social cohesion or social cleansing?

When looking for things to fill my time with over the longest holiday I’ll have until my retirement looms, I have two main criteria – 1) is it free? and 2) how ridiculous can I be in public before I join the ranks of the job market and have to make all my social media private? It wasn’t hard to realise that Notting Hill carnival fitted both of these criteria exactly, so armed with a litre bottle of rum and coke and some glitter I made my way to the streets of W10.

For those of you that don’t know, the carnival was first held in 1966 in the wake of racial tensions between recent Caribbean arrivals and the existing white communities, particularly the Notting Hill race riots. Combine this with the London Free School’s idea for a festival in the name of cultural unity and what we know as the Notting Hill carnival of today, a dynamic and colourful celebration of multiculturalism and Caribbean culture, was born.

Needless to say, the event itself lived up to this description, with a palpable feeling of community cohesion and acceptance overshadowing (arguably racist) Daily Mail-esque moral panics about violence during the event. It’s probably worth mentioning here that the crime rates remain low for such a large public event, despite headlines such as ‘glam to grime at Notting Hill Carnival: arrests, fights and mountains of rubbish’. Yes, that’s real. There’s nothing like the taste of class baiting in the morning.

Aside from the obvious classist connotations of the carnival in mainstream media and the discomfort I personally feel at the temporary acceptance of Caribbean culture by white teenagers who’ll go back to calling aspects of the culture ‘ratchet’ and ‘ghetto’ the next day, I feel a more insidious discomfort – for all the talk of multiculturalism and inclusion, a programme of social cleansing is undoubtedly taking place over London, disproportionately affecting communities with high numbers of ethnic minority citizens.

The rise in private rents with no sight of rent caps on the horizon combined with a lack of affordable social housing and welfare cuts has already led to 50,000 families being moved out of London boroughs in the past three years, with more to surely follow. With studies showing that ethnic minority communities are disproportionately likely to be surviving on low incomes and reliant on certain types of social welfare, it’s obvious that they will also be victims to the scythe of social cleansing in greater numbers. Westminster borough, which oversees the areas included in the carnival, moved 274 homeless placements out of the area in July-September 2014 alone, the seventh largest number in London.

The sweeping toxicity of gentrification is the other side of the double-edged sword disadvantaging communities that are meant to be protected in this much-lauded multicultural society we’ve cultivated. Portland Road in Notting Hill is one of many included in a process of ‘super-gentrification’, where places which once exclusively housed people on low incomes become inaccessible to all but the wealthy. The abolition of rent control was the catalyst for this particular area to ascend to the great heights of exclusivity, but how can it be seen as anything other than the entrenchment of social inequality and a precursor to a monocultural London?

A surface-level acceptance of multiculturalism isn’t enough unless there are measures to secure the preservation of means for people of all backgrounds, income levels and ethnicities to be able to stay in the city they’ve made their home. It’s all well and good for (mostly white) public figures to pledge their commitment to inclusiveness but until measures are put in place to ensure it, excuse me if I don’t seem too convinced.

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