“I don’t get NASCAR. But my students dig it, and I’m cool with that. Actually, I’m growing to like it.” -- Nikki Giovanni, from a lecture at the
At the apex of one’s high regard for himself/herself and for fellow human beings, or what Mazlov calls “self-actualization,” we are our most innovative, most able to collaborate with people of different backgrounds to solve the problems we all have in common, and most of all, we possess morality. Until we reach that point, we allow prejudices to hinder our ability to seek solutions to the common problems of humanity and fail to actualize our creative capacities -- ultimately limiting our emotional health, physical safety, and financial success. Self-actualization on a wide-scale is paramount if the project of multiculturalism is to ultimately succeed in
As I sit to write this morning, two black women are inspiring conflicting feelings about the outcome of the project of multiculturalism. And I bet that after hearing about the case of Mauricia Grant, Nikki Giovanni might take her praise for NASCAR back, faint though it may have been.
Virginia Tech Professor Nikki Giovanni is one of my favorite poets and scholars. She is astute, humorous, inspirational, clever, and her writing and pedagogy reflect a paradoxical truth about cross-culturalism that should be a mantra for anyone interested in social justice -- We all want simple things in life, yet understanding one another’s wants may be the most difficult undertaking of all.
Giovanni, once a militant, revolutionary poet whose involvement in the Black Arts Movement marked her as an artist both at the vanguard of black modernist poetry and the civil rights movement, is now a professor at Virginia Tech University, a predominately white institution in the decidedly rural Virginia town of Lynchburg. And though her students’ heroes include “George Bush, Dale Earnhardt, and Triple H,” and favorite poets include “
On the surface, Mauricia Grant represents the kind of diversity and lack of prejudice that we are always inspired by when it occurs in corporate
Grant is suing NASCAR for $250 million, citing wrongful termination and a history of sexual harassment and racial discrimination during her tenure with them. Much more than sour grapes, Grant alleges that she has filed complaints over the years on several occasions when co-workers and supervisors sexually harassed her, made ignorant racist comments in her presence, and occasionally, intersected the two. Her nickname was “Nappy Headed
This story has exposed the underbelly of the sport that so many of Giovanni’s students love. What this story has shown us is that NASCAR administrators are plagued by a lack of the self-actualization that we must possess to advance human life as we know it. NASCAR, in this instance, has certainly not done anything to gain market share among women, people of color, and pursuers of social justice with their disdainful treatment and institutionalized racism and sexism inherent in their dealings with Grant. Evidently, NASCAR believes that it can advance the sport and increase market share by drawing in more fans from diverse backgrounds the same way the PGA has with Tiger Woods (who was called a watermelon and fried chicken eater by a fellow PGA member, and a commentator recently called for fellow players to “lynch” him). The same way that the WTA has with the Williams sisters (who are consistently labeled as aloof and unfocused by sport media, who are remarkably unwilling to address the racially provoked boos of spiteful fans every time they win at Wimbledon). The same way that the media continues to sanction the vitriol of Don Imus, who continues to assault civil sensibility on air without any retribution.
Sport culturists, or people who believe that athletic competition carries with it great possibilities for multicultural collaboration and provides great examples of human triumph in an often inhumane world, know that sport that has provided us with some of the most important moments in social progress and racial uplift in American history. NASCAR, as have other professional sports organizations in the past, has failed to live up to its potential in this regard. What’s important now is that NASCAR deals with this situation with sensitivity, and more importantly, with a commitment to justice and ensuring that no employee is ever subjected to the wrongs Ms. Grant alleges she was subjected to.
If NASCAR does handle this situation properly, perhaps I may consider changing my mind about the sport, which I now find disdainful in addition to being unentertaining. I hope I change my mind, re-affirming sports great power to heal us, and, erstwhile, confirming one of Nikki Giovanni’s most famous poetic lines:
“I am so hip, even my errors are correct.”