The attribution of the picture that you see on this article belongs to Segregation In America and was taken at a pro-segregation march in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 17th, 1965. Just for context, that is 55 years ago. For further context, as some of the people in the picture look relatively young, if the man holding the sign in front was 20 years old then, he could still be alive today.
Your Intention Doesn’t Matter
For those white people who say “It’s just a word” or “You guys say it so why can’t we”, take another look at the picture. The use of that word is emblematic of a systemic subjugation of black people that reverberates through the historical fabric and consciousness of this country. When you use that word, you think of a person or an idea.
When black people hear that word, it is usually tied to an event wherein we were the recipients of hatred or violence. When black people see pictures like this, it is jarring. Often we become truculent. This word reminds us of a time when we were a powerless monolith and we could not find refuge in class, wealth, education, or social status. In a collective act to disempower this word while simultaneously disabusing the notions associated with it, an informal social compact was formed. The black community adopted the word as a colloquialism that engenders familiarity, but also subconsciously maintains a contiguous line to the origins of the word. This belief is not held with unanimity within the black community, but this explains it’s ubiquity in black culture.
Why Am I Not Surprised
Which brings us to the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. NASCAR. I know. How did we get here? If you look at the data the average age of NASCAR TV viewers is 58 years old, 91% of fans are white, and 38% of fans are Republicans. On its face it doesn’t sound like something that black people should be concerned about. In walks Kyle Larson.
If you don’t follow NASCAR, and I don’t, you won’t recognize this name, but he has become much more popular as of late after a video of Kyle Larson using the N word surfaced. Please take a moment to click the link and watch the video.
If you don’t understand what’s going on in the video, let me explain. Coronavirus has infected all facets of life, even NASCAR. As we find ourselves unable to socially gather, this sport has decided to take their professional drivers and pay them to compete against each other in a souped-up version of Mario Kart. That’s right, a video game. So of course while they are “driving”, Kyle Larson’s team isn’t responding to him over his headset.
So he did what any person would do in this situation. He tested his microphone. I’m trying to imagine Kyle going through the list of options in his head. He could have said “Houston we have a problem”, “Testing, testing, one, two, three”, “Hey Jerry”, or, “Hey guys why aren’t you responding. Can anyone hear me?”
“No”, Kyle thought to himself. “They are either ignoring me, or they can’t hear me. What am I going to do? I’m risking my life after all participating in this activity that every child plays on his parent’s living room television everyday. I know! I’ll use that one word that my parents didn’t raise me to use, that is socially unacceptable, and the one that is the punch line of most of the jokes I hear when I’m actually at the track”. Then out of nowhere, Kyle says, “Nigger”. Yes, even while we are in a worldwide pandemic when we should recognize the humanity of everyone, Kyle found a moment to still be racist.
The Words We Always Hear
His apology was swift. It was one minute and thirty-one seconds of the boiler-plate, oops I got caught, “you didn’t hear that did you” type of apology that is so often used when white people forget that there might be consequences for saying out loud what they are thinking. His apology was as follows:
“Last night I made a mistake and said the word that should never ever be said. And there’s no excuse for that, you know. I wasn’t raised that way, you know. It’s just an awful thing to say and I feel very sorry for my family, my friends, my partner’s, the NASCAR community and especially the African-American community. You understand the damage is probably unrepairable and I own up to that. But I just wanted to let you all know how sorry I am and you know what I hope everybody is staying safe in these crazy times. Thank you.”
By the way I absolutely love it when people in these situations say, “I wasn’t raised that way”. That statement has never made sense to me. If you weren’t raised that way, isn’t that worse? Aren’t you saying that you were raised by people who taught you that all people are equal regardless of race, but then you decided as an adult to ignore all that you were taught and to embrace racist words instead? It would make more sense to take the Duck Dynasty approach and blame your ignorance on a time gone past in which you were an unwilling participant. But I digress.
To the business community’s credit, the reaction was immediate. Some of Larson’s sponsors including McDonalds, Credit One Bank and Clover have pulled their sponsorships. Notice I typed “some”.
But there’s more to this story. One person has come to Kyle’s defense. A fellow driver named Bubba Wallace is on the record stating that fellow driver Kyle Larson should be forgiven for uttering a racial slur in an online competition. I guess there is a brotherhood among the drivers in this sport. I guess we all make mistakes, and forgiveness should be extended. Did I mention Bubba Wallace is black? Sorry I forgot that part. Did I mention that he is the only black driver in NASCAR? The person coming to the defense of a white driver using the N word is a black driver.
I really hate it when black people do this. Why couldn’t he have just been quiet? We know that the entire NASCAR community collectively turned their heads towards Bubba. “If he laughs, then it’s ok”. He didn’t laugh. He did make a statement very similar to my opening in this piece, but then be quiet. If this one white man loses his job for using the N word, I think as a society we’ll be ok. Kyle will be ok. In six months someone somewhere will tap him for another opportunity.
Is It Time To Move On?
But let’s say that we decide to forgive Kyle. Let’s say we as black people use Michelle Obama’s montra of “When they go low, we go high”. We as black people can go ahead, again, and forgive yet another indiscretion by another white person who didn’t understand what he did before he did it. It’s just a word after all.
Does that mean that white people will forgive Colin Kaepernick and others black professional athletes for kneeling? I didn’t think so. So Kyle can leave NASCAR permanently. And to my white friends, that feeling of anger that you’re feeling right now at the mention of Colin Kaepernick’s name and the memory of him “disrespecting the flag”? That anger that you’re feeling associated with an event? That’s the anger that black people feel when white people use the N word times ten.
And for those of you who still don’t get it, feel free to read this before you respond.