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The archaic mindsets in need of change amidst the Lewis Hamilton racial slur

Seven-time world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton once again has fallen victim to racism, this time being directed at by former Formula One world champion Nelson Piquet in a podcast interview from late in 2021.

The 69-year old Brazilian used what translates in English to a racist term about the Briton, sparking mass outrage and a uniting of support behind Hamilton who has been the champion of improving diversity and inclusion in Formula One.

Formula One itself issued a statement in support of Hamilton stating, “discriminatory or racist language is unacceptable in any form and has no part in society. Lewis is an incredible ambassador for our sport and deserves respect.”

“His tireless efforts to increase diversity and inclusion are a lesson to many and something we are committed to at F1.”

Hamilton himself took to Twitter to respond that, “it’s more than language. These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport. I’ve been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life. There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action.”

It is the 37-year old’s response that really strikes a chord, more than the statements from Formula One and its governing body in the FIA – as it is the action that is lacking, as is the archaic mindsets as a society that in parts has been reticent to change.

Since the horrific and brutal murder of George Floyd by Minnesota police in 2020, Hamilton has pioneered for Formula One to become more inclusive and diverse – as well as use its global platform to make a stand against inequality and injustice. As the sport’s only black driver, for him to champion these causes has been inspirational to many.

Setting up the Hamilton Commission as well has been the first of its kind in Formula One and motorsport, to discover and nurture underprivileged children of coloured backgrounds and guide them through to whichever fields within racing.

However, as this column wrote two years ago about the #WeRaceAsOne initiative, which was implemented in response to Hamilton’s outpouring over the Floyd murder, the hope was that the sport would not just let the words dissolve into an afterthought or remembered as a token gesture following other leagues and championships.

Even the optimist now will admit that #WeRaceAsOne feels like nothing more than a façade to tick boxes, given the fact that a former three-time world champion still feels that it is okay to even in the colloquial sense; apply that term to Hamilton, means that message has done little to change said archaic mindsets.

Even to a much younger generation, with this coming not long after Red Bull sacked its reserve driver and F2 hopeful in 21-year old Juri Vips.

The Estonian having dropped the N-word during an online live stream, as if it was socially acceptable lingo for playing Call of Duty online, whilst streaming to a global audience.

After all, Formula One announced that there would be no longer opportunity in 2022 for drivers such as Hamilton pre-race, to be able to make gestures as taking a knee – as it was “time to move on and take some other action.” The pre-race gestures were introduced by the sport after the #WeRaceAsOne initiative ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix in 2020 and saw drivers such as four-time world champion and LGBTQIA+ ally Sebastian Vettel join Hamilton in taking a knee.

Not that Piquet, who was not named directly in the Formula One and FIA statements, is unfamiliar to controversy in that even during his competitive days in the 80s, he’d openly express homophobic sentiments of his countryman and fellow three-time world champion in the legendary Ayrton Senna. Also the Brazilian supposedly claimed when asked about who was the best amongst the duo, that he was better because ‘I’m alive’, compared to the late, great Senna.

It is those sorts of insensitive comments, which’ve gone far too long without consequence and for someone who’s been on the receiving end of racial slurs, homophobic remarks or even ableist taunts – enough is enough. When the most successful driver of all time in terms of results and most marketable entity of the sport, is continuously making a stand against issues that affect the common person –more indeed needs to be done.

Gone are the days where the excuse of sports and politics not mixing should detract from athletes raising their voices to call out segregation and allow people in that situation to get the rights and respect they deserve. Even the case of Vips only highlights that even informal settings, use of that terminology is unacceptable.

How else as a society will the archaic mindsets change? There will forever be ways to express ourselves, though it can also be without being at the detriment of those who’ve lived and continue to live through being treated as unequals. Until then, champions such as Hamilton are needed to look up to and to make examples of those who cannot realise what its like at the receiving end of said slurs.

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