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NASCAR makes a right turn with flag ban

Thursday, June 18, 2020   /   by Ken Couture

NASCAR makes a right turn with flag ban

Did you feel that earthquake last week that started in the Deep South and moved across the United States in record time?


It shook people to their core, it probably changed a few attitudes that centuries in America have been unable to move, and it rattled far more than a few cages — and White House bunkers, I would think — when that thing hit. And in its wake, it destroyed any remaining semblance of gentility that was cloaked in the flag of traitors and racism. No longer could those who have refused to come to grips with the 21st century be shielded from the unrelenting gaze of humanity.


OK, I will say it in plain English. This from a statement issued Thursday:


“The presence of Confederate flags has been banned from all NASCAR events, races, and properties effective immediately.”


The simple question is: What the hell took them so long? The answer is a lot more complicated but still wrong, no matter how it is explained. No matter the reasons for the ban, though, be they some deeply held sense of American morality and ethics or something more akin to corporate survival, the fact remains that the symbol of Southern inhospitality is flagging.


I am reminded of Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, who said the other day that while Congress could pass laws related to criminal justice reform and other areas of racial discrimination, what is required is a change in behavior.


He pointed to an encounter with his only African-American Republican colleague in the Senate, Tim Scott of South Carolina. Scott explained to him what it was like to be a black man in the wrong place — read that as a white part of the world — and Alexander asked himself: If the roles were reversed, would he feel hurt, scared, disillusioned, angry, weary, disappointed, intimidated? And his answer: “Probably all of those things!”


Really, Senator? It took a conversation with the nation’s only black GOP senator to open your eyes about racism in America?


Now, this is not a criticism of Sen. Alexander, specifically. From all I have known about him, he is one of the last remaining sane Republicans in the Senate — and he is getting out. Rather, it is a general criticism of all those who would dare to suggest that what the country is trying to live through right now is something new, something we couldn’t see coming, something that took white America by surprise following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.


Well, it ain’t nothing new. It’s the same old thing, just like Sen. Alexander was trying to explain when confronted with all that he knew but has tried throughout his career to avoid — probably because he couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it, given where he came from and the attitude of his constituents about the matter.


But NASCAR has done something. And by finally taking action to ban the unfurled symbol of slavery in the United States, it has made it safe for people everywhere to follow its lead. For if the center of the Confederate flag-carrying world can recognize the error of the way it has remained silent in the face of flag wavers and worse, then it must follow that any other racist-supporting pockets in America can do the same.


I remember over 60 years ago when the Rat Pack was one of the most recognizable activists trying to make inroads in race relations between blacks and whites. The desire to do the right thing was not only driven by the fact that Sammy Davis Jr. was a member of the Rat Pack, but that he was truly equal in the eyes of his friends. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop not only represented some of the most exceptional talents in America but so did Sammy, who in many respects was more than their equal. To them, there was no reason for racial discrimination.


Had it not been for the Rat Pack, the Las Vegas Strip would have remained segregated for a few more years and the Entertainment Capital of the World might never have been.


I mention the Rat Pack’s influence on Las Vegas because that was a case of individual attitudes changing before the laws could catch up. And we all know that even with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, attitudes in America have still a long way to go toward real change. Cut to Minneapolis, May 25, 2020.


Sen. Alexander expressed the words and the attitude I have grown up with since I was a child. It is a generational thing. But it seems today that while people and their attitudes must change if we are to have true racial equality — and, thus, a more perfect union — until that time comes, we will need some more laws on the books.


It is the human condition that without laws to control our worst or encourage our best, there will always be some people, some communities and some states in this country that just won’t get with the program. We can support our police — which we do — and relish our differences — which we should — and still recognize the need for some laws that require civility and respect for others while we are changing attitudes.


But what NASCAR did last week is more important than any law. It put its collective foot down. It told everyone who loves their racing and their tailgating and their hoopin’ and hollerin’ that they are free to do it all they want because this is America.


They just can’t do it anywhere near a Confederate flag.


Which American icon will be next to do the right thing?


Perhaps America’s military generals who understand that we are all in this thing together, and that merit and morality don’t depend on skin color? Or, perhaps, that fellow in the White House bunker.

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