As Lewis Hamilton achieved his 90th career win at Mugello, the world sat and watched as their hero clambered out of the car, from what was one of the most action packed and extraordinary races in recent years. However, as the six-time world champion prepared for his podium interview, there were seven words printed on a shirt that shook Formula One to its very core. In principal, a simple message, in reality, a fissure that brought two worlds within the sport on a collision course. Those words read: “Arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor”.
The phrase “say her name”, the social media campaign slogan to maintain awareness of the emergency medical technician who was killed by plain-clothed police officers when they raided her home as part of an investigation into drug trading, and Taylor’s photo were shown on the back.
Hamilton has been fundamental in instigating a discourse in Formula One that is often ignored whether that be willfully or by negligence. Highlighting structural racism, a lack of inclusion and diversity in a sport that is made up of mostly straight, white men.
Hamilton has made no secret that Formula 1 has taken very few steps to improve diversity: “We have said things, and there’s been statements released, and we’ve made gestures such as kneeling,” he said. “But we’ve not changed anything, except for perhaps some of our awareness.”
Mugello was perhaps a step up in gears. While Mercedes have taken measures to race with their ‘Black Lives Matter’ livery, there has been very little change on face value. There has been poor organisation on getting a united message when taking the knee, a seemingly backward position when considering sports such as football, and cricket have been able to present a united message.
Hamilton’s support for Breonna Taylor shows that he is not afraid to use his platform to advocate for global change, within a sport that tries its best to stay apolitical.
And this should be celebrated, encouraged, and supported. We have become so used to seeing figures in Formula One constrained by responsibilities to sponsors, shareholders and other vested interests. One has become so used to the monotone grunts uttered by the likes of Kimi Raikkonen that resonate with statements such as: “I don’t care about the others” and “Leave me alone”. For once, we have a sporting icon who has agency in what he says, autonomy in what he does and power in what he can change.
For many, this is an uncomfortable position. They are not used to people ‘stepping outside’ of their bubbles. This is a position that many express to actors and musicians that try to contribute to a discussion. “Stick to what you know” (excuse the High School Musical pun) reduces people to repressed animals, only allowed to be what their public perception allows them to be.
Some argue that sport is an escapism that should not be corrupted by politics. However, I believe this position to be counterproductive as it creates spaces where people are scared to engage with challenging ideas and therefore propagates environments of intolerance and inequality.
Let’s face it. Formula One is built from a foundation of privilege. Its early years were dominated by only the upper classes who could afford to compete. If you had the money then you were welcome and more times that not, it was white men that benefited from this system. We could go into WHY that is the case, but we would be onto a complete tangent explaining the social-historical consequences of slavery that trickled down into our economies, housing and education, that we would need a encyclopedia to get deep into it.
For decades, the status-quo stated the same and to this day it remains so that you are far more likely to succeed in motorsports if you come from a privileged background that allows you to afford an expensive lifestyle that involves purchasing karts, spare parts, hospitality and transport around Europe.
This had led to a socio-economic norm in which mainly white, privileged men rise to the top of the sport. And this brings me on to a point that makes me excited about the future.
WIDENING THE ARGUMENT
This is why I believe that W Series has been a success in attempting to change the very fabric of motorsports. Many criticised it saying that sport is inherently egalitarian and if you’re good enough, you will make it regardless of your race or gender.
However, I do not agree with this statement, as that suggests that everyone starts at a level playing field. Which they do not. For example, female and BAME individuals have very little in the way of representation at the top of the sport, a result of a historically narrow demographic participation. For them, it is exceedingly difficult to see themselves participate in a sport that does not reflect the diversity of modern society, even harder to be accepted. Therefore, not only is it less likely for a women to be offered or encouraged into motorsport, but you will inevitably be up against a cohort of people who will ‘other’ you based on your gender. Now, I’m not saying all men discriminate against women, but what I am saying is that in any environment where a male dominated culture permeates, anything feminine will inevitably be targeted as weak.
I go back to an example at the theatre I work at. As a director I would ask the young people in my company why they are not engaged with theatre. Their response was two-fold. One was that they thought it was too expensive, another that they didn’t think theatre represented them. The programming was not diverse enough and catered only to an old, classist audience. Therefore, getting into theatre for working class students seemed out of reach. Sound familiar?
BACK TO THE MATTER AT HAND
This is why I admire Hamilton’s actions so much. He could sit back and enjoy his success. Race cars. Create clothing brands. Record music. All the while blissfully ignoring the injustices of the world.
However, he has shown time and time again that he believes in things larger than himself. Standing up for those without a voice and calling out the injustices in the world. This is what I believe he will be his lasting legacy. Not only to beak records, but also to create lasting change with the platform that he has.
Let’s not forget this is the same driver that in his early career had to endure spectators mocking him in disgusting black-face to the tune of horrendous monkey chants.
Now, while sections of the fans and media do not like Hamilton’s political advocacy, you have to consider why that is the case?
Some say that the Breonna Taylor case is a political one which I also refute. The killing of an innocent black woman by police officers is an injustice, clear and simple. Ignoring it by trying to make it a partisan issue, or by associating it to the ‘Black Lives Movement’ is willfully ignorant. I believe it is a human rights issue that transcends partisan squabbles. Anyone and everyone should be horrified by any killing of an innocent person, and I would hope that if someone you loved was shot in bed by police, you would be equally as enraged that justice had not been enacted.
Some argue that Formula One is escapism, and to some extent it is. However, maybe we should argue that it shouldn’t be.
If you go somewhere to hide from challenging questions about identity and society, perhaps the reason you go there is because that very place represents a past that is ‘safe’. Formula One is sometimes reluctant to change and relies on its history and practices to inform how it approaches the future.
This brings me back to my earlier statement: “Creating spaces where people are scared to engage with challenging ideas propagates environments of intolerance and inequality.”
Those trying to censor or silence him. I ask you to consider the aesthetics of what that looks like. If you are a white, male effectively challenging a black man’s experience of racism. If you are stopping the ability of a black man to speak out. You or I cannot know what it is like to live in a society where this happens. Therefore we are not in a position to tell someone of colour that their experiences is irrelevant. Yes your opinion matters, but racism and inequality is not something that hegemony experience. I certainly have never been discriminated from a job based on the colour of my skin. Therefore, it is only right that we listen, empathise, try to understand and come up with solutions together.
I believe Scott Mitchell summed it up perfectly by saying that the perceived: “Controversy is unfair given any problem that arises from such a pursuit is the fault of the person it irritates, not Hamilton.
Especially as it appears some people are more concerned with Hamilton wearing this T-shirt than they are the reason he is wearing it in the first place.”
Hamilton has already put his money where his mouth is to change this. Setting up the ‘Hamilton Commission’, a task-force dedicated to improving diversity and opportunity in the sport.
“I have been working with the Royal Academy of Engineering to create The Hamilton Commission, a research partnership dedicated to exploring how motorsport can be used as a vehicle to engage more young people from black backgrounds with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and, ultimately, employ them on our teams or in other engineering sectors,” said Hamilton.
“It will explore areas including lack of role models and career services at schools, opportunities to engage more black youth with STEM extracurriculars, barriers that prevent people from more diverse backgrounds joining the racing industry, and problematic hiring practices that result in fewer black graduates entering engineering professions.”
Not only that, but he has created his own Extreme E team (X-44) which has already dedicated a progressive approach to driver-line-ups in which one male and one female driver will compete. Alongside this, while advocating both climate change and renewable energy, Hamilton has proved that it is possible to be a racing driver and a politically minded thinker.
This is not some revolutionary doctrine. It is a movement based on fairness, kindness, empathy and opportunity.
That is why I am proud of what Lewis Hamilton is doing and will continue to champion his efforts of advocacy and diversity.