Editorial: NASCAR still has work to do to eliminate its image as a racist safe zone

Editorial: NASCAR still has work to do to eliminate its image as a racist safe zone

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FBI investigating noose left in NASCAR stall of Black driver

Race fans fly Confederate battle flags and United States flags as they drive by the entrance to Talladega Superspeedway prior to a NASCAR Cup Series auto race in Talladega, Alabama, on Sunday.

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

At a time when the rest of the country is focused like a laser beam on improving race relations and seriously addressing all vestiges of systemic racism, some NASCAR fans insist that, no, now’s the time to celebrate America’s slaveholding past. Just two weeks after NASCAR announced a ban on displays of Confederate flags at its events, fans unleashed new expressions of hate this week.

A noose was discovered in a garage used by the premier circuit’s sole Black driver, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., at Alabama’s Talladega Speedway. Because the garage area was restricted, it appeared that the person who placed it there was a NASCAR insider. Federal investigators investigated and announced late Tuesday that the noose had been there since last fall. Wallace did not appear to be targeted. But why a noose anywhere on the grounds?

Aside from that controversy, fans defied the NASCAR ban and tried to enter the race grounds with Confederate battle flags, which were confiscated. Then a plane circled overhead pulling a giant Confederate flag along with a message, “Defund NASCAR,” mocking the protest movement’s call for defunding police departments.

Some defenders of the flag and statues of Confederate generals insist that these relics have nothing to do with slavery, discrimination and ongoing abuses against Blacks. But the Talladega display made clear that racist sympathies still abound among the NASCAR community.

President Donald Trump cannot have failed to notice. But rather than call those fans out for their racism, he has nurtured their support. In February, he drove the Daytona 500 track in his presidential limousine and cheered fans’ devotion to “God, family and country.” On at least one spot along the Daytona track not long ago, the Confederate flag was hoisted on a pole above the Stars and Stripes.

The fact that NASCAR tolerated Confederate flags until just two weeks ago underscores the organization’s tone-deafness. Officials only imposed the flag ban after national outrage erupted over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Wallace had painted his car with a Black Lives Matter message before Sunday’s race. He was joined by scores of other drivers and crew members in a march on the track Monday.

The question all should be asking is why NASCAR events became such a safe zone for racists in the first place.

The argument that the Confederate battle flag somehow celebrates states’ rights or the heroism of those who fought for the South in the Civil War has always been bogus. Those who celebrate the Confederacy are defending the South’s slaveholding tradition. Which is why the state of Mississippi must erase that image from its flag, and collegiate sports teams should boycott the state until it does.

NASCAR has taken an important first step toward driving racists back into their hole. But, obviously, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

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