but the sections of colours don’t represent a certain sexuality. In fact each a different colour in the original flag has a widely unknown meaning: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for art and violet for the human spirit. The idea is inclusivity.
Whilst I am completely for inclusivity in LGBT+ activities and I completely encourage the attendance of those not in the community, I think it’s so important that those within and external to the community understand the true meaning behind the events. It’s absolutely fine to have alcohol and celebrate to the fullest but I stress, celebrate the community and how far LGBT+ rights have come. Don’t turn it into a piss-up for no reason. Look at the people around you on the streets and realise the importance of this event to them. Regarding Notting Hill carnival, I have yet to attend this; hopefully this year but I will remember, in the exact same way, the reasons why I am there.
Roisin O’Hare, Editorial Assistant
I’ve been extremely cautious of attending cultural or identity-specific events in my lifetime; since my teenage years, there has been a huge push to stop cultural appropriation, and the tokenisation of aspects of other races or communities. Being white, cisgendered and as far as I’m aware heterosexual, I have learnt it’s very easy for me to offend others or act with entitlement without even realising, so I have tried to make an effort to not be that sort of person. For this reason, events like Pride and the Notting Hill Carnival always felt out of bounds to me – although I think everyone is entitled of love and adore the mix of sexualities and cultures present in London, to go to Pride as a straight girl felt wrong – would it make me one of those teenagers, trying to get popular on instagram by partying away at an event that wasn’t actually for me? After all, what do I have to be proud of? What have I had to fight for?
I mentioned this to my friend Stevie as we discussed plans for Pride, and explained I felt I couldn’t go for this reason. She laughed and told me that of course I could – being pretty much the only straight person in my friendship group, I would be going to support, not to take over. I realised that she was right – there’s a big difference between supporting your friends and their rights, and taking it to be something for yourself. For example, when my friends invite me to gay bars or clubs, I feel fine going because I’m not going for the experience or for the novelty. I think it’s still ground to tread carefully, in some circumstances, as you must always remember when celebrating these sort of events who you are celebrating for. It doesn’t hurt to ask if you’re wanted there, or to take a backseat and let the people the event is actually for take centre stage.
The issue becomes slightly more confusing for me when I consider Notting Hill Carnival; I’ve grown up at the kind of school that sees groups of white teenagers heading there to get drunk, and although I was never one of them, I hadn’t really thought about whether they should be attending or not. I love how multicultural London is, and I love celebrating that – however, is getting drunk really the right way to do it? Perhaps, when we attend a festival or event like this as individuals not related to the culture in question, we should take time to learn why the event exists, what and who we are celebrating for, and learn more about the culture instead of simply drinking vodka on the streets.
Ellie-Connor Phillips, Fashion Assistant
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