I can already hear the cringe and feel the heat radiating off of those reading this title and getting angry. To be fair, I don’t really care one way or another. In a world of violent dissent and injustice, no sport is better versed to speak out on the recent protests against systemic racism than NASCAR given it’s roots in the Jim Crow-era South back in the day.
On Sunday before the NASCAR Cup Series event at Atlanta, the pre-race ceremonies were directed toward the recent Black Lives Matter protests, with several drivers going as far as to make recordings of themselves speaking out for the need for change in how we as people need to be more aware toward the plights of our fellow men and women regardless of difference. Along with that several crew members were seen holding up shirts regarding BLM and emblazoned with George Floyd’s likeness and his last words, which were “I Can’t Breathe.” Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin on May 25; his death was the catalyst for the widespread protests which are now taking place to protest police brutality and systemic racism.
Along with that, during the pace laps before the green flag NASCAR President Steve Phelps stopped the field on the track to speak on the need for change not only in our sport but in our community before taking a moment of silence to reflect on those affected by racial injustice. NASCAR official Kirk Price, who is black, was also seen kneeling on pit road before the event.
All in all, it’s safe to say NASCAR has been responding to these protests amazingly; perhaps the best out of the sports world. That’s especially when taking into consideration the NFL’s response to Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests from a few years back. One of the driving forces behind NASCAR’s response to the BLM protests has been Cup driver Bubba Wallace, the only black driver in the series. Wallace and fellow Cup driver Ty Dillon held a discussion on Dillon’s Instagram page, where they discussed Wallace’s experiences with racism and what the NASCAR community could do to listen and better themselves in the face of such injustice and inequality. Wallace followed this up with appearances on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podcast, the Dale Jr. Download, and on CNN where he was interviewed by Don Lemon.
Of course, leave it to social media to foul up a beautiful, powerful thing. Check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, wherever. There’s a lot of positivity and pride coming from those places, but there’s also an asinine amount of people threatening to boycott and leave the sport. Fine, let them. It’s just difficult to understand why it’s so hard for people to actually sit down and listen and try to understand why these protests are being held, and why NASCAR responded the way it did.
Let’s put it this way – white privilege does exist. I explained it like this to my mother: When the Black Lives Matter movement first came about, I thought it had a good message behind it. Maybe they were a bit extra, because “didn’t All Lives Matter?” I spent my time talking about it with black acquaintances trying to prove to them and myself that I was “aware” of my white privilege and therefore I was “trying” to avoid using it. I know in retrospect I was still pretty ignorant, because the thing was I was speaking from white privilege while trying to deny my own white privilege.
As a white man, when I get pulled over, say, for going 86 in a 70 (happened in 2011 on my way to my first editor job at a newspaper in Memphis, Texas. Good times.), my first thought was “I hope the ticket isn’t too big.” That, and “Maybe I could talk the Sheriff and the Justice of the Peace into maybe lowering it for me.” They actually ended up lowering it for me. But for a lot of black people, when they get pulled over their first thought is, “I hope I don’t die today.”
I hope I don’t die today. That’s an emotion that a lot of us feel during our lives – I hope I don’t die today. I don’t want to die. But a lot of us are so caught up in our white privilege that we’re almost comfortable in it. A lot of times our biggest concern is who is on the pole for Martinsville, or if the No. 98 can win the Xfinity Series title this season. But for a lot of our black peers (or any of our peers of colors for that matter), there’s a chance they could face a form of racial indignity or worse on a daily basis. And our modus operandi for the whole thing has just been “Oh darn. That’s too bad.” Seriously – we’re okay with this?
There are those who are angry saying that NASCAR shouldn’t be getting “all political.” Where were you at when the Daytona 500 Trump Rally happened in February? Where were you when the presidential limo paced the field of the Great American Race? Are you really against politics in NASCAR or just politics you don’t agree with in NASCAR? Because when all is said and done, speaking out on the injustices and crimes committed against our fellow men and women such as Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, so on and so forth…none of that is political. It’s about doing what’s right for the people that we share this community and this world with.
Not all cops are bad. Not all whites are racist. But until we suffocate systemic racism, and truly adhere to idea that black lives truly do matter, then “All Lives Matter” is just lip service without action. Of course all lives matter, but we’e operating under the notion that some lives matter more than others. This is unacceptable. This isn’t how good people should operate.
Still, there are those who get angry because buildings and businesses have been burned and looted saying that they only support peaceful protesters. What did you say when Kaepernick took a knee before every football game? Did you support his right to peaceful protest? Or did you call him a son of a bitch for “disrespecting the American flag (please, read up on the U.S. Flag Code before you insult Old Glory with your hypocrisy. I beg of you.)?” If your primary concern is the structural damage of buildings burned and vandalized by these protests and not of the injustice suffered by people of color, then you’re a part of the problem. John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Where are we now, guys?
We can do better. We need to do better. We’re better than the people making jokes at the expense of protesters and victims alike. We’re better than supporting the divisiveness of our country. We can listen, we can change. NASCAR, who once initially denied a black man his first Cup Series win on the basis of his skin color, proved that on Sunday and has been killing it with their response to the BLM protests. This is the first time in a long time I have truly been proud to be a NASCAR fan and I know there are thousands more who feel the same way.
What drove this home was a Reddit thread in the subreddit r/pics. A user had posted a picture of Wallace wearing a BLM shirt under his firesuit, and the response was nothing short of overwhelming to see. Sure, there were jokes and cries of “Virtue Signaling!” and “Fire him!” and “I’mma bet the Nascar rednecks hated that!”, but ultimately the responses were positive and several users admitted that they were going to follow and support NASCAR based off of their support for the protests and their call for change in our communities.
On that note, good job, NASCAR. This is the response you need in this day and age.