Page 4, 26th August 1988

26th August 1988
Page 4
Page 4, 26th August 1988 — Festival towards racial harmony

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Festival towards racial harmony

IT HAS been lightheartedly suggested that the organisers of this year's Notting Hill Carnival should request a toll of those entering Ladbroke Grove for the event. But such a "Passport to Pimlico" situation might not have such comic side-effects as the original film of that name.

To ban the event at the last moment as has been suggested this week would be defeatist and a negative move which, it must be urged, will not be made. All credit must therefore be accorded to those who have worked so hard to anticipate difficulties and to pre-empt disturbance.

The Notting Hill Carnival is one of the world's largest street festivals and is a supreme test of local inter-race relations. To ban the official festival would mean the last minute cancellation of an event more likely to be orderly without curbing the unofficial fringe events, which according to local residents are the source of most of the trouble in previous years.

To issue a ban on this well structured side of the Carnival would probably, itself, result in rioting and demonstrations. An added complication this year is supplied by the fact that, for the first time ever in London, the newly extended pub hours will be in operation.

The main point, however, is surely that no "ban" can be made on the unpredictable elements of the occasion. You cannot prevent illegal action by, in an abstract vacuum, theoretically "banning" it in advance.

This year's Carnival will thus be• a crucial test of communications between local residents, carnival organisers and the police. Last year, unfortunately, these communications broke down, and that was the prime cause of chaos which organisers and police later blamed on each other.

It is worth quoting what Fr Michael Hollings said after last year's Carnival became the subject of bitter controversy. "It was not," he said, "a riot, but the media will set out to demolish and to vilify the event. This was the biggest and best carnival to date. Two brilliant Masses took place in St Mary of the Angels on Saturday and Sunday with a fiesta of praise on Monday when a Rastafarian and a Moslem joined us in celebration."

It was thus encouraging to note that Alex Pascal!, the chairman of this year's Carnival organising committee, while aware of possible dangers, appealed, on local radio to those who could spoil the event as being distinctly "a minority" within the North London black community. It was they, he said, who could, but must not, "spoil the fun."

It is therefore worth praying, and not just idly hoping, that this year's Carnival will revert to its former peaceful and community spirit. Let us, in this connection, also remember what was said after last year's carnival by Bishop John Crowley. He, along with Cardinal Hume, was one of the ten concelebrants at the biggest Mass said during the Carnival.

Bishop Crowley referred to the Carnival as the embodiment of "an enormous need to celebrate." Particularly for the West Indian Community such a festival is a symbolic event "where the area of Notting Hill is their own for the weekend. The Carnival represents a celebration of life where people simply and innocently enjoy themselves in racial harmony."

This year, prepared for the worst, it is the earnest wish of those with sense and goodwill that, eschewing defeatism, it can be proved that, in Britain, racial harmony can stand the strain of such crucial tests.

Unfortunately, a few words must be added by way of general observation on such risky endeavours. While it is vital to be optimistic and positive, it is foolish to underrate the dangers of any event where suspicion has been fostered beforehand by a background of mutual distrust between races. People like the enlightened and popular Fr Michael Hollings know from long experience that positive good relations can be fostered in a mixed urban area if such an aim is assiduously pursued over a period of years and never shirked.

It is not, moreoever, in any way "racist" to suppose — though some over zealous do-gooders tend to deny this — that the juxtaposition of different races has always been a potential cause of trouble. It has been true, in the past, in Canada, in Ireland, in Belgium, in India and in countless other parts of the world. It Is far from merely being a question of black and white.

Thus, when Lord Durham spoke of a "conflict of races" in Canada he did not, in his famous Report, resort to defeatism. But he warned that eternal vigilance was needed. Such vigilance, he insisted, would always be rewarded in the end.

It could and should be rewarded this weekend in Notting Hill, but it must continue in the months and years that follow until a more enlightened attitude to the whole question of inter-racial harmony in Britain becomes second nature to us all.

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