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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Checkered Flag

Every so often, America gets a glimpse in the mirror and decides, however superficially or temporarily, that it's time to take a look at its own racism.

The most recent reckoning has come following the murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers, and the subsequent uprisings throughout the nation and world. Floyd's death occurred in the most recent context of Breonna Taylor's killing by Louisville Metro Police; the nation learning of Ahmaud Arbery's February murder by racist vigilantes, one of whom was a former police officer and former investigator for the DA's office; and Tony McDade, who was killed by police in Tallahassee days after Floyd.

As many in the sports world addressed the killing of George Floyd specifically and the fact that Black Lives Matter and systemic racism more generally, NASCAR took action in a different way: By banning the confederate battle flag from its events.

The move from NASCAR comes amid the US Navy and Marines banning the flag's presence, and a short-lived conversation on the renaming of military bases named after confederate figures. The change in NASCAR was brought to the forefront by Bubba Wallace, the sport's sole Black driver at its highest level, who also ran a Black Lives Matter car in the first race following the announcement at Martinsville.

The most recent awakening concerning the rebel flag came in 2015, shortly after Dylann Roof murdered nine Black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Following this massacre, South Carolina removed the battle flag from their statehouse grounds, and at that point NASCAR condemned the flag's presence, though no steps were made to remove it. It is notable that in the case of Dylann Roof, he openly identified with and displayed the confederate battle flag, making a clear association between his attack and the flag's disavowal in 2015. In NASCAR's most recent move, the flag's removal was simply an acknowledgment of the flag's association with white supremacy and anti-Black sentiments, to say nothing of its inimical relationship with the United States itself.

The flag's association with NASCAR comes from stock car racing's origins in the South, born of a rebellious spirit in the form of moonshine running in the prohibition era. Some southern race fans have lamented the NASCAR's expansion beyond the South and the perceived de-emphasis of its base, and see the movement away from the flag as further evidence of this trend. While reaction has been largely favorable from outside the sport's core, there have been mixed reactions from those within. Following the move, jobber Ray Ciccarellit, a driver with the NASCAR Truck Series, flounced following the announcement, stating that the current season would be his last.

Time will tell how the move plays out with fans present. Currently, NASCAR is racing to empty speedways amid the coronavirus pandemic. There's no telling if it will have an impact on attendance, if some fans will be defiant or choose to fly alternative confederate flags, or how they will go about enforcing it, but NASCAR taking this stand was major.

-Flag's most recent rockining came following Roof murders; removed from SC statehouse
-long flown in conjunction with NASCAR
-issued a statement condemning it five years ago
-recent action spearheaded by Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver at the sport's highest level
-Ray flounced
-Time will tell - no fans for the time being.

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