We were fortunate to witness Mark Lowrey’s historic feature win at this year’s Chili Bowl Nationals. When the recent issue with NASCAR suspending a driver for using an inappropriate word happened, we reached out to Lowrey for a response. Our initial intention was to examine this incident from a different perspective. In order to hold up a topic to the sunlight and grasp for understanding, it is wise to look at all the various facets.
In typical Lowrey fashion, the driver was very open and responded to our request with an insightful opinion/editorial piece that we want to present here. Without further introduction, here is Mark’s response to our initial request:
A few years ago, I was at a track for the first time and wound up winning the race by more than a half a lap. After going across the scales, I had to wait for the rest of the drivers to be weighed, which allowed about 50 men to congregate in an angry group. I was the only African-American crew member in the pits, so you can imagine what the gathering crowd looked like.
I heard the N-word yelled in my face so many times, I was certain I was not going to make it out of the track without a beating at the least. I quickly walked to my car, started it, and called a friend. Then I sat ready to defend myself since the three people I was with would not last long fighting this crowd. That moment left a mark.
Since I started driving a race car with aspirations of becoming a household name, representing a great company, and fighting for championships, I’ve had so many conversations with people inside the sport about the N-word, I have lost track of them all.
- Is it ok to use it?
- Can white people use it?
- Can white people use it if a black person tells them it is ok?
- Is it ok to say it if it is part of a song?
- Rappers use it so why can’t I?
And the answer to all these questions and the ones you may have while reading this is: No and at no time is it ok for ANY human to use this word, especially a person who is not black. This can be seen as insensitive, and the explanation is clear and uncomplicated.
Brief History Of Its Use
Let’s jump right in and not bullshit one another while this subject is current and being hotly debated. At no time in the United States has the N-word been thrown at a black person in an attempt to give praise, elevate an individual or group, make them feel great about themselves, or be overwhelmed with a great sense of pride.
Instead, its use is a racist insult used to imply contempt which states, you as a black person are inferior to me. You as a black person more closely align with an animal than a human. That is what the word means when it is used. That is why it invokes such anger and why no human – especially a person who is not black – should ever use it.
I have almost gotten lucky twice in my career in regard to gaining a national sponsor who believed in me enough to represent their company. One of these stands out because of how poorly it ended. After several meetings (but before signing) a couple of the company’s marketing individuals said, “We really like you, but we are not sure what sponsoring a black driver would do to our brand.” I was so caught off guard that I sat there speechless, trying to swallow my pride and hold back the tears as I saw it all slipping away.
Looking at the motorsports industry, there are not many active black drivers. The meeting I referenced is never far from my mind as I still work to find funding and new driving opportunities. There are times I wonder how many other marketing people feel the same way.
When race teams are sponsored, they are representing corporate America, and whatever company may be on the side of their car. These companies are full of people of varying colors and ethnicities whose hard work gives each team and driver the ability to show up at the track and race. The people who make the transfer of money or sit on the committee that approves the sponsorships might be black or may have grandchildren who are black, or a spouse who is black.
If a person working at one of the fortune 500 companies were to call another employee the N-word, they would be fired on the spot. Racing is no different and shouldn’t be looked at differently.
Others Use It
Like many of you, I hear hip-hop artists (rap music) use the N-word or a variation by changing the last letter from a hard R to a long A. There are also many black people who have bought into this adjustment and believe it makes the word mean something different. But the root meaning of the word has not changed. Since the beginning of time, entertainers have done things for effect. Does that mean we should do it just because we see it performed? Think of it this way:
Would you handcuff yourself, put a straight jacket on, be hung from a crane by your feet, and dunked into 10 feet of water to see if you could escape before you drown? Why not? Houdini did it.
Would you attempt to jump 14 Greyhound buses on a Harley Davidson XR 750? No? Evel Knievel did it.
How about strapping into Kyle Larson’s #57 World of Outlaws sprint car and run the cushion at your favorite track and not kill yourself? Why not? The great drivers do it.
Often, people will respond with, “that is different,” but it is not. The physicality of the above activities may be different, but the effect of what they do is the same as a word being used. We watch people perform and become inspired by the things they accomplish and dream about achieving goals we set in our lives; with the understanding, the outcome of one attempt could be harmful to ourselves, loved ones, perfect strangers, or all the above, and that stops us.
When words are used for effect, we forget how harmful they can be to ourselves, loved ones, or perfect strangers, and the red flag is never thrown. I liken it to this: if you are fighting with your wife, children, siblings, or someone you care about and call them a nasty name during the argument because you knew it would hurt them, it is “ok.” It may never be forgotten, but it can be forgiven in most cases. However, if I came along and called one of the people you care about the same name, chances are you would not be ok with it. I can talk about my momma, but you can’t talk about her.
When I hear this word used by other hip-hop artists or other black people, I always keep this in mind, even though I personally do not agree with anyone using the word. To abolish the word would mean we eventually forget a part of our country’s history. As horrible and offensive as this part of our history is, those who do not know the history are doomed to repeat it and I would rather not.
When Is It Ok?
When I first started racing, I accepted I would hear the N-word many times, from many people… and I have. This topic has created great productive conversations and I have noticed a change in the language with the teams and people I spend time with inside the racing industry. It shows me that even though a person may have been raised one way, they do have the ability to make changes in their lives if there is something in their lives worth the effort. Racism is a learned behavior and none of us are born with it in our hearts. If it is not in your heart, it is not in your head, and if it is not in your head it never gets said.
So when is it ok?