Hate can take the form of an irrational rage that finds an outlet by unnaturally fixating on an individual or group of people as a scapegoat, or an arcane, ill-fitting object as a symbol. It is hard to defeat. People with an unhealthy world view will always find someone or something to target with misdirected anger at their own inadequacies, veiled by some misguided rationale about history or superiority.
And nothing stirs that hornet’s nest quite like sudden change.
Maybe that’s why someone left a noose in NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s team stall at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, while an airplane pulling a banner with the Confederate flag and a message reading “Defund NASCAR” flew overhead, and so-called fans paraded the flags outside the track.
Wallace is NASCAR’s only Black full-time driver. He recently successfully lobbied NASCAR to ban Confederate flags from the stands (they were already banned from display by any drivers, crew or other officials). Amid national upheaval over several high-profile deaths of Black people at the hands of police, Wallace revealed a new “Black Lives Matter” paint scheme for his No. 43 car. NASCAR and its drivers seemed to stand behind Wallace. Denny Hamlin was prepared to race Sunday with his typical FedEx sponsorship replaced by a paint scheme touting the National Civil Rights Museum (Sunday’s race was postponed because of weather and resumed Monday afternoon).
It all seems to be too much, too soon for some “fans” of the sport that evolved from outlaws in Southern states modifying cars to outrun the law while transporting moonshine.
But it’s not too much, nor is it anywhere near too soon. The stars and bars, an outdated symbol of hatred, slavery and subjugation of Black people, survived far too long in havens like NASCAR, tangled up in a morass of flimsy justifications.
A young, promising and, yes, Black driver called for change, and change was made. The logical conclusion, to some sick individual, was to place a symbol of mob violence against Blacks in Wallace’s stall, while others outside the grounds flew the flag meant to remind Black people that, although emancipated 155 years ago, they should still be afraid and remember they are never equal.
NASCAR has stood firm behind Wallace and decried what it rightfully termed a “heinous act.” NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. simply tweeted “Hope Bubba wins it.”
Talladega was the first race to allow a limited number of fans back after sports venues were locked down to fight the spread of COVID-19. Some took the opportunity to express their misplaced anger at Wallace and NASCAR. Perhaps some of it, although certainly not the noose, was to be expected.
Frankly, those who would rally to the Confederate flag or try to intimidate a driver through a deplorable act are people NASCAR can do without. They’ll eventually move on to something else to fuel their ill temper. The sport is much better off growing through inclusion than by pandering to division.