Wednesday 22 July 2020

Octogenarians fearing a future dominance of F1 by black drivers?

At the crossroads of equity

For much of my writing, whilst I have written about identity and the relative circumstances that confer privilege and opportunity towards my circumstances, I cannot say I have been an activist.
The surge in global protests and activism after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May, has agitated people, institutions, companies, organisations, and personalities with sometimes soul-searching introspection instructing positive responses with the promise for change and confounded others with indifference and the absence of awareness as they suggest there is nothing amiss.
Memorials and symbols have been revisited for context and significance, highlighting the plight of minorities around the world with the clamour for equality, equity, justice and fairness.
In certain recent events, I have found a spectrum of representation that had me thinking of how minorities fit in and thrive in host communities, especially at work.
Choosing between activism and presence
In an interview with The Guardian, Michael Emenalo, 55, once the Technical Director for Chelsea Football Club, was the lone black senior executive in the English Premier League. Early in the interview, he surmised about his status and his projection of it. “I had to choose whether I would let my activism be a distraction or allow my presence to be an inspiration.”
This is a concept I fully recognise and can relate to. I cannot say I was a flagbearer in certain positions that I have occupied in my career, but it was significant that other ethnic minorities seeing me in those roles found that their aspirations were not limited. More to the point, we cannot all be activists, sometimes just being at the top table is activism enough.
My primary function was not a human resource component of diversity and inclusion, but I represented it and gave light to opportunities those who saw me could pursue. My professional work spoke for itself even if there were times between being patronised and being belittled, you kept at what you do, and the end result proved how and why you were there.
When silence no more works
Then we have Lewis Hamilton, 35, of a much younger generation and a highly accomplished lone black man in Formula 1 who recently has been championing the need for Formula 1 to be more embracing and inclusive by opening up opportunities to those who might not see a pathway to a career in Formula 1.
His advocacy and activism are prominent whilst not distracting from his professional expertise where he currently leads the driver standings having been 6-time world champion. It goes without saying that few sportsmen have achieved his feat and dominance, not only in the UK but in the world. Yet, it is instructive that many others of lesser achievement and in other sports have been knighted whilst he remains an MBE.
This is not to conflate the global sport with British honours, but you wonder how much further his presence being an inspiration as in the case of Michael Emenalo needs to go for his activism to really attract more ethnic minorities to the sport.
Afflicting the comfortable
This is where two Caucasian veterans of Formula 1 appear to have been ruffled, but starting with Bernie Ecclestone, 89, who used to run Formula 1 when he said in June, "In lots of cases, black people are more racist than what white people are."
Even if Mr Ecclestone’s viewpoint was anecdotal, it was very unhelpful in addressing the issue of opening up Formula 1 to opportunities for ethnic minorities building up from gathering and scouting raw talent to nurturing them through apprenticeships, internships, and expertise acquisition schemes that would culminate in being able to compete on merit alone for openings in Formula 1.
Next came Mario Andretti, 80, in whose words you could see that Lewis Hamilton had begun to afflict the comfortable. They would rather he was silent than activist, with the hope that either organically or by happenstance the opportunities will just show, but Lewis Hamilton has been a Formula 1 driver since the 2007 season, that’s thirteen years and he remains alone.
I have a lot of respect for Lewis, but why become a militant? He's always been accepted and he's earned everyone's respect.” Mario Andretti
The big problem they refuse to see
Sir Jackie Stewart, 81, then says he doesn’t think there is a problem. Well, I say, if after 13 years and 6 world championships, the figurehead ethnic minority symbol simply needs to double down on the accelerator of his car without highlighting issues within his sport, that would be unfortunate.
He's quite vocal about these elements, I don't think there's as big a problem as there might seem.” Sir Jackie Stewart.
I am glad that Lewis Hamilton is not backing down to this trio of octogenarian symbols of white privilege laying out unforgivable tropes, because essentially, they are saying he should be grateful even though he is in his position by dint of hard work and great ability, and that he is being difficult as he is compelling his sport to radically review how it brings talent to the fore.
Then you have this niggling feeling that there is a foreboding and premonition haunting old white men, perish the thought that Formula 1 might become dominated by black drivers, they had better lament it now before a distant future invades the sanctity of their figurative Tutankhamun pyramids making them turn in their mummified graves.
I leave the last word to Lewis Hamilton from the BBC Sport article referenced earlier on this blog.
It makes complete sense to me now that nothing was said or done to make our sport more diverse or to address the racial abuse I received throughout my career.
If someone who has run the sport for decades has such a lack of understanding of the deep-rooted issues we as black people deal with every day, how can we expect all the people who work under him to understand? It starts at the top.
Now the time has come for change. I will not stop pushing to create an inclusive future for our sport with equal opportunity for all. To create a world that provides equal opportunity for minorities.

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