The decision as to whether or not to write this post has been weighing on me pretty heavy over the weekend. By all accounts Florideah’s Swampfest was a huge success, and judging from post on social media, an absolute blast for everyone in attendance. Several post even likened it to the Texas Toast and Ghetto Street contest of the past. BMX needs events like that and Swampfest helped raise money for a good cause, helping with Scotty Cranmer’s recovery. For that reason I almost feel bad putting out any negativity towards it. So, before I go and open up this can of worms, I ask that you hear me out and read this with an open mind.
Getting straight to the point, I was completely taken aback on Friday when a video of people cruising the Swampfest dirt jumps popped up on Instagram and I noticed that the Confederate battle flag was flying above the roll-in. Now that might not have a lot of significance to you, but for me as a black guy who grew up on the edge of what is considered the South, it had a lot of significance. You’d be extremely hard pressed to find a bigger symbol of hate in our country. Sure, some people will argue that to them the flag is about southern heritage and not about racism and hate, but let’s be honest here. If the origins of a symbol, (in this case the Confederate battle flag) are rooted in racism and hate, that symbol is going to forever represent that. You can’t just arbitrarily decide that a symbol no longer carries those associations!
Take for instance the swastika. Though it had a completely different meaning before Hitler adopted it for use on the Nazi flag, it came to be perceived as symbol of evil on an unimaginable scale. Nobody in their right mind is ever going to put up a swastika, claim it as “German pride” and not think that most people aren’t going to think they are some kind of racist hate filled Nazi sympathizer.
Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m the type of person who believes that everyone has to right to their opinions or beliefs no matter how far off they are from mine. My real issue isn’t that the Confederate flag was up and flying above the roll-in of some jumps on some dude’s property where a BMX event was being held. That’s his property and he has every right to think whatever, do whatever and put up whatever the hell it is that he wants. My issue is that a flag that is viewed by so many as a symbol of racism and hate was openly flying at a sponsored and media covered event. Did the sponsors know beforehand that a Confederate flag would be flying above the event? Probably not. Should Shadow and Subrosa have put up and left their banners on the roll-in under said flag? Not a good look in my opinion, and I’m not even going to get into the fact that at some point during the event a LGBT pride flag was hung upside down under that Confederate flag.
The whole situation was a pretty bad look for BMX and for our industry as a whole. I can’t help but wonder what kids, parents, riders from outside of this country, and even people outside of BMX will think when they watch the video coverage of Swampfest and that flag is so clearly waving around in the background. I really feel that the companies sponsoring the event and the media outlets covering it should have taken a stand. I’m pretty sure that say if this event had been in Germany and people showed up and there was a swastika flag flying above the course, sponsors would have immediately pulled out and there would be no media coverage. Believe what you want, but as far as myself and a lot of other people are concerned, what the Confederate flag represents is on par with the racism and hate that the swastika now does.
I’m sure for some people who haven’t had to deal directly with racism and hate, it may be hard to understand why this would be such an issue for me. Like I said, I grew up on the edge of the South and I quickly learned that when you saw the Confederate flag that you generally should avoid the place where it was at. Avoidance only goes so far though, as was very apparent when a truck load of mother fuckers came storming the skatepark we were building screaming “Get out of here niggers!” while waving bats and pipes. Luckily I had just reloaded the nail gun and a volley of three and a half inch nails sent them running back from where they came.
It’s sad but I literally have dozens of stories like that. The point is that racism and hate are very real things and there’s no place for them OR for the symbols associated with them in a sport as diverse and multicultural as BMX. At least not at events that are supported, sponsored and covered by BMX companies and media outlets. Their fans and viewers deserve better than that!
Feel free to comment away!
Editor’s note: I’m not sure snapped the pic used in this article because it was floating around several different social media accounts. If you’re the one who took it and want it down, just shoot me an email ([email protected]) and I’ll happily swap it out.
Editor’s note #2: Well, after having three different people claim that the photo is theirs and that they want me to take it down, I’m just going to replace it with a photo of H.K. Edgerton from The Raw Story.