Santosh Patil takes shipping – and Splash – to task on diversity.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement underscores the fact that the scourge of racism is still well entrenched within us and is far from being rooted out. This evil, manifests itself around us on a daily basis, whether we turn a blind eye or not.
It makes one wonder why, after all these centuries, we are still as bigoted a species as we were before we became ‘civilised’. While in the western world racism may be displayed against blacks, browns, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians, it exists in many non-western countries in some form or the other.
In India, for example, black students from African countries often face racism and some of India’s own citizens from the North East are targeted too. Skin whitening creams are a multibillion-dollar industry in India and parts of Asia. Those with a dark skin are made to feel inferior by adverts which promote fair skin as a beauty standard. Unilever recently changed the name of its product from ‘Fair and Lovely’ to ‘Glow and Lovely’; but continues to sell the product as if the name change was a panacea. There remains a grammar issue in the new name, but we are not going there.
The publications that espouse diversity, garnering much needed ‘equality likes’ through all their social media channels, do not seem to have diversity amongst their top positions. Check the editors of most tier 1 or tier 2 maritime publications and you will get the picture
Recently I read an article on Medium written by Bill Dovie on slavery and learnt how the London insurers treated slaves as mere ‘goods’. Even more surprising was that one of the highest law officials in UK at that time – a solicitor general -considered black slaves as equivalent to a commodity like ‘wood’. Nothing can make your blood boil more than reading about such institutionalised hatred and prejudice amongst those who considered themselves a ‘superior’ race over the others.
This brings me to consider the maritime context as shipping was the primary transport means and an enabler of slave trade. By now many of us have seen the true ‘colours’ of Edward Colston, who, until recently was known as a famous philanthropist to most people in Bristol. The supporting industries like the famous London insurers too played an active role, but that was the past (or so we believe). So why did it take an uproar, a large number of protests on the street and more than hundreds of years for London insurers to admit the mistakes of their past? Until now, they were either a) okay with their past or b) did not wish to acknowledge their past mistakes, at least publicly. Perhaps it was only to manifest themselves as an organisation which respects diversity and inclusion that they resorted to this PR exercise, if that is what it is. How many more such skeletons are hidden in the corporate cupboards remains to be seen.
Is racism rampant even today within shipping? To delve further into this, one need to consider amongst the largest maritime companies and their diversity initiatives. How much diversity exists within the Boards in top shipping companies? Surely you will see an odd black or Asian face thrown in for good measure, but don’t be mistaken; for the real power resides solely with the clique.
If one considers maritime publications; how much racial diversity and inclusion can you see in within the editors or editorial boards? The publications that espouse diversity, garnering much needed ‘equality likes’ through all their social media channels, do not seem to have diversity amongst their top positions. Check the editors of most tier 1 or tier 2 maritime publications and you will get the picture.
Most maritime publications focus on diversity from the perspective of gender but rarely one sees any narrative on ethnic diversity. There is enough chatter on the need for gender diversity in maritime, and rightly so, but how much debate does one see in matters of racial diversity? Google it yourself.
The report of the Diversity Study Group published in May 2020 highlights the ‘lack of ethnic diversity at C-suite, director and head of department level, with respondents identifying as white comprising by far the largest proportion of these roles’. This is, to my knowledge, perhaps the first and only decent attempt at highlighting the lack of ethnic diversity within shipping and maritime industry and is indeed a welcome initiative. Guess how maritime publications covered this report when it was out? The slant was much more on gender disparity and race was but a mere mention, no surprises there.
I don’t deny that the debate must be more nuanced, and the issue is not black and white (pardon the pun). There is indeed a historical context to this as Europe controlled the bulk of shipping trade over centuries during the period of colonisation. Europe continues to have major stakes in shipping worldwide. The purpose of this article is not meant to criticise any specific race or group of people as racism is omnipresent. However, unless we look at the stark realities of where we stand, acknowledge them, discuss and debate about it, we will continue to brush it under the carpet; and this will be a great disservice to such an important, truly global and diverse industry.
Is shipping finally addressing its diversity issue? That’s one of the questions posed in the latest MarPoll, Splash’s quarterly topical survey. To vote takes just two minutes and there is no registration. To vote, click here.