Black History Month 2021 has invited black and brown people around the UK to share what they are ‘Proud to Be’ for a festival of celebration this October. At SQN, we place great importance on driving diversity in our business and the industries in which we are fortunate to be active.
Our Content and Communications Co-Ordinator Francis Bradfield, who has been with the SQN team for just over a year, is playing an instrumental role in helping us to drive positive change within our organisation, as part of our equality and diversity taskforce.
In this blog, written to coincide with Black History Month, Francis outlines some of the experiences in his career to date that have left him questioning those feelings of pride.
Proud to be. The theme of this year’s Black History Month is intended to celebrate the personal and unique ways that black people contribute to our societies. I am certainly proud to be who I am, of my background and of my work. Yet, it’s not always a feeling I’m left with at the end of the day.
There are still far too many moments where the way I look defines people’s perceptions of me, those occasions in which I am left feeling anything but pride. Guilt. Anger. Shame. Disappointment. Feelings of being an outsider, unwanted and out of place.
In 2020, when I was taking a knee in the MotoGP paddock, as the only black person working in the sport, there was a widespread acceptance that what I was doing was right, just, and necessary. Race issues were firmly in the spotlight, with a global wave of support and understanding. Change was needed. 12 months or more on, and that chorus has subsided; it’s barely background noise. In fact, it’s often the sound of silence.
To put it into a work context, I have had a few experiences in my career over the past 18 months that have reminded me of the uphill battle that still exists in industry, the fight for equality – of feeling proud to be part of the community.
Take my hair as an example. Yes, that’s right, my hair. “Not sure I like the look of that,” came one comment with a withering up and down glance. “Can you imagine what is living inside that?” sneered another. “You should put a comb in it like they do,” said another.
Who are *they* exactly? My hair is clean, what do they mean? Should I cut my hair? Is it unprofessional? It’s an afro, is it really that much of a deal? Yes, apparently it is.
Of course, with those comments comes the worry that I’ve over-reacted, or misunderstood, or can’t take a joke, and that’s what really hurts. It’s the feeling that I should have asked for clarification or come up with a deft response to make these people – some of whom are my supposed friends – question what they’ve asked and why. I’d get back to the hotel or my home, feeling the guilt of letting the black community down eating away at me. People don’t realise the level of destruction and hurt the smallest of comments can cause.
Motorsport is a predominantly white domain. That’s no big secret. The publication of the Hamilton Commission report earlier this year was a significant moment in shining a spotlight on the diversity issues in motor racing paddocks and pitlanes around the world.
At Silverstone recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see more black faces than I have before – I’m talking ‘count them on both hands’ numbers here not a representative number, but hey I’ll take progress where I can find it. Yet, those positives are always countered by bad experiences – and they are often from people in influential roles, those who have the power to drive positive change.
Unconscious racism is rife, by that I mean comments – like those about my hair – which people don’t realise come with racial undertones. There are sports personalities who receive racial abuse daily on social media, from grandstands and in the street. Why is that still acceptable. In 2020, the pandemic made us question everything. It had tendencies, I thought, to bring out the good in people. But maybe, in hindsight, it was just that the loud voices drowned out the bad? If so, can we all collectively shout louder. Louder still. To ensure that the future generations, those coming up the ranks, those for whom the Lewis Hamiltons and Marcus Rashfords of the world are making such a vital difference, can be proud to be part of the community, whichever community they want to be part of.
I’ve had too many occasions coming back from a day at a motorsport event feeling down, sad, angry and confused, asking why I can’t just be allowed to enjoy my passion, the thing I live for and that fills me with excitement every day. I don’t want anyone to feel like that because of some throwaway comment about appearance.
We need allies. We need support. We need understanding. We need a sustained collective change for the better – not just a month. I will keep doing what I do, whether I feel alone or not, I will keep going to help get the message across. It’s easy for racist comments to come across as banter or to be accused of attention-seeking, but it should never be accepted.
I am proud to be a black motorsport professional. Proud to be understood by so many. Proud to be doing what I do. Proud to be me. That’s all I am, not a colour, or a hairdo, or a face, just me.