"It's an exciting, wonderful sport, minus the troubles and the people I had to deal with and the ignorance that was present in the garage area."--Mauricia Grant, on NASCAR
I have been praying-praying-praying for the Midwest, and once again wishing the Rain Gods would allocate their resources a bit more fairly. I am getting used to having nothing urgent to do at night--no interior decorating classes and no tutoring this summer. I smiled through tears--my favorite emotion!--at the pictures of eightysomething Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon getting married after 55 years together. I grimaced at the backlash by the right-wingers. I smiled as Junior finally snapped his losing streak in Michigan. None of this is what I want to talk about, though. Actually, I don't really want to talk about the main subject of this post, either, but so many people in my office and gym have been asking me, "As a NASCAR fan, what do you think about that black woman official's lawsuit?" It's difficult to answer. Not to formulate my opinion--that's been relatively easy. It's the articulation that's hard. It's the knowledge that I'm probably going to piss someone off or make something I love look awful.
Her name is Mauricia Grant. She worked as a Nationwide (formerly known as Busch, the second tier) series technical inspector from January 2005 to October 2007. This means she inspected cars to make sure nobody was cheating. She documented many, many, many incidents of racist language, sexist language, and sexual harassment. She is asking $225 million dollars from NASCAR.
Let's first talk about the money. My first reaction was, "That's not a lawsuit, that's a Powerball jackpot." I thought of former lawyer Stephan Pastis' satire in Pearls Before Swine, the strips in which his crocodiles sue Zebra for "willful failure to be their food". She and her lawyer will not be getting that entire $225 million, and I'd about bet the farm on that. NASCAR is troubled. Sponsors are harder to come by, gas prices are way up, and attendance at tracks is going down. Also, I do not believe that her very New York lawyer is going to endear himself or Mauricia to the fans by describing NASCAR as a bunch of unprofessional "nudniks."
Maybe they're using the principle teenage girls sometimes use to get their own way. Let's say you're 13, and your mother only lets you wear cherry Chapstick on your lips. What a buzzkill! Y'all go to Walgreen's, and you pick up a tube of royal blue lipstick and tell her you want to buy it with your babysitting money. She gives a satisfying look of pure horror and barks, "NO!" You sigh, put it back, and ask her if she can at *least* let you get this tube of hot pink. Well, it looks better to her than that blue, so she says yes. You *sprint* to the cashier and get it paid for before she realizes what she agreed to! Then you try not to smirk in the car. See, it was really the hot pink you wanted.
All this said, she's getting something. She's getting something, I can see it like it's in a crystal ball in front of me. And it will still be a painfully instructive amount that reminds the NASCAR organization to train their employees better. The sheer amount and type of harassment Mauricia lists is just so damned overwhelming. Two of Mauricia's fellow officials, named in the suit, were suspended for exposing themselves. Brian France is doing his best to prove that he's clueless. (NASCAR fans of all colors and genders know this isn't a first.) Lee Spencer, senior NASCAR writer at FOXSports.com, reminded fans that she had earned her position "and she did it the hard way."
Listening to Speed TV's pre-race show last weekend, I was upset to hear fans boo the news of the lawsuit as if Mauricia Grant was Kyle Busch. Amateur commentary all over the internet is saddening and maddening. At About.com NASCAR, some posters leapt to uphold the worst stereotypes about our sport: "Don't you just love it. The federal gov. MAKES you hire blacks and they turn around and sue because they're black." "I think things have been handed to them to dam easy." "You haven't seen anything yet, wait until OB becomes president." (I think he means Obama, though what he has to do with this suit is beyond me. *sighs*) FOXSports' forum contained everything from racism to redneck bashing, with generous dollops of sexism. Some say she should never have tried. At BlackSpin, users state that they're not surprised, while a couple of (presumably white) users boogalooed in to prove their point.
I think the NASCAR Nation can be about evenly divided into four groups. There are the ones who are enthusiastic about diversity, both fans who *are* the diversity and white fans who'd love to see fresh faces and have friends of all colors whom they'd like to watch a race with. There are the ones who think NASCAR has to reach new groups to ensure its future. There are the ones who are pretty much apathetic. And then there are the ones who think the attempts at diversity are horrible, who still fly Confederate flags and think it's funny to mock Juan Pablo Montoya's Colombian accent. That latter group sort of louses things up for the rest of us, I think. The group that usually comes to our house to watch is mostly white, but there are Asians and Hispanics among us. Some of the whites are immigrants, and about half of us are queer. We love the rivalries, the crashes, the tricky moves, the trash talk, the bright cars, and in some cases, the cute guys in snug fireproof suits. Twelve of us are going to Dover in September. We are going as a group not only to enjoy the race together, but to have the power of numbers just in case.
I was upset that this happened in a sport I love. I thought NASCAR fans were making a little more progress than that. I thought we as a society were making a little more progress than that. Now I see that if President Obama (knock on wood) comes to Daytona to bellow out "Gentlemen, start your engines!", people will not just be upset because the security will be heightened and they'll have to bring smaller coolers. My best friend, whose nom d'ecran is Yemaya O'Reilly, is multiracial--Jamaican, Irish, and Japanese. (So she's two generations of multiracial.) Like Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, and Halle Berry, she's frequently described as simply "black," and treated accordingly when she goes out in the world. Yemaya tells me not to be so damn surprised. "You don't ever forget that you're with a woman, do you?" she asked me. "The world doesn't let you forget." That's true, it doesn't. "Well, it doesn't let me forget that I'm with a woman, either. And it doesn't let me forget I'm quote-unquote 'black'. It's only people in the majority who can let themselves forget that the world's not fair to everybody." Of course, she's right. One good thing that may come of this lawsuit is that Mauricia has forced people who want to forget out of their complacency. I'm sure she'd much rather be inspecting cars this weekend.
Oh, and if I don't blog until then, a blessed Summer Solstice to all who celebrate!
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