This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

November 30, 2009

Catch a Tiger By His Toe: Speaking Back to the Woods Affair

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Heard on this morning’s TJMS:

Tom Joyner: What’s the n-word in Swedish?

Sybil Wilkes: The same. It’s universal.

There seems to be a certain level of glee in the discussions about what might or might not have contributed to golfer Tiger Woods’ car accident near his home. Glee from all sorts of places, but right now I am interested in the glee coming from some quarters of Black folks.

I guess I should speak for myself in admitting that I have had an ambivalent relationship with Woods over the years. I am speaking for myself—but suspect others feel similarly.

I have rooted for him, and taken some level of satisfaction when he has achieved at the top of his field. I do not like golf one bit. Once when my father-in-law—an avid golfer since his childhood days—took me out to the course with him I got sunstroke and swore no golfing green would ever see my body again. Watching televised golf for me is only slightly more exciting than watching TV test color bars. But still I rooted for him and even watched SportsCenter highlight of his shots.

I have grieved for him. I sensed how close he and his father had been and knew what he must have been feeling when his first and biggest fan died. To me they made the cutest pair: the pride emanating from the elder man, Tiger with his baby face and broad grin by his side. I am not one to talk about folks “looking down from heaven” and being pleased (or displeased). I generally hope that if there is a heaven, there will be something more and better to do than keep tabs on the goings-on here on earth. But in Tiger’s case, I generally have hoped that his Dad was tuning in to tournaments and continuing to take pride in his boy’s accomplishments.

I have scratched my head at him. His characterizations of his racial identity have challenged me to walk my talk. I firmly believe that people should have the freedom to self-identify as they please, in such a way that feels authentic to them—the rest of us be damned. At the same time, I feel that choosing to self-identify as Black in a nation in which Black is degraded can be an important—and brave—political act. I believe that people should have the freedom to love who they want to love and who loves them back—the rest of us be damned. At the same time I am aware that some people in our society are deemed more “lovable” than others, and Black women are often holding the short end of the dating game desirability stick.

So against this context I took in the initial reports of Woods’ one-car collision. My first thought centered on the initial reports that his injuries were “serious.” I thought about how none of us really knows what is in store for us by dusk when we rise out of bed at dawn. How each moment is precious. How money and fame cannot protect us against the great equalizers.

Then the story seemed to stray off of the fairway into the rough. The developing story is starting to read like an action movie that starts out great, but then develops so many holes that you are no longer able to enjoy the plot or even the special effects. Your whole viewing experience dissolves into pointing out to your movie mates how implausible different aspects of the film are. This, actually, becomes the source of most of your enjoyment such that if these loose strings were somehow tied logically in the final act, you’d be disappointed. You cannot wait to review the film for all your friends and relations—telling them that they must see it for its non-intended laugh-value alone.

So the story of Tiger’s accident has developed. I’m not so much worried that he has suffered great injuries—and certainly I am no longer worried that he is on death’s door—as I am interested in the story he has given to the police (apparently) and to the public as well as the public’s reaction to that story. Which brings me back to the glee I am detecting in the reactions.

Again, I’ll speak to myself. (Though I think I could ask these same questions of others.)

I ask myself: do I feel vindicated to see that Woods is being exposed, perhaps, as a regular male human being with normal failings? Am I happy that White women may, after these rumors, no longer be perceived by some Black men as the higher value, lower drama alternative to Black women? Am I relieved that whatever happened in that driveway resulted in Tiger wearing cuts and scratched instead of his wife? Am I tickled and entertained at the implausible (though, I must say, still possibly true) details Woods is sharing with us? Am I titillated by the proactive “lawyering up” of the other woman identified in the gossip around this case? Do I secretly wish that through this experience that Woods may realize that no matter how loved and accepted he may be by mainstream media and White fans, he can still be knocked down to size (and race)?

Am I hoping I am the first to think of the following board-game-inspired punchline to some joke about the affair: Mrs. Woods, in the driveway, with a nine iron?

Am I “wrong” for any or all of these reactions?

On the other hand, do I fear that the familiar apologies for domestic violence—e.g., most of the time it’s the woman who starts it—will be given fuel? Am I sad that whatever the case may be, two little children will have to suffer the upset to their family life and privacy? Am I wary that Blacks harboring unresolved ambivalence toward Woods will be singing the same chorus as Whites harboring unresolved bigotry toward him? Will I be tricked, as I have been in the past, by letting my attention drift to this new, shiny thing instead of focusing on more important national and global matters?

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