Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich


September 2, 2010 · 8 Comments

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if we didn’t make divisions amongst each other based on race, class, culture, or religion? I have. I have wondered would it ever be possible to achieve this? Growing up in South-Central Los Angeles taught me two things; stick to those like you, and every man for him/herself. These “teachings” however always felt wrong, and they were. My parents ensured that within our household each member is open to different races, class, culture, and religion through the art of inquiry and respect.  But as much as my parents taught me this and as much as I practiced it I have never truly found it reciprocated. That was until August 30, 2010, location-the Notting Hill Carnival.

I had to travel 16 hours away from home, South -Central Los Angeles to find what I believed to be impossible. The Notting Hill Carnival began in 1964, as a way to celebrate the cultures and traditions of the Afro-Carribbean communities that reside in England. Over time it has become the largest street festival in all of Europe. (For further information go to http://www.thenottinghillcarnival.com/history.html) This festival, which celebrates, cultures and traditions of people not native to England itself could only reach its magnitude through support and participation of outsiders. That is precisely what I witnessed and felt this last Monday, August 30. As previously trained by experience, I expected the Carnival to be filled with Afro-Caribbean people and only a trickle of White-British people. To my astonishment the Carnival contained thousands upon thousands of White-British people who were not just there to observe this beautiful festivity but were actively participating through their wear, dancing, and eating of foreign food. It was bliss. It somehow gave me back that sense of hope that I had lost a while back; the hope that we as a people really can accept one another and beyond that celebrate one another’s differences.

Afro-Caribbean cultures were completely new to me. California, really only has cultures from Central and South America, and much of Eastern Asia. Therefore, before last Monday, I had never seen nor tasted Jamaican food. Luckily, I had Melissa Gurdon with me, a Jamaican-American , she quickly gave me the run through of Jamaican cuisine. After a plate of Jerk Chicken and Sweet Corn, I was in heaven. After seven hours of being in Notting Hill, Melissa and I, finally decided to hit the road and return to our home in Bloomsbury with a full stomach and a happy heart; hoping to return in one years time.

Categories: 2010 Jamie

8 responses so far ↓

  •   bowmanc // Sep 2nd 2010 at 18:53

    Though I like the idea of your blog, I don’t know if I completely agree with you. I agree that there was a good deal of racial diversity at the event as a whole; however, I personally noticed that a majority of the non-afro-Caribbeans were not necessarily participating in the festival but were spectating instead (as in, they were not dancing behind the incredibly large trucks full of speakers). I also wonder to what degree the drinking factor plays in the amicability of attendees. How was your opinion on this matter affected by our tour of the East End?

  •   groverd // Sep 2nd 2010 at 19:08

    It’s definitely tempting to over-romanticize an event like the Notting Hill Carnival (not that that’s what you’re doing, Jamie). I think it’s true that the Carnival represents the potential for positive interaction between peoples of different backgrounds. I also witnessed the coming together of people there and I certainly felt good about what I saw.

    I suppose the challenge is to export those good vibes to the everyday lives and interactions of people in London. In such a socially inhibited culture that is doubly challenging. Perhaps each of us can do our part to take what we saw at Notting Hill (drugs and alcohol included as per personal taste) and apply it to all our human interactions.

  •   mattg // Sep 2nd 2010 at 19:17

    I think in a way, the carnival might even be an example of Britain’s cultural imperialism, their ability to take a culture and exploit it. The carnival was a fantastic melding of cultures but I just hope that it was a celebration of culture and not a celebration of rum.

  •   mattg // Sep 2nd 2010 at 19:41

    Let me rephrase this. It is not that I think there was not a unity of cultures. There was a very unified and egalitarian crowd there. I forgot to add that on the tube over an elderly Jamaican man asked me if I was going to the carnival. When I replied yes he said, “When it first started, the carnival was just a few of us from the neighborhood. Now its all of that.” and he gestured to intoxicated teenagers wearing straw hats standing near us on the train. It was in this context that I wrote the last post.

  •   battilaj // Sep 3rd 2010 at 11:38

    As an American Studies major and a huge skeptic, I’m tempted to say to agree with Matt. The festival definitely has the potential to be sort of commercialized exoticism, but I saw a pretty balanced racial mix of people both spectating and participating in the parade.

    There will always be drunk people that miss the point when there is alcohol and a party; that doesn’t mean everyone misses the point. I get a really different sense of race in London that anywhere in U.S. I’ve seen more mixed race couples in the last week than in my entire time at home. It seems genreally more integrated, and I think the Carnival is more an example of that quality than exploitation.

  •   jamie // Sep 3rd 2010 at 12:21

    Bowman : Although I understand your opinion and where you are coming from, I completely disagree with your assessment of the situation. Yes some people were there just to drink, yes some people were there just to have a good time. But to go from this point to assuming that all White-British people were there just for these reasons is simply applying a stereotype. Just take a look as to how many cultural celebrations occur in the United States, in Philadelphia; like the Chinese New Year Celebration. Would you ever find as many White Americans there even though they offer drinks and such? No. If the British people were solely interested in drinking and just having a good time they could do that at any corner pub, club, etc. And in any case my opinion of the Notting Hill Carnival was not influenced by the East End and what we have learned about it.

    Daniel: You’re right I didn’t romanticize it, it would be stupid to do that. If you read closely what I said was that for at least one afternoon what I saw was a group of people for what ever reason come together to celebrate and participate in a celebration of a culture that did not necessarily have any ties to them. I have never witnessed such an event in the states. So it gave me a bit of hope that it is possible. It was refreshing to see this, just don’t be confused in believing that I think all of Britiain is like this. Learning about London it reveals, like most cities back home, that it has a definite dark side. We should, however, definitely export the good of foreign cities back home to improve our communities.

  •   amyh // Sep 3rd 2010 at 15:33

    Jamie: I’m afraid I disagree with your response to Chris. In downtown LA any trip to Chinatown would involve watching more white teens looking for cheap souvenirs and other paraphernalia. My experience with the Carnival was more of an observer than a participator. This was compounded by Matt’s interaction with a man on the way to the Carnival was was distraught by the fact that it has turned into an excuse for white teens to go get drunk or high. Even so, I do think the Carnival was an extraordinary event that deviates almost every cultural norm I’ve encountered.

  •   guya // Sep 3rd 2010 at 18:45

    I think there are good points made on both sides. One could make an argument that the Carnival united people of all races, while another could argue most were there simply to drink. What I hope is that we can see the positive unity from the Carnival find its way into a less rambuctious social climate, and that drunkeness does not have to exist for everyone to get along.

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