Bubba Wallace, the lone black driver in NASCAR, deserves more credit for what he has to deal with regularly. There have been multiple instances where the media treats Bubba Wallace differently than his fellow competitors. There is a built-in double standard that Bubba has to deal with from the media because he is a polarizing figure.
Written by: Robert Fernandes
Regarding NASCAR media, Bubba Wallace will always take the headlines for the slightest matter. Even if his actions mirror those of his competitors’ pasts, the media and fans will take it and run with it. There have been multiple instances of how fans and media have treated Bubba differently in similar cases to his competitors. Specifically, instances with a hacked radio and with reactions to gestures.
After NASCAR’s triumphant return to North Wilkesboro Speedway for their inaugural All-Star Race, lone black driver Bubba Wallace made headline news again for the wrong reason (Taranto, 2023). After Wallace exited the car and removed his helmet, fans listening to Wallace’s radio via different websites and devices heard unfamiliar voices saying degrading things towards Bubba. Specifically, “Go back to where you came from you a———. You’re not wanted in NASCAR,” was said over the radio. As it turns out, a fan hacked into Bubba’s radio and decided to say what they felt about the driver. (Crane, 2023)
This is not the first time this has happened in NASCAR. In 2018, a fan hacked into multiple drivers’ radios and spewed out derogatory comments to them (Martinelli, 2023). In my opinion, due to these radios being easily accessible to listen, you can conclude from the numerous past instances that this makes them liable to be hacked easier so this type of thing is common. If you look up articles for that instance in 2018, you will find one, maybe two articles about it. Look up this Bubba Wallace incident and most, if not all, major news media sites have an article on this. For example, The Guardian, ESPN and Bleacher Report all have articles on the Bubba Wallace situation and do not have any for the 2018 incident. This is just one instance of how he is treated differently. While talking about this situation on his daily YouTube series, “Out of the Groove,” NASCAR insider, Eric Estepp says “It pains me to see a couple jackasses like this taint the headlines and hurt the NASCAR communities reputation.” He also goes on to talk about how the few ruin it for all when things like this happen with the negative stereotype that follows NASCAR regularly. (Estepp, 2023)
Also at North Wilkesboro, Wallace was shown giving someone the middle finger on the camera (Dedaj, 2023). This was followed by news stories stating their disapproval and a statement saying no fines would be handed out (NASCAR, 2023). This same behavior was seen differently when fellow driver, Chase Elliott, showed Kyle Busch the middle finger at Darlington in 2020 (Schwartz, 2023). Rather than making a statement of disapproval, NASCAR reacted by using this video in promos used to promote the Darlington race every year as discussed in an article by Priyank Mithani. Mithani goes in depth about that comparison and uses some Twitter responses to back this claim. The two tweets that caught my eye were “The people that hated Bubba Wallace’s middle finger are the same ones that loved when Chase Elliott did it” and “They literally use Chase Elliott flipping of Kyle Busch in promos when the sport goes to Darlington…” (Mithani, 2023)
Now that’s only a few examples of how Bubba is treated differently but these events pose a great question about Bubba Wallace. Why is he treated so differently in the media? The easy answer is that he is the polarizing figure transcending NASCAR fandom (Conway, 2023). In 2020, and even before, Bubba embraced being the lone Black driver in NASCAR with his actions (Martinelli, 2017).
NASCAR’s roots are in the South and being from the South holds a stigma of racism dating back to pre-civil war days and NASCAR has tried its hardest to steer away from that stigma. (Bach, 2022) They proved this in 2020 when they listened to Bubba about removing the confederate flag from any racetrack and since that day Bubba Wallace was seen differently from those in NASCAR and from the outside world . He was now seen as more than a racecar driver but a social justice activist (Conway, 2023). Since then the way the media treats him opens him up unnecessary attention.
In study about the media habits of political polarization by researchers at Pew Research Center, they concluded that according to one’s political status, one will seek out information from specific sources and mostly those sources. (Mitchell et al., 2014) With this information, you can conclude that if Fox or CNN reports that Bubba intentionally wrecked someone and doesn’t report that Chase Elliott wrecked someone on purpose, this opens a wide open door for people to make assumptions about Bubba, especially if they are not racing fans.
Philosopher John Rawl once said, “Justice emerges when negotiating without social differentiations.” (Rawl, 1971) This means that if we were to look at issues with no bias, a true outcome follows (Christians et al., 2017, p.21) If reporters and fans sat behind a veil of ignorance that Rawl says we should, the harmful attention to Bubba Wallace’s’ every move would lessen.
Fellow drivers and all of NASCAR respect Bubba Wallace and that has been seen many times (Holleran, 2023). He is living a dream, like everyone else he races against. In my opinion, that is how he should be seen, as a racecar driver. Also in my opinion, the way the media treats him differently than others gives fans and casual watchers an unfair impression of him creating this double standard I highlighted before. Instead, people should decide their opinion of him based on what makes him a driver. His personality, the car he drives, the manufacturer he drives for, and such.
Christians, C. G., & Al, E. (2016). Media ethics : cases and moral reasoning (10th ed., p. 48). Routledge.
Rawls, J. (2005). A theory of justice: Original edition. Belknap Press.