This past week, The Hamilton Commission, an organization started in part by Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton, released a 93-page report detailing the state of racial equality in motorsport with a specific emphasis on the inclusion of Black people. The response to the report’s release shows exactly why we need it.
If you want a more in-depth run-down of what the report, titled Accelerating Change: Improving Representation of Black People in UK Motorsport, involves, head over to Adam Ismail’s great blog, which breaks it down.
In essence, the report finds that there are three main barriers that prevent Black folks from entering the motorsport sphere and STEM fields more broadly: inspiration and engagement; support and empowerment; and accountability and measurement. The report proposes ways to remove those barriers and encourage more diverse involvement in sports like F1.
It’s a promising initiative, but as you can imagine, there are a lot of unhappy people out there that prove exactly why this report is necessary — and you don’t have to look farther than the responses to F1's tweet about the report.
“Using more racism to remedy racism is working great here in America,” one user wrote.
Another asked, “Why is he underlining black people? This should mean all the ethnic minorities if it was fair.” The report, while focusing on Black involvement, does discuss the involvement of minorities from all different communities.
Another argued, “Should be deserving and skilled people instead of color.”
“What about people who actually have the qualifications for the jobs but are unable to get in the sport due to wealth?” one user asked. Another responded, “Qualifications nor merit clearly don’t matter anymore.”
And those only scratch the surface.
Claims of this kind come up any time anyone anywhere aims to make the world a little more diverse. These were the arguments against the all-female W Series; why should we just hand women opportunities when we should instead be focusing solely on merit? These are the same arguments that have been popping up since Jackie Robinson made his debut in what had previously been an all-white baseball league. Leland S. McPhail, then-president of the New York Yankees, said that Black players would have to demonstrate that they had “ability, character and aptitude” before they could play in the majors. Any time a sport wants to diversify, you’re going to hear something along those lines.
I’ve talked about this many times before on Jalopnik, but the claim that we should only hire the best people for the job — that making an effort to hire someone from a minority group — is a misleading one that fails to recognize the countless sociocultural influences that play on us every day.
Let’s bring it back to Gregory Bateson’s concept of the double bind, the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” type response that comes when a person from a minority group tries to do pretty much anything. Imagine a young Black engineer, qualified to work in F1 and as skilled as any of his white peers, but with more on-the-job work experience. If he gets hired by an F1 team, there will be people who claim that only happened because he was Black — even if he is a great fit for the job. If he doesn’t get hired, there are often two responses: there’s no way he was skilled enough, or the team just didn’t want to cater to our so-called political culture. But whatever the case, the color of his skin is very likely going to come into play. Even the people who claim they only want to see the most skilled people for the job take on the position will find a way to argue that this engineer wasn’t skilled. Even if he was.
The Hamilton Commission isn’t saying, let’s just hire only Black people from here on out. It’s saying, we have a serious problem when it comes to the opportunities Black folks are provided, starting all the way back to when they were children. It’s saying, we can build a more diverse STEM community from the ground up with education, visibility, and scholarships so that, one day, no one will bat an eye at Black engineers and drivers and team owners and mechanics.
And it’s not saying that’s going to come at the intentional exclusion of white people in the sport. It doesn’t mean there aren’t still valid arguments to be made about the participation of women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, other people of color, or even white folks who grow up in severely underprivileged communities. If anything, The Hamilton Commission’s report is providing us with a framework that will enable us to better tackle all of those other issues. And that’s a good thing.