The ongoing groundswell of public opinion against racism throughout the world has seen mass protests with confederate monuments being brought down, big budget police reforms have been pledged in the United States, the Belgian King has expressed “deepest regrets” to Congo for colonial era brutality and Karen Parkin, an Adidas executive who recently described the current discussions on racism as “noise” has been forced to step down.
In Formula 1(F1), the Mercedes-AMG Petronas team, the reigning champions, have revealed that they will race in black livery this season in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and as a statement against racism and discrimination.
The livery will also feature the slogan “End Racism” on the halos of both W11 race cars, as well as “#WeRaceAsOne” on the mirrors. The drivers will also wear black overalls. Before the end of the current season, the team will also adopt a diversity and inclusion programme. Mercedes said that only three percent of the current workforce identify as non-white while only 12 percent are women.
The programme will include “forensic analysis” of recruitment practices, and targeted efforts to give people from under-represented backgrounds access to F1, according to the team.
Team principal, Totto Wolff, speaking during the launch of the new livery said, “racism and discrimination have no place in our society, our sport or our team: this is a core belief at Mercedes. But having the right beliefs and the right mindset isn’t enough if we remain silent.”
Coming from a global white corporate giant whose three-pointed star is a universal social symbol of success, this is a major departure from the traditional practice of silence. It leaves no doubt about their stand against racism.
This development comes hot on the wheels of their star driver and reigning champion, Lewis Hamilton’s (the only black driver in F1) own campaign against racism. The six-time world champion recently launched the Hamilton Commission, a partnership with the UK Royal Academy of Engineering to engage more young black people in Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects and create more opportunities for them in motorsports which has traditionally been a white dominated discipline.
“I have personally experienced racism in my life and seen my family and friends experience racism, and I am talking from my heart when I appeal for change,” said Hamilton in a statement.
The most infamous racist abuse against Hamilton took place in 2008. During the pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain, Hamilton was subjected to abuse by Spanish spectators. He was the target yet again by Spanish fans several months later before the Brazilian Grand Prix. The reason for all this hate among Spanish fans for Hamilton stems from the 2007 season when Fernando Alonso joined the McLaren team and partnered with Hamilton. Alonso had only just won the drivers’ championship but Hamilton, in his rookie year, managed to steal his thunder on the track. A seemingly disgruntled Alonso left McLaren that season, never to win another drivers’ championship.
Hamilton came from a disadvantaged background but, his father worked extra jobs to finance his racing career. At the age of 13 his talent was recognised by McLaren and they recruited him to their young driver programme resulting in a F1 drive with the team in 2007. By believing in himself, hard work, determination and against many disappointments, Hamilton has since won six drivers’ championships. Today, he is considered one of the most successful drivers of all time in the sport.
While in no way comparing myself to the achievements of Lewis Hamilton, I am reminded of my own story. At the tender age of 16, in 1972 I became the first black Kenyan to race motorcycles at the Embakasi and Nakuru racetracks on a diminutive Yamaha 200cc.
Since 1966 I had been following grand prix motorcycle racing and the exploits of such riders as Giacomo Agostino, Phil Read, and Mike Hailwood. In 1971, I asked my friend and workshop foreman at Car and General, the local Yamaha dealers, David Andrade, to help me convert my Yamaha 180cc street bike into a clubman’s racer. David advised that there was an insurance write-off of a similar model lying in his workshop which we could use for the conversion.
Working as late as 4am at times, we were able to convert the insurance write-off into a potent “giant killer”. While David did most of the work with me acting as spanner boy, his wife Aggie, helped with the soft skills such as stitching the seat. I also provided the formulas to work out volumes and areas in the tuning department.
Early in 1972, I went racing, on a shoestring budget, against much bigger bikes some of which were purpose built production racers such as Vic Preston’s and John Lyall’s Yamaha 350cc machines. Although I had to stop racing after only one season in order to complete my “A” Levels, I did not perform too shabbily, winning third place in one handicap race.
To be honest, I did not experience any direct racism, although I could not help noticing some body language and disapproving looks. But perhaps because I believed in myself and my skills, I was able to succeed. I also wish to thank my classmates in primary school, Ian Campbell and Ewan Wilkinson with whom I share great childhood memories where our difference in colour did not count. We are still friends to date.
In conclusion, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must actively speak out against racism and walk the talk in our everyday lives at personal and corporate levels. Although it is true that black lives matter, we must not believe that success will be handed to us on a silver platter. We have to believe in ourselves as black people and work hard to achieve our dreams. Finally, we are not born racist; we become socialised to hate or discriminate people on the basis of their colour. It is a choice. Make the right choice.