Earlier this month, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, the only full-time black driver on the stock car racing circuit, shocked the world. Not by winning a race but by winning an argument: the argument that the ubiquitous Confederate flag, so present at NASCAR events, so central to the branding of the sport for decades, should be banned from all racing premises. Even more amazingly, he garnered the near-universal agreement of his fellow racers that the time to take the Confederate flag out of the sport had long come to pass.
But racists never go gentle into that good night. Late on Sunday evening, in a punch to the gut for everyone who saw progress on NASCAR’s horizon, it was announced that a noose had been found in Wallace’s garage stall the night before the big race in Talladega. In a lengthy statement posted to social media, which should be read in full, Wallace wrote, “Today’s despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me incredibly saddened and serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism.”
NASCAR, desperate from a financial perspective to break out of its Confederate confines in Dixie and join the 21st century, also released the comment that the company couldn’t “state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act” and whoever did it would be banned for life from the sport. “We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”
Wallace had just debuted his new car, which has “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned on the sides and a graphic of black and white hands clasping each other in a show of unity. He has also inspired NASCAR icons like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson to support the Black Lives Matter movement and pledge to listen to what the streets are trying to say, something that must have made Confederate bigots grind their teeth to dust.
After the noose was found, Earnhardt, Johnson, and people across both NASCAR and the sports world from LeBron James to Billie Jean King tweeted words of solidarity for Wallace. Earnhardt said that he hopes Wallace wins at Talladega. That would, of course, be a poetic ending to this nightmare, but a victory on the track is not nearly enough.
Wallace’s fellow racers, fans, and people who give a damn about racism in sports need to do more than offer solidarity. They have to be willing to, if need be, physically defend Wallace from harm. This is not a prank and this is not a game. There are violent people currently experiencing spasms of realizing their own dead-end irrelevance, and losing NASCAR as a place where they can let their Confederate freak flag fly is salt in their wounds. As statues of Confederate leaders fall, they are left with depressing Trump rallies and tiki torch burnings as their only safe spaces. Feeling cornered, they could turn to violence, and it is going to take more than tweets to keep Wallace safe.
Fortunately, the one person who truly seems to understand the political nature of what he is currently facing is Wallace himself. As he said in his statement,
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.
Ignore this, please