NASCAR Points the Direction for Blacks
July 7, 2015
NASCAR and one of its top drivers, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has settled a long-standing debate in the black community. Early in the 20th century two of giants of black intellectual thought contested with each other about the best course for the black community to develop. Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, contended that blacks should focus on economic development even at the expense of political and social progress. Alternatively, W.E.B. DuBois, one of the founders of the precursor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), argued that agitating for political and social rights was necessary for black progress.
In the midst of demands that the confederate flag be removed from the South Carolina State House grounds, NASCAR announced that it would continue its long standing policy of disallowing the use of the confederate flag in any of its capacities. A few days later, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. reiterated his belief that the flag is offensive to an entire race and belongs in a history book.
Considering NASCAR’s pursuit of diversity as a way of growing its fan base, the reaction of its sponsors to the confederate flag in understandable. No more than 10 percent of NASCAR’s fan base is black. Not only is NASCAR seen as a predominantly white sport, but the average fan is over 50. Increasing the number of blacks and Latinos through the turnstiles can directly increase the NASCAR’s profits. Moreover, corporate sponsors are reluctant to back sports whose primary appeal is to old white folks. The most likely path to future growth and success is through the black and Latino communities. While NASCAR is taking steps to increase the diversity of its fan base, such as increasing the number of minority drivers (they have had fewer than 6 black drivers), it seems clear that offending an entire race is not a growth strategy.
The decision of the sponsors of NASCAR to distance themselves from the confederate flag seems to reflect both the economic potential of minorities on the one hand and their social and political power on the other hand. Blacks have attained enough economic clout to be an attractive market for advertisers to woo. Similarly, without the social and political influence that blacks have attained, they would not be able to ensure that their economic clout could be exercised like other consumers. Adopting the strategies of both Washington and DuBois seems to have been the most productive resolution of their conflict.