If you thought the noose story was over when the FBI concluded a swift and thorough investigation into the actual noose that was definitely hanging (but just, in the normal way) in Bubba Wallace’s garage at Talladega, look out—America’s special boy is tweeting!
This is, of course, a very stupid thing to say. It’s not really worth getting in to the many reasons why it’s stupid or why it was said. Except to say that the people, including the President, who are responding to this by equating Bubba Wallace, who was told by NASCAR President Steve Phelps that they’d found a noose in his garage and responded as any sensible person would, to Jussie Smollett, who actively perpetrated a hoax—are either unbelievably stupid, or unimaginably shitty, probably both. The situation was absolutely not a hoax, and Bubba Wallace did nothing wrong. The drivers and crew who showed support for him did nothing wrong.
Other than that, we can just skip to the start of the cycle where the libs try to parse whether this is a coded message to Trump’s Russian handlers or part of a brilliant strategy to energize his base, and the radio show hosts talk about how racism in America is a hoax perpetuated by BLM-style Antifa thugs who are coming to YOUR TOWN, and the podcast runts chirp their “I’ve been very critical of this President’s sense of decorum but don’t you think this is a little ridiculous?” segments.
While the media is trained on this tweet all week the world and this country will continue to become more awful and more dangerous, especially for those who have been living under awful dangerous conditions since they were born.
But there is one question worth giving some thought to, and that’s NASCAR’s response to all this. The series will again be a topic of discussion on mainstream cable networks, not because of anything that happened on the track, but because they’re back at the center of a story about racism. And we’ll see if NASCAR wants to do anything about that.
They’re in a tight spot. Big businesses like NASCAR reflexively simp for Presidents and other elected officials because simping’s generally good for business, especially with our big President. And as comfortable as they might be with corporate statements of support, or against “hate,” there really isn’t a crisis communications strategy book about how to respond when the current racist President makes one of his classic racially coded tweets about your one Black drivers who, incidentally you recently believed was threatened with lynching. Especially when it’s a President that some of your other drivers, team owners, many of your partners and probably a good majority of your fans are so cozy with.
Ultimately, they probably have to say something. Bubba Wallace has responded. Worm-man Lindsay Graham is pushing back. Richard Petty Motorsports is. Tyler Reddick did, in a tweet that’s now been deleted.
But what are they actually going to do? I’ve been saying it since the Kyle Larson suspension, but I think in 2020, NASCAR has as good a chance, and as good a reason, as any other organization to make headway on racism. Not by making changes to the flag policy (though, that’s good) or issuing statements (also good) but by using its platform and its personalities to engage with the facts on structures that kill, terrorize and disadvantage Black people. Being “not racist” is one thing, taking part in real efforts to dismantle racism is another uncomfortable and ultimately valuable thing.
One thing to keep in mind, is that the real hogs are going to behave like hogs regardless of what NASCAR does here. To a lot of those people, stock car racing is just another affectation, another part of their culture war aesthetic, like owning a gun they never shoot or hanging that stupid old flag.
But there are a lot of people, in and out of the paddock, who really love NASCAR and who are going to continue to love NASCAR because it’s a fascinating and phenomenally entertaining sport filled with great personalities. Those people are probably ready to grow. And of those two groups, only one is capable of helping to grow NASCAR as a sport.
I believe NASCAR understands that. And while, again, they probably have to defend Bubba from the President, getting into a twitter spat serves him a lot more than it serves them. They’d be better served to spend some time learning what they can do to improve underlying conditions that led to his election, and Kyle’s slur, and flag being present at races, etc.