[Full disclosure: I was born and raised in Indianapolis and spent countless days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway growing up. Last weekend I attended my 29th Indianapolis 500 with my wife and daughters. I have rarely missed a month of May at the track since the 1970s – the notable exception being in 2006 when I was serving in Iraq. I am also a fan of 2017 Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato.]
On Sunday, Japan’s Takuma Sato became the first Asian driver to win the Indianapolis 500. Sato – driving for Andretti Autosports (the Andretti family) – beat Brazilian driver and three-time Indy champion Helio Castroneves in a hair-raising duel over the final laps. It was a thrilling race and a great win by a guy who had shown flashes of brilliance in previous Indy 500s and lost a similar late-race duel to Scotland’s Dario Franchitti in 2012.
After Sato’s exciting win, sports reporter Terry Frie of the Denver Post tweeted:
“Nothing specifically personal, but I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day weekend”
Frie was quickly fired after liberal outrage over his allegedly “racist” tweet.
The Indianapolis 500 is a truly international event but still uniquely American, roaring to life annually at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in America’s heartland for over a century.
Adding to the Americana of the Indy 500 is that it takes place on Memorial Day weekend. Tributes to our military, veterans and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice are a large part of race weekend at Indy. It is a very patriotic event.
The Indy 500 has attracted foreign teams, drivers and auto manufacturers since the beginning. Drivers from 11 different foreign countries have won 29 Indy 500s, the first in 1913. Occasional grumbling by American fans about foreign racers at Indy is nothing new, but what is different about Takuma Sato’s win?
It is not racism.
Japan has a unique place in the consciousness of many Americans.
Consider the messaging necessary to get Americans to push through the horrifying bloodshed in the Pacific during World War II. Search for posters of that era and you will see all manner of cartoonish evil representations of America’s enemies. The death and destruction was on a catastrophic scale, so the images and words had to be strong to keep Americans working hard and new recruits enthusiastic to do their patriotic duty. In the same way, the Japanese, Germans and Italians vilified Americans as murderous gangsters or bloodthirsty cannibals in stirring messages and imagery to keep their populations motivated to continue fighting.
Such powerful management of people’s deepest emotions is difficult, or impossible, to simply switch off once the war is over. But there is more.
Over the following decades, many Americans lost their jobs when the once U.S.-dominated auto industry faced the challenge of Japanese imports. Politicians, along with industry and labor leaders, readily blamed Japan for the loss of jobs. Blaming the Japanese was a simple message that fit squarely with the theme pounded into the consciousness of the World War II generation by our government.
This official anti-Japanese messaging to ordinary Americans of multiple generations is the cultural backdrop against which Sato took his otherwise routine victory lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In America’s heartland. With a large Japanese flag. On Memorial Day weekend. Just blocks away from a large factory full of United Auto Workers at the other end of Main Street in Speedway, Indiana. Americans of certain generations had the emotional reaction for which they were trained. It was not against Japanese people, in general, or Sato, in particular. It was a reaction to seeing the flag of a nation our government, industry and labor blamed for American war dead and lost U.S. jobs. In the same way, it would be understandable if older Japanese were uncomfortable when an American first won a sumo wrestling title in Japan.
Frie’s innocuous comment reflected the honest feelings of a lot of good, hard-working Americans about something that had never happened before: a Japanese Indy 500 champion. But suppose the worst. If Frie was uncomfortable with Sato winning the Indy 500 purely because he is Asian, those on the left should be OK with that.
Liberals have spent the past few years creating a new grievance called “cultural appropriation.” Leftists recently used this to put a burrito food truck out of business solely because the lady proprietors were white, explaining that only Mexican people are allowed to make Mexican food. The ladies were described by liberal media as having stolen Mexicans’ culture for profit. And we have all suffered through lectures about St. Patrick’s Day, sports mascots, Cinco de Mayo, theme parties and Halloween costumes that cultural Marxists tell us belong exclusively to some group and constitutes a “hate crime” if enjoyed by anyone else.
By the same idea advanced by liberals accusing Terry Frie of racism, Takuma Sato’s Indy 500 victory appears to be cultural appropriation, right? Why are liberals not demanding Sato apologize for appropriating an iconic American cultural event – on a sacred weekend where we honor American war dead, no less – and renounce his victory and agree to sensitivity training?
Because that would be ridiculous. No less ridiculous than the demands for political correctness everywhere else.
It is difficult to imagine how Frie could have worded his tweet any more gently. It reads like an opinion for further discussion. He even goes out of his way to say he has nothing against Sato. Far more disturbing than Frie’s tweet is liberals’ delegitimizing, politicizing and vilifying an honest expression of feelings and his employer’s rush to fire a worker to appease screaming leftists – the same hypocritical leftists who demand sensitivity over cultural appropriation.
Congratulations to Takuma Sato and Andretti Autosports for their great win at Indianapolis. Unfortunately, we are racing as a culture toward a world where sharing any opinion that can be twisted into something leftists find offensive is grounds for termination.