For several years now NASCAR has distanced itself from the battle flag originally used by the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee. The series has stated and reiterated its stance that the flag not be displayed in any official capacity, be it NASCAR licensed merchandise, event promotional material, signage, or team equipment. Following the Charleston, South Carolina shootings in 2015, NASCAR asked fans to refrain from flying the “stars and bars” but did not place a ban on doing so. The so-called Confederate Flag has been a staple of NASCAR fans for decades, certainly as long as I can remember, and it didn’t want to ruffle any feathers.
That may be changing.
Outcries from drivers in all three of NASCAR’s top national series, led chiefly by Bubba Wallace, the only black driver in the Cup series, demand that NASCAR ban display of the flag during races altogether. That means taking them away from fans or not allowing them in the stands in the first place. NASCAR is a private business and if it wants to be seen as an inclusive space for fans of color, this seems like the only way forward. Taking a stance and denying anyone the ability to associate NASCAR with the slavery-defending rebel army is the only way forward.
Wallace joined Don Lemon on CNN Monday evening to discuss NASCAR’s display against racism ahead of Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and racers posting the now famous “listen and learn” video to social media.
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In the process of the interview Lemon asked Bubba what the way forward for NASCAR might be. This was his response [emphasis mine]:
“We are trying to figure out next steps, and my next step would be to get rid of all Confederate flags. There should be no individual that is uncomfortable showing up to our events to have a good time with their family that feels some type of way about something they have seen, an object they have seen flying.
“No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them.
“The narrative on that before, I wasn’t bothered by it, but I don’t speak for everybody else, I speak for myself. What I am chasing is checkered flags. That was kind of my narrative, but diving more into it and educating myself, people feel uncomfortable about that, people talk about that. That’s the first thing they bring up. There’s going to be a lot of angry people that carry those flags proudly, but it’s time for change. We have to change that. I encourage NASCAR, and we will have those conversations.”
Across the last three weeks, since the murder of George Floyd and the resulting national and global protests, Wallace has been a massive proponent for change in NASCAR and America. Even Wallace is willing to admit that he doesn’t know everything and is willing to listen and learn in addition to his outspoken activism in the sport.
I’ve been to a number of NASCAR events myself, and have seen hundreds of confederate flags flying. If the “good ol’ boy” image of NASCAR has discouraged even one black racer from pursuing a career at the top of the sport, the sport needs to distance itself from that image. All racers should be welcomed and judged solely on their talent (and sponsor dollars). That symbol of division no longer has a place in this country, and particularly in the sport of motor racing. It’s time for NASCAR to end it.