Descriptive Essay on Fire Accident

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The Grenfell fire tower began in June 2017 and soon became one of the UK's worst modern disasters (BBC News, 2019). The Tower stood as part of the Lancaster West Estate in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of the wealthiest local authorities in the country, yet has become amongst London's most unequal, with Grenfell Tower sitting in extreme poverty, side by side with excessive wealth (Barr, 2017). The social housing tower homed individuals from a multitude of socio-economic backgrounds, with more than half of the adult victims having arrived in the country after 1990. With 19 different nationalities the 72 who tragically lost their lives, and just seven white Britons losing their life, telling of how the Grenfell Tower disaster disproportionately impacted minority ethnic communities (Rice-Oxley, 2018).

With this, I will develop how the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire and its aftermath were ultimately tarnished with issues of racialization and marginalization. It is important to develop a deeper understanding here to distinguish what I mean by racialization and marginalization. Individuals become somewhat racialized when they belong to a particular race, 'typically using the body as a signifier.' (Fassin, 2011, p.420). It is the distinguishing factor between 'us' and 'other', a sense of differentiating between those who are inferior and superior in status, and those who are perceived to be deserving of a level of support and attainment. Further, Gans Herbet (2017, p.345) determined the causes of racialization to be the 'arrival of newcomers, particularly poor ones.' It is this dichotomy of newcomers and those in poverty that became particularly apparent in the Grenfell fire tragedy. marginalization is best coined by the work of Cathy Cohen (1999). She determines that a group has become marginalized when its members have 'historically been and continue to be denied access-stigmatized by their identification; isolated or segregated; generally excluded' (Cohen, 1999, p.24). Once this marginalization process has occurred, it typically becomes an individual's primary identification, along with racialization, with the body being the biggest signal to individuals who are beyond the realm of acceptance.

It is clear when we refer to the demographic of people who lost their lives that the role of racialization and marginalization was significant in the fire. These people found themselves in one of the poorest parts of London, which just so happens to be in the wealthiest borough of the country's capital. The issue lies with the foundations of social housing and the recent gentrification of surrounding areas. Shilliam (2018, p.170), provided his understanding of the issue of social housing in Britain, claiming such provision continues to be 'racialized', as 'black and minority ethnic residents are still more likely than white counterparts to suffer from overcrowding and poor-quality housing.'. His stance on this issue can not be undone, the proof is here in the tragedy of Grenfell. Residents in the tower had been complaining about breaches in health and safety legislation and dangerous living conditions for years before the fire yet were refused any form of acknowledgment from governing bodies. These residents were not worthy of appropriate treatment, safety, or living conditions, so much so they were severely neglected by those authorities who were supposed to provide protection, 72 people lost their lives. Danewid (2020, p.290) highlights this issue of a marginalized society perfectly stating, 'on the night of the fire, Grenfell was predominantly occupied by London's racialized poor - by Nigerian cleaners, Somali carers, Moroccan drivers and so on.' The building, under the management of the local council, was absent of basic health and safety provisions. It lacked smoke alarms, sprinkler systems, and multiple escape routes, making it near enough impossible for the residents to survive the inferno that occurred on June 14th, 2017. This racial segregation of those disproportionately in social housing is produced through structure and everyday practices, described as 'drawing migrants in, dividing and housing them according to the financial interests of property speculators' (Bulley and Brassett, 2021, p.555). The Grenfell fire simply placed this issue back in mainstream news, with the global political impact of the fire becoming apparent simply because the victims came from across the world.

The borough of Kensington and Chelsea had undergone increased gentrification of its poorest areas in the years preceding the fire, worsened by broken housing systems, privatization of local government services, and the desire to please the wealthy occupying the area, heightening the 'racism that perpetuates inferior infrastructure and safety standards for people of color' (Madden, 2017, p.3). Madden (2017, p.3) exemplifies this neglect towards Grenfell residents describing the tower as a 'stronghold for groups that have been subjected to decades of stigmatised-fuelled neglect.' Gentrification occurs predominantly in areas racialized as non-white to increase the perceived desirability of an area, as seen by the renovation of the tower to install highly flammable cladding to the exterior to increase the appeal of the tower surrounded by wealth and influence. This rapid gentrification and governmental prioritization of white wealthy residents created an intense vulnerability of the marginalized in Grenfell Tower. The unequal presence of minority ethnic individuals in unsafe social housing is a direct result of such individuals being marginalized from wider society. It is not a coincidence that the poorest people in the borough homed in Grenfell Tower were non-white, they were there because governmental and societal structures make it near impossible to break the mold. At the time of the fire, a large portion of victims and survivors who were in desperate need of aid and rehoming, were undocumented, with the hostility and lack of empathy from the government and Prime Minister Theresa May, causing many who were in need of help unable to feel accepted and like they would not be provided with the aid they required. This governmental hostility is exemplified by the Prime Minister's refusal to meet the residents in the aftermath of the fire.

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The installation of the cladding products on the outside of the tower was one of controversy and increased opposition. The material was simply fitted in the Grenfell Tower for cost-cutting purposes, but with the choice to fit highly flammable metal panels reportedly saving contractors just short of £300,000, on a £10 million refurbishment, what made these residents in this tower block worthy of inadequate fire safety and protection? The combustibility of the cladding is well known in the construction industry after the occurrence of 20 internationally serious cladding fires preceding the 2017 fire, for example, a blaze in the United Arab Emirates at a 63-storey hotel in Dubai (Booth, 2017). So, with the dangers known, to these individuals responsible for the architecture and contractors involved in the installment, cost-saving was a much more important practice than saving the lives of those who resided inside the tower block. I cannot comprehend how such failures and neglect would have been conceivable if renovating a wealthy, predominantly white-occupied private apartment block. In addition, the forced order for those to 'stay put' when the fire was engulfing the tower added to the loss of life, in conjunction with the inadequate fire safety, however Preston (2019, p.25) puts this issue perfectly when discussing the effectiveness of the 'Stay put' order. 'It is a surprisingly effective method of classification that if a disaster impacts working-class or BAME people the advice is to 'stay put' if a disaster impacts upon middle class or white people the advice is to 'get out'. In the instance of Grenfell Tower BAME people are much more likely to be in areas more susceptible to disasters and the resources to prevent such disasters are not provided, along with the necessary aid and relief efforts.

How individuals who lived in Grenfell and their reaction to how the tragedy was perceived highlights how such people feel marginalized by society and excluded. One resident reported to the New York Times that 'because we weren't white no one cared when our homes were dangerous-if someone in those (wealthy) houses complained about their rubbish bins, the council would sort it out immediately (Foster, 2017).' The fire seemed to strike a particular chord within government in its aftermath, one of regret and a sense that a community could never fail in the way that residents of North Kensington had. A turning point both nationally and locally in the treatment of social housing tenants, with immediate help for families affected falling below standard. However, these are simply words, Theresa May, the former Prime Minister made promises that have not been enacted. There are 312 social and private housing blocks encased in cladding years after the disaster, yet the government has refused to allow more funding to councils to allow them to meet the costs of fire safety. Families and individuals who occupy these social housing blocks are refused help and ignored when reporting unsafe conditions and often treated as second-class citizens due to their housing situation, yet there is little in place to help these people advance themselves further. In addition, the government when opening an inquiry refused requests for a panel-led inquiry that includes a diversity of experience and background, which would signify the experiences of those who were in Grenfell Tower at the time of the fire. This strict lack of acknowledgment as to how these individuals were affected by the fire to be represented by similar interests and backgrounds shows how the government continues to remain out of touch with wider society, those marginalized and excluded from the inquiry and decision-making process.

In the aftermath of this, the government was lobbied to grant complete amnesty and permanent right to remain for undocumented residents of the tower block, a significant sign of compassion and understanding to such devastating circumstances. The government granted survivors a temporary 12-month immigration amnesty, but the uncertainty of their future forced survivors to go under the radar and created a reluctance to aid simply out of fear of immigration status. Labour Councillor Robert Thompson questioned the presence of passion towards these individuals stating, 'These are people who have experienced what is likely to have been the most traumatic thing in their lives, whether they lost loved ones, or were affected in other ways, and they should be granted amnesty.' The refusal from the government to grant residents full amnesty is furthered by their slow response towards rehoming victims. Theresa May announced that all residents who lost their homes would be rehomed in a maximum of three weeks, yet six months on, more than 150 households were still in temporary accommodation (Alibhai-Brown, 2017). This embodies all that is wrong with 21st-century Britain, hideously unfair, dreadfully divided by race, and class, and those marginalized from society prevented the humane resources they so desperately needed. The tragedy of Grenfell Tower allowed an insight into the lives of the country's poorest and most marginalized individuals, the struggles they face daily, and how their livelihoods are almost entirely reliant upon state acceptance and governmental support. Labor politician David Lammy described such groups as relying 'absolutely on the state for where they live, the conditions in which they live and the safety and security,' in the case of Grenfell, all the stated conditions were breached out of pure greed. Local authorities placed the necessity to please the wealthy in surrounding areas over the health and safety of the residents in social housing. Seen when adding cladding to the building for aesthetics, and reports of inadequate safety and security were ignored purely due to the racialization process of the individuals involved.

racialization had a significant impact on the Grenfell Tower fire. I've already discussed how concerns for the safety of the building were increasingly ignored due to the 'us' versus 'other' divide identified within the racialization process, those who are deemed worthy of support and recognition compared to others. Here El-Enany (2017) makes a comparison of treatment to that of the colonial era. He claimed that the 'faces now smiling back at us from missing persons posters could not escape their condition of coloniality-the hyper-segregation and differential quality of life in North Kensington residents mirror the practice of the colonial era.' Most Grenfell victims were non-white, there is no conceivable way to dispute this fact, the pure reason that such a majority of non-white individuals occupied flats in Grenfell Tower was due to the constant subjugation and control of such racialized people. They find themselves in social housing, a deprivation that so many find near impossible to break, especially with such little government support and initiatives to embed non-white people into wider society, occupied by the majority white 'deserving' population. The cycle of deprivation regarding poverty and social housing referred to is perfectly exampled by the fact that most of the children who reside above the fourth floor of a tower block in England are black or Asian (Dorling, 2011). For these children, high-rise living is not a luxury, but a result of their marginalization in society which has prevented integration, success, and advancement for the minorities living in social housing, especially those who were undocumented at the time of the fire. The fire and those who were so disproportionately affected as victims of the 'other', showed a 'stark reminder of whose voices get listened to in modern Britain, and whose don't, and that dichotomy can have deadly consequences (Baker-Jordan, 2017). In this instance, a deadly consequence occurred. The biggest inequality in British society was exposed for all to see, the voices of those deemed to be not worthy of response were not loud enough to allow them access to adequate health and safety precautions.

To conclude, the role of racialization and marginalization in the Grenfell Tower fire and its aftermath is indisputable. The people who died in the tower block on June 14th, 2017 were there because they were both primarily people of color, and because they were poor. Requests for their safety to be improved were repeatedly ignored, and those who remained undocumented at the time of the fire were not provided with adequate support and reassurance in the aftermath, forcing many to go without much-needed aid. The makeup of Grenfell Tower was the combined effects of class and race, significant in how ethnic minorities are more prevalent to be working class, both in wage and occupation, but the discrimination they experience within this determines them worthy of inadequate safety and support in the aftermath of arguably the most traumatic experience they will ever face.

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