Revisiting our relationship with Tiger Woods.
During the first twenty minutes of his last podcast (linked below), Bomani Jones talked about Tiger Woods’ win at the Masters and the relationship that people have with what he represents for them. As a kid, I saw him dominate the sport of golf. There are few things in this world less captivating than watching golf on television but, I did that for Tiger, cause he was so damn good. Bomani posits that the all-white country club sports remain all-white for a reason, and that the only way Tiger was able to break into that world is because his greatness was just plain undeniable.
At 13, Tiger was already considered a child prodigy and in an interview at the time, he was asked a question about his future golf career:
Interviewer: What’s the tournament that really captures your imagination?
Tiger: The Masters.
Interviewer: And why’s that?
Tiger: The way Blacks have been treated there. Like they shouldn’t be there. And if I win that tournament it’d be really big for us.
In 1997, at age 21, he did win the Masters. That same year he appeared on Oprah where he described himself as “Cablinasian” (Caucasian, Black, & Asian) which some people admired but others understood as an unwillingness to call himself Black. This was only a few years removed from him talking about “us”. Speaking from a lived experience, this change in thinking isn’t an accident. OJ too was told he could transcend race and we saw how that played out. Tiger operates in a majority white world, and white people have a paradoxical obsession with their own abstract ideas of Blackness. They are simultaneously envious and terrified by it. And in predominantly white spaces, they will do anything they can to tokenize it while also trying to deny it to the Black people who possess what they covet.
The problem was, they could no longer keep this particular black man out of their golf clubs, he was too good. Instead they sought to de-race him. As Bomani points out, “The initial kind of novelty of this had everything to do with race. But, they were trying to sell Tiger woods at once as a member of every race, which then meant that he was a member of no race”. He goes on to say, “I can’t imagine the internalized thought processes that he’s had trying to explain why it is that they out here doing him like this, and some of the problematic conclusions that it appears he’s drawn on what to blame and where the issues are.”
The white people I grew up around confused me in the ways they projected their perceptions of Blackness onto me. They made it clear that I wasn’t white, but they were simultaneously intent on denying my Blackness. That was a time when I didn’t understand the deceptively rigid manichaean realities of the United States. I thought being mixed was real. I was disabused of this misguided notion at 16 when a Plainfield police officer pulled me over and, without asking, marked the box for African-American on my ticket. I took the word of the man with death on his hip.
I don’t know whether or not Tiger has had this realization. There were certainly moments of overt racism like when Fuzzy Zoeller called him “that little boy” and urged him not to put fried chicken and collard greens on the menu. When Woods’ scandal blew up we got a clearer image of how people with a thinly veiled, more subtle brand of white supremacy saw him. Cue the finger wagging, the admonishment, the incessant mocking, getting dropped from ad campaigns. Everyone went out of their way to disparage him. And now, many of those same people are lauding his comeback spirit. America loves to build people up just for the satisfaction of tearing them down again, and as he finds himself in another upswing, we get a renewed look at our entirely conditional relationship with Tiger Woods.
PS: His victory is sweet if for nothing other than the fact that it comes despite significant renovations to the course at Augusta National. Crackers really tried to “Tigerproof” the place he had been ripping to shreds. Bomani alludes to it in his podcast but more can be found here:
The Right Time with Bomani Jones:
Tiger Woods describes himself as 'Cablinasian'. (1997, April 23). Retrieved April 17, 2019, from https://www.apnews.com/458b7710858579281e0f1b73be0da618