Painting F1 Win in the Wrong Colour

By Jason Menard

Until this weekend I didn’t know that there WEREN’T any black winners on the Formula 1 circuit. So you might want to forgive me for feeling that the media hoopla centring on the fact that Lewis Hamilton became the first black driver to win an F1 event is simply making an issue out of something that doesn’t need to be raised.

Maybe I’m naïve, but aren’t we past the time where we should care what colour somebody’s skin is in any field – whether it’s sports, politics, entertainment, or commerce? And while people are lauding Hamilton ’s win as a huge step forward in the sport, I see the coverage of the event as one huge step backwards in acceptance.

After all, Hamilton ’s not getting the recognition because he won the Canadian Grand Prix. He’s getting recognition because he’s black – and he won the event.

Now, I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest F1 fan in the world. I never saw the appeal of the sport, even though I have friends who are avid watchers. I could probably name a half dozen drivers both past and present (and two of them are named Villeneuve), so I’m not an aficionado of the sport. But the one thing I do know now is that the biggest news in this sport is that a black guy won.

You know, I never gave any thought to the skin colour of the drivers in the past, so why am I supposed to care now? When do we move on and stop recognizing colour-based feats and simply recognize people for their skills?

Maybe I don’t get it because I’m a 34-year-old white male. But don’t I have the skin tone that’s allegedly the problem in this situation? After all, if it’s such a big deal that someone who doesn’t possess my skin colour wins, shouldn’t I have experienced an epiphany somewhere?

I didn’t. And I won’t. Simply because I don’t care about skin colour. It doesn’t mean anything to me. And I’d hazard a guess to say it doesn’t mean a lot to most people.

Look, I love hockey, football, basketball – any number of sports. And not once have I ever contextualized a person’s achievement by the colour of their skin. I wasn’t born into a world where Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the colour barrier was a brave exception. I was born into a world where that was history – that interracial mingling was the way life was. When I watch a sport, all I care about is the quality of play – not the ethnicity, colour, religious beliefs, or sexuality of the players.

I don’t deal with words like acceptance and tolerance because I don’t see that skin colour is anything that I should have to accept or tolerate. It is a part of a person’s body, but it does not define who they are. The words acceptance and tolerance indicate that something is beyond the norm and is, in some way, unappealing to your established norms. I was never brought up – nor have I raised my children — to believe that there was anything “wrong” with someone’s skin colour. So just as I never saw reasons to denigrate someone because of the colour of their skin, so too do I not see the reason to raise someone up because of the same factor.

In the end, wouldn’t it say much more about our society if we could simply state that Lewis Hamilton won the event without any reference to the colour of his skin? Wouldn’t it be a greater comment on our understanding of the nature of diversity if we focused on the things he directly controlled — his skill, his dedication, and his effort – than a factor of birth over which he had no choice?

In the end, maybe I’m naïve. Maybe we do need to bring the fact that Hamilton is black to light because there are still those in the dark. Maybe we have to have Rooney Rules and other affirmative action practices because there are still those who discriminate in their hiring policies. Maybe I’ve just been extremely lucky not to have met anyone who hates people or judges them based on their skin colour.

Maybe I live in a world where my friends come from all over the world with all types of backgrounds: Muslim and Jewish, black and Oriental, male and female, gay and straight. Maybe the majority of people I know who share my idea that one’s ethnicity or skin colour has no relevance to the quality of the person are, in fact, the minority.

Maybe I’m wrong in thinking that the world had changed. Maybe I’m wrong for holding no guilt for the tragedies committed in the past by those who share nothing with me more than a skin colour. I define myself by the quality of the person I am, by the values I hold dear, and the way I try to live my life in the best way possible. And I look for that in those with whom I choose to associate. Just because crimes have been perpetrated in the past by Caucasian people, am I to be painted with the same brush? Does a shared skin colour trump the fact that when it comes to things that matter – ideology, values, and beliefs – I don’t have anything in common with those people other than being white?

What I do know is that I didn’t care what colour Hamilton was this weekend, and the only reason it’s become a factor is because other people made it into an issue. And maybe we won’t be a truly interracial, culturally diverse society until we can stop inserting colour into the definition of one’s achievements.

To me, it’s a simple as black and white. But the coverage of Hamilton ’s win and the focus on his skin colour shows that there are still shades of grey out there.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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