Nelson Piquet faced backlash for the racist slur used in 2021. Now, he has made an apology that manages to be worse than not saying anything
There are times when living in a society comes at a high price. Earlier this week, former F1 champion Nelson Piquet made the news because of a podcast. The content went on air last year and had him discuss Lewis Hamilton’s performance at the British Grand Prix. It should have been just another sports outlet doing its thing helped by a former reference. But why would things flow smoothly, right?
As Jalopnik and multiple other outlets have reported, it turns out that Piquet used a racial slur there. Once the content resurfaced, people did not take long to react. Hamilton received support from the FIA, the F1, his Mercedes-Benz team and, you know, everyone else who appreciates social justice. Piquet eventually addressed the issue, but the way he did it… Let us just say there are lessons some of us insist to neglect.
What did Piquet say?
The outlet invited Piquet to discuss an accident Hamilton and Max Verstappen had at the Silverstone track at that race. The drivers were competing for the season leadership; the event occurred at the Copse curve during the first lap. As Folha de São Paulo reported, the former F1 champion criticized Hamilton’s attitude of moving forward on the curve despite knowing that there was no room for both cars to pass at once.
No issues up to this point. Piquet clearly has experience in the matter and was expressing his opinions of the accident. The problem is that he referred to Hamilton using the Portuguese word “neguinho”. He used it every single time. Shortly after that, he compared the event what occurred with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in Japan back in 1990. And guess what? He referred to Senna using his last name every single time.
How did Piquet respond?
As we can read on The Drive, the driver issued a statement with has become a template to apologize for such acts. Most of the content concerns apologizing to anyone that was affected, repeating that there is no room for discrimination in Formula One, he would never use the word he is being accused of, and that there is no defense for what he said. If you want to read the full statement, Autosport has published it.
There is one part which stands out, though. To use his exact words, “the term used is one that has widely and historically been used colloquially in Brazilian Portuguese as a synonym for ‘guy’ or ‘person’ and was never intended to offend”. I was born and raised in Brazil, so I can say that such informal meaning exists, indeed. However, that is far from everything one needs to consider in this case. Let us take a closer look.
What is the problem?
First of all, Piquet used that word more than once, so it was not an isolated event. Secondly, he only used it to refer to Hamilton; as stated earlier, he referred to Senna, for example, using his name. This is related to the fact that “neguinho” does not have such a simple definition as Piquet said; it has been historically used to refer to black people. Conscious or not, that gesture qualifies as a form of racial microaggression.
Some people have rebuked that thought referring to Neguinho da Beija-Flor, a Brazilian artist. The issue is that the word is part of his stage name; he chose to use it. The fact that he does not feel offended is great, but individual. It definitely does not invalidate the struggle of everyone who faces aggressions like that or worse on a daily basis. It is a matter of putting yourself in those people’s shoes or, at least, try your best.
Why was the apology irrelevant?
By labeling that definition “historical”, Piquet oversimplified things once again. The fact that societies have used a pejorative term for ages does not make it any less pejorative; things are as simple as that. It is said that language is a living thing for a reason; it is our duty to review and adjust it to every change of times. Especially when that effort regards making language accessible and respectful to everyone who speaks it.
People like Piquet are the tiny portion of society which has been favored by pretty much all its unspoken rules. It is easy for them to neglect problems like racial microaggressions because they have never been a part of his life. It goes without saying, however, that none of that shall ever be considered an excuse; on the contrary, those people have to make an effort to, at the very least, truly acknowledge those problems.
What should people do?
Let us start by what they should not do. Generic apologies are just no longer acceptable. Whether you are a public figure or represent a company, that is not a valid resource. Besides, do not try to deflect from the problem. If it distressed so many people, especially those who live in a different social context than yours, chances are they are onto something. Any attempts to minimize it are disgusting in an unparalleled level.
The best solution here is not letting the problem happen at all. The more we study about social injustice in all its forms, the more we learn how to stop it. Gestures as simple as reading the room go a long way. They imply understanding who we are and who the people around us are. That is valid to us as audience, like when we reacted to what Piquet said; and to even the smallest actions we do throughout our day.