Breaking the Pattern

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I have set up a schedule during the Pandemic to help me get through the long day instead of meandering without a routine or moving endlessly without purpose. Get up, make coffee, write diary/read and email, exercise, eat, write 1000 to 1500 words, lunch break, calls, recumbent exercise, shower, dinner, Hulu, read, bed. Now that monotony has been shattered.

Now as the calendar turns onto the fourth month of separation in several states, a mirror of the nation’s racial injustices sharply focuses on the base cruelty and murderous acts inflicted upon blacks and other minorities throughout the last decade and well before.  Too many in the white “majority,” including myself, have registered our horror, but have not taken action to look within our own hearts, minds, and communities to remove racial barriers and work to achieve safety for all Americans.

Not a great risk for me to express my opinion, but for others, like Bubba Wallace, 26, the danger can be very real for this Alabama born, North Carolina-raised competitor. Walker is a NASCAR driver, which might come as no surprise from his nickname, but he is the only African American who races full-time in NASCAR’s Cup Series. He has risen to the elite ranks of the sport and came in second in the 2018 Daytona 500. He drives No. 43, the Richard Petty Chevy that the icon drove to seven Winston Cup championships. Walker takes it a step further by wearing Petty’s autograph tattooed on the back of his right thigh.

As a kid, he idolized NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr., a family favorite, who spoke out against displays of the Confederate flag in 2015. “I think it’s offensive to an entire race,” Earnhardt said after the shooting deaths of nine African Americans at a South Carolina church. “It does nothing for anybody to be there flying, so I don’t see any reason. It belongs in the history books, and that’s about it.”

Walker first became aware of the Confederate Stars and Bars appearing at NASCAR as a young driver, where the Southern symbol has been a fixture since the stock car racing originated 72 years ago. Reluctantly he accepted it as part of the sport. But seeing the video of an unarmed black jogger in Georgia being cornered and shot by a white father and his son compelled him to speak out. Then George Floyd’s death on May 25 gave Walker the final push.

A week ago Sunday after stock car races began via telecast with intentionally empty stands due to the Pandemic, NASCAR included taped messages speaking out for racial justice from Walker and seven-time Cup Series Champ Jimmie Johnson: “We are trying to deliver the message: Listen and Learn.” Then Walker went one step further.

Walker emailed NASCAR President Steve Phelps, telling him NASCAR needed to take a stand on the divisive issue of the Confederate flag—a symbol of hate to him and many other potential fans. “If we wanted to see change and create inclusion in the sport, I thought this was the perfect time for NASCAR to stand behind our message and get rid of the flag,” Walker was quoted. “They want to attend races, but they don’t because these see the old stigmas. They see it as a good ol’ boy sport and the racist undertones of that.” He also went on camera with CNN’s Don Lemon to reinforce his intention.

This week, within 48 hours of receiving Walker’s email–as protests throughout the country continued calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality–Phelps alerted NASCAR drivers that the Confederate flag would no longer be flown on cars or at NASCAR stadiums or events.

Reinforcing the ban is easier while the stadiums are closed to spectators. A greater challenge will occur when the stands open to traditional NASCAR fans. The sport sees Walker as a popular driver who will help bring in diverse fans, reviving the sport to build, rather than decline, in the 21st century. Leaving the 259-year-old Confederate flag behind may be a struggle for some Southerners, but a necessary step forward to unify the country and all the people who reside here.

Liz Clarke and Des Bieler, “NASCAR bans display of Confederate flag at all events and properties,” Washington Post, June 10, 2020

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