It would have been very difficult not to notice the momentum gained by the Black Lives Matter movement in recent weeks. At the hands of horrific police brutality tragically 46 year old George Floyd from Minneapolis, Minnesota lost his life needlessly. This horrendous crime has prompted an outpouring of solidarity globally and rightly so.
Lewis Hamilton who remains the only black formula one driver told the Sunday times
“ For me, and so many others around the world, seeing George Floyd’s murder triggered a sense of deep pain, anguish and frustration.
“As a nation, we’re quick to condemn monkey noises and bananas thrown at black footballers, but when it comes to addressing structural racial issues, the people in power stay silent.”
Hamilton continued to reflect on his career and recalled poignant memories of being subjected to racial abuse as a young boy of 8 years old. He also remembered the sight of blacked up faces in the crowd in 2007, which he must have had to try and make sense of in addition to the usual range of emotions felt by an F1 driver on race day.
The six- time world champion has spoken of the silence he witnessed in his teammates in the immediate aftermath of the Floyd attack. He states
“I saw people I respected choosing to say nothing and it broke my heart. It’s why I had to speak out.”
We wonder whether the delayed response from other stars of F1 stars (many of whom have subsequently spoken in support of his actions.) was because they felt unqualified to comment due to their largely white man status. An awkward silence bestows many of us when we don’t now what to say or can’t recall any identifiable emotions of our own we can use in empathy.
Alternatively, was it the apparent double standard shrouded in the history of Mercedes that might spring into the minds of many? It is hard not to note the similarities.
At the hands of a toxic Nazi government, Mercedes, like other German manufacturers of the time boosted their production using forced labour. History indicates Mercedes utilised 40,000 people all deemed inferior due to race, religion or sexuality from surrounding concentration camps. Mercedes saw their profits soar by the end of WW2.
Fortunately though the camps have been liberated and as such the exploitation of slaves by Mercedes has been recognised as a shameful part of German history.
Our thoughts turn to equally shameful British history. Sir Edward Colston. He is celebrated for his philanthropy, gifting large sums of money to schools and hospitals but who made his fortune from trading human lives. Lives that were treated as a commodity and not valued as equal, as was the same rationale perpetuated by the Nazi’s in Germany.
On the destruction of Colston’s memorial in Bristol earlier this month, Hamilton claimed he was ‘proud’ of the Black Lives Matter protesters that pushed Colston’s statue into the river. He asserts that any remaining statutes honouring figures who have
“made money from the selling of a human beings should be torn down”.
He added “who’s next “ with a fist punch emoji.
As we anticipate Hamilton, the activist, will be raising his fist in celebration of all things Mercedes in the coming weeks. I can’t help but wonder how far in his mind are the innocent people snatched from the comfort of their everyday lives and sold for benefit of lining the pockets of others.
Should companies have their reputations discredited akin to the treatment of statues? Probably not. Instead we just will continue to drive cars and wear clothing bearing their logo and accept a period of history that falls in our embarrassing past.
What happened with George Floyd was abhorrent. Any abuse of power and control should without exception be called out. Is Lewis guilty of some level of hypocrisy? Possibly, but does that muddy the waters and make his message any less clear? Definitely not. There can be no doubt that devaluing and judging human beings on the basis of creed or colour holds no place in a civil society and sadly our society has proven that it is far from civil in that regard.
F1 is loaded with injustice. It is divided by race, wealth and gender, ALL of which needs to change. Lewis has committed to changing this with the promise of an organisation in his name aiming to rid the motorsport world of those boundaries.
After experiencing a curious mix of both pride and loneliness at the top of F1 he identifies an industry depraved of diversity. As such Hamilton has this week announced plans to collaborate with the Royal School of Engineering to set up an organisation in his name, to promote Science and Technology to young people regardless of their background. The world number one hopes to address the injustices faced by so many and seeks to make “tangible and measurable change”. Hamilton continued to state what his plan entails,
“we want to bring in leaders from policy and business who are committed to leading on the activation of research recommendations”.
Despite reaching heights unattainable to many Hamilton suggests F1 remains and industry where he is treated differently to others and not for his talent.
“only a certain type of person is truly welcome in this sport, one who looks a certain way, comes from a certain background, fits a particular mould and plays by certain unwritten rules.
“Even now, the media ask me different questions than they do my competitors and make accusations directly and indirectly — you’re not British enough, not humble enough, not loved enough by the public.”
What ever your thoughts on our outspoken Champion, it is an awful reality that while we can share a sense of belonging and camaraderie as a community of fans, we might never know of the prejudice faced by him and millions of people worldwide. We know that he is right. That we must become anti-racists and we must not remain silent. To this end, we stand with Lewis, and support the latest development in the sport we all love.
A response to The Covid crisis coupled with and the recent race protests F1 has pledged a commitment to address inequality. The “We stand as One” campaign featuring a rainbow, will be plastered on F1 cars as the new season takes hold. It is hoped that this strange time in lockdown has served as a period of reflection, causing all of us to question how we stand on diversity. Let’s hope this is not just a gut reaction to a lot of noise, an attitude of its time to be tossed into the river at a later date. Let’s hope real change can occur so that F1 is made more accessible for generations to come. New ways of thinking lead to change and any change needs to start somewhere.