Sorry, Bigots, NASCAR’s Bubba Wallace Ain’t Afraid Of Your Noose
Bubba Wallace is NASCAR's only Black driver, even though Black Americans have centuries of experience running in circles. Sunday, a noose was found in Wallace's garage at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama. It's a classic Alabama greeting: More than 300 Black people were lynched in the state between 1877 and 1943. This is likely a grotesque response to Wallace successfully advocating for the ban of Confederate flags at NASCAR tracks and facilities.
NASCAR officials were shocked and appalled that there were racists in their fine establishment.
"Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act," NASCAR said in a statement. "We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport."
An Alabama native, Wallace had for years focused solely on racing. According to a profile in the New York Times, he didn't try to "disturb the culture of a sport whose fan base remains predominantly white and conservative." He wasn't a stranger to racism, however. When Wallace was 13, a NASCAR driver's parent and a race official called him a racial slur. Wallace is 26, so we're talking about the distant past of 2007.
There is only 1 driver from an African American background at the top level of our sport..I am the 1. You're not go… https://t.co/i0NpE4UBzL— Bubba Wallace (@Bubba Wallace) 1510178530.0
Wallace concentrated on winning, on being the best, and ignored racist attacks from critics. He modeled his career more after Tiger Woods than Colin Kaepernick, but that changed when Ahmaud Arbery was murdered while out for a jog. After he saw the gut-wrenching video, he no longer cared about upsetting sponsors or “fans."
Wallace said he stayed up that night to watch the video again and again. The idea seared into his brain, he said, that a black man, one who was just about his age, could be gunned down on a jog by white people who appeared to hunt him. He said he can still hear the gunshots in his head.
The death broke his heart, he said, and opened his mind to the urgency of fighting for racial justice.
George Floyd's murder not long afterward compelled him to speak out. First, he confronted his peers, who had remained silent while Americans protested against police violence. He asked them point-blank: "Do you all not care about what's going on in the world?"
This led to two dozen top drivers, including Wallace, appearing in a video condemning racism and racial inequality. Wallace shared the video on Twitter with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, and suddenly NASCAR had demonstrated more awareness and leadership than the entire Trump administration.
We will listen and learn! #BlackLivesMattters https://t.co/AYoYdY8IlX— Bubba Wallace (@Bubba Wallace) 1591553534.0
Wallace opened up about his own experiences with racial profiling, and how police officers had drawn guns on him because they didn't believe he owned the Lexus he was driving. He discussed the pain his mother felt when a white police officer killed his 19-year-old cousin, Sean Gillispie. The officer claimed Gillispie had a gun, but a witness said he was reaching for his cell phone. It's the same old story.
Just two days after Wallace told CNN that he believed the Confederate flag represented “hate not heritage" and shouldn't be flown at races, NASCAR banned the flag. Wallace later drove his No. 43 Chevrolet -- Richard Petty's old number -- with Black Lives Matter logos on the vehicle.
"It pisses me the hell off and it pisses everybody else in the sport off who care, not only for Bubba, but for ever… https://t.co/JwxtkvUHX6— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) 1592797983.0
The noose has long been a white supremacist warning to Black “troublemakers." If whoever's responsible thought it would scare the Kaep out of Wallace, they were wrong. Wallace released a statement on Twitter condemning the “despicable act of racism" that left him “incredibly saddened" but only reinforced how persistent “we must be in the fight against racism."
Over the last several weeks, I have been overwhelmed by the support from people across the NASCAR industry, including other drivers and team members in the garage. Together, our sport has made a commitment to driving real change and championing a community that is accepting and welcoming of everyone.
Nothing is more important and we will not be deterred by the reprehensible actions of those who seek to spread hate. As my mother told me today, "They are just trying to scare you." This will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in.
I learned about this incident when “Jussie" was trending on Twitter. Idiots were suggesting that this was just another “fake hate crime," an attempt to divide and make white people look bad. That noose wasn't a publicity stunt. It was a calling card for the racism that still exists and thrives in America.
People have always wanted to “stand athtwart history, yelling 'Stop!'" But the courageous never listen. They just keep moving forward.
[ESPN / New York Times]
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."