NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, fresh from mistaken noose scandal, defends sport’s fans against racism stereotype
Bubba Wallace, the only black driver in NASCAR’s elite racing series, is speaking out against the media narrative that the sport’s fanbase is racist, defusing race-related controversy that has surrounded him since last month.
“We always want to pay attention to the negative, but the narrative that’s been out there now is saying all NASCAR fans are racist and whatnot, and that’s totally not true,” Wallace said late Thursday in an interview on the Desus & Mero talk show on Showtime. He added that he has socialized and drank beer with fans from Alabama to Michigan and was always made to feel welcome.
Wallace became a lightning rod for controversy in June, when NASCAR granted his request to ban Confederate flags at its events amid anti-racism protests across the country. Less than two weeks later, on June 21, a noose was found in his garage at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. NASCAR responded by calling the incident a “heinous act” and launching an investigation.
The mainstream media played up the story as an example of NASCAR’s race-related problems, with the New York Times declaring, “Talladega noose incident puts spotlight on NASCAR’s troubles with racism.” But the FBI said just two days later that it investigated the incident and found that it wasn’t a hate crime against Wallace as the noose had been hanging in the garage since last year, long before Wallace was assigned to the space in June.
In a climate of high racial tensions and after a series of alleged racism hoaxes, including the Jussie Smollett incident in Chicago last year, the FBI’s announcement spurred criticism against Wallace. Although a member of his crew, not the driver himself, discovered the noose and Wallace never alleged a hate crime, conservative commentators such as Anthony Brian Logan accused Wallace of trying to capitalize on a false hate crime.
President Donald Trump brought the controversy to new heights on July 6, when he asked whether Wallace had apologized to NASCAR drivers and officials over an incident that proved to be “just another hoax.” Wallace responded on Twitter, saying, “Love should come naturally as people are taught to hate, even when it’s hate from the POTUS.”
NASCAR’s fan base is about 80 percent white and only eight percent black, and it’s considered largely southern. Wallace said he sought to get rid of the Confederate flag at races to broaden the sport’s appeal.
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“You can wear that proudly at home, but when you come to a NASCAR race, let’s show that we’re all welcoming,” he said. “You may not carry any hate in your heart, and that’s totally fine. I know not every person is bad, not every NASCAR fan is bad, but we have to show that, hey, we want other people to be part of our sport as well.”
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