The stars and bars have been banned from NASCAR racetracks.
On Wednesday afternoon, three days after the Cup Series showed a unified front against racism at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and only a few hours before Bubba Wallace's No. 43 Chevy hit the track at Martinsville Speedway adorned with an image of black and white hands embraced, NASCAR announced it was officially pulling the battle banner of a nation long gone off of its racetrack properties. It's the culmination of a one-man campaign by Wallace, who this week appeared across major news outlets and called for NASCAR to finally do what it has wanted to for years. Now it finally is.
In its statement, NASCAR wrote: "The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community it creates is what makes fans and sport special. The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties."
The Confederate flag is gone. I will not miss it for one single second.
Because gone with it is the perpetual need for me to apologize to my coworkers of color, who politely winced whenever we entered a speedway infield to be greeted by a line of Confederate flags. Gone is the instant evidence always used against me by friends and colleagues who refused to accept my pleas of "NASCAR has changed, really!" because they only had to point over my shoulder at the flags whipping in the wind in HDTV every Sunday afternoon. Gone are the skeptical rolled eyes that Wallace has had to combat his entire life. Same for NBA All-Star-turned-NASCAR team owner Brad Daugherty, or NASCAR official Kirk Price, or the family of NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott, the only other black driver to make his living as a Cup Series driver. All of them have spent their lives going to the racetrack, having achieved their dream of working at the highest level of stock car racing, only to have to explain over and over again why they chose to work at a place where multiple symbols of hate are displayed out in the open.
Before we go any further, I want to address the "Heritage Not Hate" crowd. I'm talking about those who sound like me and look like me and, like me, have a deep-rooted Southern upbringing. Let's be totally clear here: By agreeing with NASCAR's decision, I'm not betraying anyone or anything. And don't start lecturing me on history, either. You don't have a boot to stand in when it comes to teaching me what that flag means. You go tale-of-the-tape with me on our Confederate DNA, and you're going to go down harder than Pickett's Charge.
I am a direct descendant of slave owners. My family still owns the home where my forefathers lived while the human beings they owned worked all around them. As I write this, I am sitting on the North Carolina coast just south of Fort Fisher, the would-be protector of the port of Wilmington that was overrun by Union forces during the winter of 1865. My great-great-great grandfather and uncle were taken prisoner after fighting under that flag and were shipped off to a prison camp in Elmira, New York -- a.k.a., "Hell-mira" -- and when the Civil War ended, they walked home, 600 miles, to Rockingham, North Carolina. I have a photo of myself as a newborn, being held in the arms of my great aunt, who, as a child, talked to those men about what they fought for and lost. In the end, they were buried as citizens of the United States of America, with their nation's real flag, the Stars and Stripes, displayed over the gate to the cemetery.
So, don't come at me with claims that I don't understand what the flags of the Confederate States of America stood for, or what it stands for now.
My forefathers lost that war. I'm glad they lost it. They were on the wrong side of history. They've all been dead for more than a century and yet I've found myself still working to correct their wrongs. My brother has stood in the same field where the slaves once worked for my family. The man with the deed on the house, holding hands and weeping with the descendants of the people of whom my family once held the deed.
So, yeah, spare me the arguments about what that flag really means. I know exactly what it means. It means pain. It means anguish. It means embarrassment. It means the most shameful blight on the pages of the history of the United States, and that's no small achievement.
Even if there had ever been a stitch of honor left in that flag after the Civil War was over, that was wrung out when hate groups chose the stars and bars as their go-to banner, under which they set fire to crosses, lynched black Americans, and held aloft as they stood at the doors of desegregated schools and screamed at innocent children, schoolbooks in hand, who did nothing more than be born.
There was a time when the swastika meant nothing, too. It first appeared in Asia 5,000 years ago. It was meant to signify the sun. But then someone came along and turned it into the symbol of one of the greatest evil forces that Earth has ever known.
You wouldn't fly that over Talladega, would you? Because to millions upon millions of Americans, that's what they see and what they feel when they see that Confederate flag. I am 100 percent confident that a real NASCAR fan has the ability to enjoy a weekend in the infield just as much while flying an American flag as they do under the flag of a misguided, defeated nation that hasn't existed for 155 years. If they can't, then they've never loved NASCAR as much they have always claimed. They certainly have never loved it as much as I do.
No, the only place where we should see the stars and bars now is displayed in a museum, encased in glass and context. You really want to teach someone about heritage versus hate? You really want to have a debate with someone about what those flags mean? Go to the Smithsonian. Go to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Go to Gettysburg, Appomattox, or meet me down at Fort Fisher. We can talk about it all day. At the right places.
But not at the racetrack. Not anymore.