In an open letter titled "My Lessons Learned," NASCAR driver Kyle Larson said he was "rightly" suspended after he was recorded using the N-word during a livestream.
In April, 28-year-old Larson was participating in a virtual race when he used the racial slur. The comment was heard by viewers watching the race on Twitch — a popular streaming platform — as well as NASCAR's e-sports website, and quickly got attention on social media.
Larson was suspended by NASCAR and told to attend sensitivity training, according to USA Today. He was also fired from Chip Ganassi Racing.
"Auto racing is my passion,” Larson explained in his letter. “During the NASCAR off-season, I’ve sometimes competed overseas. On one of these trips, I was around a group that used the N-word casually, almost like a greeting. Of course, it doesn’t matter where this happened, how the word was used, or what the people around me did."
"The fact is that the word was said in my presence, and I allowed it to happen unchecked," he said. "I was ignorant enough to think it was OK, and on the night of the esports event, I used the word similarly to how I’d heard it. As I write this, I realize how ridiculous, horrible, and insensitive it all sounds. And what makes it even worse is that I truly do know better.”
Larson — who is half Japanese — said he was deeply affected by his parents' disappointment following the incident, feeling that he "let them down in a particularly hurtful manner."
"But as much as my parents have always believed in me, there’s no one who holds me to a higher standard than I do. And I had failed. I wanted to hide. I shut down my social media accounts. In the time of COVID-19, wearing a mask in public actually made me feel more comfortable. It wasn’t healthy at all. I needed to take back control," he wrote.
"Since April, I’ve done a lot of reflecting. I realized how little I really knew about the African American experience in this country and racism in general. Educating myself is something I should’ve done a long time ago, because it would’ve made me a better person – the kind of person who doesn’t casually throw around an awful, racist word," Larson explained. "The kind who makes an effort to understand the hate and oppression it symbolizes and the depth of pain it has caused Black people throughout history and still to this day. It was past time for me to shut up, listen and learn."
Larson said he learned that the N-word was not his to use, and how it is connected to "slavery, injustice and trauma."
"I truly didn’t say the word with the intention of degrading or demeaning another person, but my ignorance ended up insulting an entire community of people who, in the year 2020, still have to fight for justice and equality," he wrote, in part.
Bubba Wallace — the only Black driver in NASCAR's Cup Series — praised Larson's essay on social media.
"Great read, proud of Kyle," he tweeted on Sunday.
Larson ended his letter (which you can read in its entirety, here) by saying he hopes his children will learn from his mistakes.
"I can’t go back and change it," he wrote. "But I can control what happens from here on out."
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