The people determined to defend cherished symbols like the Confederate flag are undermining support for it, one brainless act at a time.
On Sunday it was the discovery of a noose in the Talladega Superspeedway garage stall of Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only black driver. In recent weeks, Wallace has displayed a Black Lives Matter logo on his car and worn a shirt that said, “I can’t breathe,” which is what George Floyd told police the evening he died last month in Minneapolis.
At Wallace’s urging, NASCAR also decided to ban the Rebel flag from its events. Pushback was immediate: An airplane flew over Talladega on Sunday displaying the flag and the phrase, “Defund NASCAR.” And protesters outside the speedway drove by the entrance all weekend with their vehicles displaying the flag.
The airplane and the drive-bys are legitimate forms of protest, and it’s good to see racing fans sticking up for their beliefs just like those protesting Floyd’s death have done over the past month. Finally, those who want change and those who don’t have something in common: They are using their right to freedom of speech.
However, it’s easy to see that slipping a noose into a black driver’s garage stall crosses the line from protected speech to a threat. Even if it was done as a joke, the noose left only one message: “Shut up or else, boy.”
The FBI is investigating, and NASCAR promised that whoever left the noose will be barred from racing. More substantially, Wallace’s fellow drivers and his team owner, the legendary Richard Petty, made it plain that they will stand with him. Before Monday’s race started, the 39 other drivers at Talladega pushed Wallace’s car to the front of the field.
It’s a tough time right now, and a lot of people are unhappy. Some demand great change right away, and others believe their differing opinions are being ignored or willfully silenced.
There was bound to be resentment of Wallace’s messages on his car and his shirt, and especially of NASCAR’s decision to ban the flag. If NASCAR is serious about enforcing the ban, it should ask Ole Miss for advice on how to do it.
Unfortunately, something else to ask is why a Rebel flag supporter felt compelled to defend that symbol with a symbol of lynching.