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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Don’t stereotype all NASCAR fans as racist

The issue of racism has been lurking in the background for a long time in NASCAR.
The sport started in the South, a place that -- whether justified of not -- many people associate with racism to this day, and there have been a small number of minority drivers in its 60 years of existence.

When NASCAR’s greatest black driver, Wendell Scott, won a race in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1963, the sport was so afraid of the reaction that they told the crowd someone else had won, then days later issued a correction and gave the trophy to Scott. Back then, the (white) trophy girls in Victory Lane often gave the winning driver a kiss on the cheek. Considering the atmosphere of racism in America at that time, that probably wouldn’t have gone over too well with Scott in Victory Lane.

The other issue still prevalent today is the Confederate Flag, which some fans continue to fly at the track when they attend or camp out at races. They say its Southern pride, others say it’s racist and a reminder of slavery … and neither side is likely to change their opinion.

The newest reminder of racism in the sport came this week, when Mauricia Grant, a former inspector in the Nationwide series who is a black female, filed a lawsuit claiming that her coworkers called her degrading names like “nappy-headed Mo” and “Queen Sheba,” and told her she worked on “colored people time” if she was late. She also said one official made regular references to the Ku Klux Klan. Grant is suing NASCAR for $225 million, for racial and sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination.

While I think her $225 million figure is a bit inflated, NASCAR will probably have to dig at least a little bit into its bank account if these allegations are proven true. There is no place in sports for racist and sexist behavior, and she deserves some compensation if she was mistreated while working for NASCAR. And the co-workers who made those comments should be fired immediately, if the allegations are proven.

The most important point, in my mind, is that even if these allegations are true, that the public doesn’t automatically assume that everyone involved in NASCAR, and all of its fans, are a bunch of ignorant racists.

I have been to dozens of races, and have met thousands of fans over the years, and I would put the number of NASCAR fans who fit that description at less than 10 percent. Sure they exist, but if you surveyed the fans at a baseball, football, basketball or hockey game, you’d probably find an equivalent number of racists.

Many people believe NASCAR, and the South in general, is full of hateful people. But having traveled this country and been to sporting events across the board, I don’t see that. I hear as many or more racist people in Michigan any given week than I did the entire week I spent in Georgia. It’s easy to stereotype a region or sport, but that doesn’t mean what you’re saying is true.


Anonymous Ed said...

Good article Matt. I am a southern born individual of the late 1950s but I have lived and worked up and down the East coast for 20 years before settling back in my southern home state. Racism, unfortunately, does exist in all regions of the country and in all segments of society. I never will forget as a 20-something returning back to the college campus at a major university in Massachusetts and being around professional people to find that some, likely about the same percentage that you have found, were racist. They didn't use the "N" word as is so often attributed to the South, they used, 'you know, black people.'

Racism and sexism is wrong is any segment of society and the South doesn't have a patent on such behavior. In fact in a state where the Confederate Flag debate comes up even now every now and again, most everyone I know of all ages and all shapes and all races just figures that debate is long past its time and we should all move on. The people I know just want to live their life in respectful ways and respect their neighbor.

So obviously when the news media highlights a particular ugly behavior in the South by a few it gets played up a lot as if the majority of us are pigs. Ain't so Matt as you so aptly describe. As a person who may have been guilty of a racial slur in the 50+ years of existence I recognized long ago that it wasn't and isn't right. As I looked into he faces of beautiful children it dawned on my many many years ago, what has the color of someone's skin got to do with anything? In all reality not a dam thing.

June 12, 2008 at 6:27 AM 
Anonymous Gary said...

It's ironic as well as hypocritical that the people who think NASCAR fans are a bunch of racist rednecks are employing the same type of thinking they accuse others of using. I've been to a NASCAR race with a black man and his white girlfriend and the only grief we caught was because of our 24 shirts and hats (Gordon won that race, by the way!).

June 12, 2008 at 4:41 PM 

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