When Assimilation Goes Wrong: Negro NASCAR



You may remember The Assimilated Negro from his Negro Bowl I coverage for us last year. He returns to us to discuss NASCAR's odd decision to try to Negro-ize their sport.

I'm a big fan of diversity and cultural mash-ups: Fried-chicken flavored mayo. Kentucky Fried Couscous. General Tso's Tacos. I plan to invent these. Years ago I voted YES on the "White People Rapping" reform bill, and I continue to lobby for more black bloggers in movie roles opposite Jessica Biel. My record on willy-nilly cultural integration is clear.

Nevertheless, after reading about one man's plan for diversifying NASCAR — his blueprint for Negro NASCAR, if you will — I was forced to wonder, is all diversity good? Should we minorities be interested in every little cultural Aperitif Y.T. has to offer? And, what is NASCAR exactly?

For you to understand my reason for pause, let me lay out this Negro NASCAR fairytale as I understand it:

Part 1: The Dreamer

Setting: A magical fantasy land where NASCAR is "as integral to the fabric of this country as the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball." Weeee! What dreams may come!

Meet Rick Clark, dreamer, a magical wizard visionary who one day hopes to see blacks and Latinos take an interest in Caucasians driving around in circles really fast. Not because exposing NASCAR to different minority groups would help enrich the lives of those people (because, y'know, it's a series of car races, so it wouldn't), but because blacks and Latinos will have 2 trillions dollars of spending money in 2009. And I guess that means ... RACE CARS ON US, BABY!!!

Hmmm, I'm thinking that sounds a little cynical on my part. I don't mean it to be. Really! Who am I to clip a brother riding his dream in the fast lane? And furthermore, I should show some respect: Rick Clark boasts a resume to make you hold your breath:

"One of the NFL's top agents in the 1990s, his clients included a list of high pro football draft picks — Bryan Still and Sherman Williams in the NFL and Eric Carter in the Canadian Football League. Now that eye for picking developing talent is turning itself NASCAR's way... "

Mmmmmm. Bryan Still and Sherman Williams you say? Very impressive, Mr. Clark. Glad you mentioned it. Only the best will suffice for a job like this, and your track record demonstrates you are clearly more than ready to usher in this new era.

(We interrupt the narrative thread of this post to bring you this Fun Fact that had to be squeezed in somewhere:

Fun Fact: Rick Clark routinely misunderstands the principle of cause-and-effect:

"I think anybody I've ever met that's never been to a race, and you take them for the first time, most of the time they're pumped up [when they leave]," explains Clark

Yes, Mr. Clark. People are also pumped to leave work at the end of the day. Children are often pumped to leave school for the summer. And everyone is pumped when the race is over.

We now return you back to your original post ...)

OK, maybe I'm being too harsh. I admit to being a little close-minded about NASCAR. And I don't want to be. Really! So let's look more closely at Clark's 3-Step Diversity Plan.

Part 2: The Dream

Step 1: Get 'em while they're young

"These [Nextel Cup] race car drivers started very young.— 4, 5, 6, 7, 8-years-old," adds Kymberly Brantigan, public relations representative for Jeff Gordon and a consultant for Clark. "If minority groups aren't starting at that age, then you have to go back to that age group and get them started."

So what does Kymberly mean by "get them started?" Like, I had a Big Wheel when I was little. And when I walk fast I say "Vroom Vroom" in my head. So would that constitute "getting started"? Or is she saying 4-year-olds need to be given actual race cars? Cause that makes sense to me also.

Step 2: Trailer Park Marketing

"Clark plans to do that through his team's mobile marketing program. Not unlike the 53-foot souvenir trailers you'd usually see inside the track on race weekends, the team has mobile units they plan on debuting through national tours to spread the message of NASCAR all over the country — in places where people have never given the sport a second look. Black colleges, urban elementary schools, hip-hop concerts..."

Genius! I never thought about a trailer park convoy proclaiming the greatness of NASCAR as something that would be regarded as entertainment at say, Howard University, or a 50 Cent concert, or anywhere really. But now that you mention it, yeah, who needs this boring-ass hip hop concert when I can get a souvenir from the NASCARAVAN. This is why we need dreamers!

Step 3: If Jay-Z has a clothing line, NASCAR should have a clothing line

"That pop culture mission, described as "edutainment" by Clark, involves packing these trailers with far more than just the basic education of the team and sport. He plans a tour filled with motivational speakers, debuting a new NASCAR-oriented clothing line called Krewe Wear with an urban look to it —"

First of all, many blacks and Latinos remember Edutainment as an album by hip hop legend KRS-ONE. It came out in '90. The term never caught on as a word we models-for-urbanwear would put air-quotes around, but that was then, this is now. Edutainment is where it's at. I get it! It's style AND substance, dude. Almost like NASCAR itself.

Also, motivational speakers? For real, Rick? Do you like to grab a beer with the fellas and reminisce on all the motivational speakers you used to listen to when you were young? Do you have any recollection of your youth at all?

(This reminds me of a joke I just told myself:

Q: What did the black blogger say to the motivational speaker standing on the ledge trying to hoard in on his Nike money?

A: Just Do It!)

The piece-de-resistance though is the NASCAR "urban" clothing line. Here's a logo from the Krewewear line:

When Assimilation Goes Wrong: Negro NASCAR

But we thought if NASCAR is going to be so blatant about exploiting our "classic urban style" they might like this one as well:

When Assimilation Goes Wrong: Negro NASCAR

Part 3: The Checkered Flag of Diversity Denied

"To have the opportunity to — not be the first African-American in the sport by any longshot — but to be the person that could perhaps be the catalyst for positive change over a period of time and to help the sport grow, that is greatly appealing to me as a winner," said Clark.

This is a heartwarming sentiment. And I'm not just saying that because this is a sports blog without access, favor, or discretion. It's more like whenever I see the term "African-American," I get butterflies and that warm snuggly feeling inside. See I don't have a problem with Rick Clark being a ganja smoker dreamer. I'm a dreamer too! Really! But the big problem here — besides the hallucinogens — is this is all about propagating NASCAR.

I hate to be the one to break the news here, but NASCAR is kind of boring. And more important, in these environmentally conscientious times, it's not what the biz people call "a sustainable model." I love car wrecks as much as the next repressed and selfish American, but I don't think they put those cars in the recycling bin when they're done. I'm no scientist, but between the exhaust and debris, I think we can safely say that the ecological footprint left behind your average NASCAR event is equivalent to a nuclear explosion.

Also, I think about the ease with which anyone can play basketball, baseball, football. That seems natural to me. All you have to do is round up some people and a ball. NASCAR, on the other hand, is a sport that requires rounding up an army and invading another country for fuel.

Sooooo, look, I don't want to be a hater. Really! NASCAR deserves its little bit of space. We didn't free the rednecks just so they would have nothing to do. But not every dreg of American culture needs diversification. Maybe if I'm properly "edutained" and watch cars go in circles for 5 hours I might change my mind, but for now I'm going to stay working on my Jessica Biel audition tapes and advising fellow Minority-Americans (awwww, that means all of us) to hold tight and not buy their 4-year-old a race car just yet. At least wait until 2009 when we get our 2 trillion dollars. Then you'll have enough to throw some rims on that piece. Or as Mr. Clark prefer to call them, "urban hubcaps."

When Assimilation Goes Wrong: Negro NASCAR

(Images by the great Miss Gossip.)