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Some of my best crew are black

Is the superyacht industry racist?

The answer is of course no. Or perhaps. Is that a yes I hear?  There are many crew from India and the Philipines working onboard superyachts, albeit in low ranking positions, usually the lowest. The absence of crew from an Afro-American or British Caribbean ethnicity is in no way an indication that there is inherent discrimination against people of colour. We love colour in the superyacht industry. The whole point of having a sundeck is to get a good tan, after all. The Italians love to scorch their skin in the sun until it turns into a dark Egyptian papyrus so tough you could write a ship’s safety manual on it.

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As for accessibility, the industry is famous for affording eager newbies an entree in via the dockwalk. Get your STCW, smile a lot and you are in. It’s just a case of working your way up the industry and you might even get to be a captain one day. Colour doesn’t come into it. Or does it?

Young, gifted and white

If you do a search on google for yacht crew you will find that almost every crew shot is comprised of happy smiling white faces. So what’s the deal?

Unfortunately, an unpalatable truth is that many captains and recruitment agencies are unwilling to take on a black crewmember in case the owner feels ‘uncomfortable’. If you go to the Monaco Yacht Show, the only black faces are those of the exhibition staff cleaning up and the trophy girlfriends. Prejudice stems from irrational fears of outsiders and uses irrational arguments to self justify. It is atavistic, primeval and so plebian. Very uncool. 

At what point does bias become discrimination?

Babylon by Yacht

When I was growing up a teenager in South London, us white kids would go to the reggae clubs where they played the imported records from Jamaica: Lee Perry, The Pioneers, The Upsetters, simple songs about moonlight lovers, fatty fatty wining down her body and long shot kick de bucket.

 Us white kids and the black youth all dressed the same uniform: Harrington Jackets, Levi Stay Press, Ben Sherman button down shirts, Brogues, Crombie Jackets. But even then we segregated ourselves, the   white boys on one side of the room, the black bredren on the other.

 We didn’t chat up the black girls because social integration didn’t go much beyond a love of reggae and a shared dress code. You couldn’t bring a black girl home and say Mum,Dad, this is Althea my girlfriend. Madness, an embarrassment.

Then came Bob Marley and the world changed. He sang of down pressure, crazy baldheads, burning and a looting, tough dirt, slave drivers, seen through the prism of the oppressed. He sang of a war until men are treated equally. His long mighty dreads scared the living daylights out of many white folks. Babylon is falling, he sang.

Those of us who had ears to hear, not just listen, woke up to the human consequences of slavery and colonialism. It is a knowledge that once heard cannot be unheard.  The superyacht industry needs to unplug its collective ears.

Black crew matter

It is a well-established truism that European and North American economies are founded on the profits of slavery. This is only true for certain towns and cities. In Britain many individuals made their fortunes from the sugar trade which relied on slavery. Sugar only represented 6% of the British economy. The Caribbean colonies were also expensive to police, and the costs were met from the public purse. It was only the unbalanced influence of slave-owning families that perpetuated the trade.  Owning slaves was a kind of stock market investment of its type, like stocks and shares, except not in industry but in human beings. Even working classes people owned shares in slaves. As in the holocaust in Germany, there was a disconnect between the victims and the average man and woman who never developed sufficient awareness to fully understand the horrors that their nations were inflicting. We now know and are horrified. How could this have happened?

But are we still, deep down, disconnecting?

Perhaps captains feel that a billionaire who has toiled hard for his money wants to relax on his superyacht without experiencing the uncomfortable guilt that the descendants of those same slaves working as crew might engender. After all, Bob Marley sang: guiltiness rest on their conscience not I.

Another uncomfortable truth is that many white people are uncomfortable in the presence of people of African and Caribbean heritage. Everybody denies it. Some of my friends are black, they say. Are they friends or just acquaintances? The sense of other prevails.

How do you explain the deeply entrenched belief that Barak Obama was not American? A black president could not be one of us. He doesn’t look us. He is The Other and there should be no loving the alien.

It is not just a fear of the Other, two tribes at war. You can’t brutalize a people over many generations, deny them their freedom, even the right to own their own children and expect their descendants to serve you a mojito at sunset and plump up the cushions every time you go to the bathroom. There is the fear of retribution and the need to apologise for crimes we didn’t commit but nevertheless reap the benefits of every day.

Blackness is not a tattoo that can be erased or covered up.

Is the superyacht industry racist? Yes, judging by the image that the industry presents of itself in the media.  This is not particular to our industry. European and America are run by powerful white people, the money supply is controlled by white people, our world view is defined by white males. We have been socialized this way. This is not a rant, just a statement. Does the industry need to do anything about this? Probably not in terms of affirmative action, yet. Awareness of the issue is paramount and from this awareness comes the remedy. Token hiring of black crew would just be a case of virtue signaling. The conversion from tacit prejudice to being fully ‘woke’, which is the meme du jour in liberal circles, has to be genuine and systematic. Society itself needs to change.

The industry is a keen supporter of charities: Yacht Aid in Haiti and the Caribbean, Superyacht Services Guide in publicizing relief campaigns such as the Union Island explosion, and many other examples of altruism. Environmental issues and the green agenda have been embraced by builders and owners who are leading the way in marine conservation. So it is not that the industry is not capable of enlightenment and behaviour moved by a higher consciousness. And there are no doubt black crew and captains gainfully employed on yachts. But we need to ask ourselves: is it more difficult for a person of colour to find employment in the same position on a yacht as a white person? 

The answer, unfortunately, is yes – there are many factors involved but the answer is that the superyacht industry is essentially a white enclave. Let us face up to this fact and from there we can initiate a discussion with yacht management companies and recruitment agencies. It is called doing the work, analyzing inherent viewpoints of privilege and becoming more aware of how we have been socialized to be prejudiced on a sub-conscious level.   Until then. taking the knee in honour of George Floyd, bless his soul, will just be more meaningless virtue signaling that doesn’t last the season.

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