Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Let Tiger be Tiger

So I did warn you that since I'm writing a chapter about Tiger Woods I would more than likely be posting about him, especially since Tiger is often seen as the symbol for "THE MIXED RACE AMERICAN" as in, he has claimed his (in)famous "Cablinasian" identity on the Oprah Winfrey Show back in 1997 and he has made continuous claims to being bi-racial and multiethnic, as well as employing a "humanist" universalism in asserting his national identity as a trump card (as in, I'm an American, unhyphenated damn it).

(before I go on to talk more about race and mixed-race issues, for the non-golfers out there, take a look at how much he has torqued his body--how he has wrapped his driver around himself--that's a sign of great form and power--this image is, in part, what makes Tiger a great golfer because I would KILL to have a golf swing like he does--and he makes it look almost effortless!)

Where was I????

Oh yes, Tiger and Race.

There is a deep part of me that feels we should just let Tiger be Tiger. That he is not responsible for taking a stand on every major issue in the world, and especially should not be held to a higher standard than his professional peers in terms of commenting on whether Augusta should allow female members or the responsibility for recruiting black and "minority" golfers to the game. If Rory Sabitini, Ernie Els, Phil Michelson, Sergio Garcia, KJ Choi, and Vijay Singh (and others) were also queried in the same way--about what they are doing to make golf more accessible to a more diverse range of golfers--their own sense of responsibility in boycotting golf tournaments (actually, to be fair, a lot of golfers got asked the Augusta question about women golfers, but Tiger as a lightening rod, got taken to task more stridently than everyone else when the whole thing was happening), and their own efforts at improving the lot of "minority" people, then I think we'd be onto something.

But I don't believe that they are. I think Tiger, right or wrong, gets additional scrutiny because he is perceived to be black and definitely seen as a "minority" golfer.

It reminds me of the Presidential primaries. There is so much attention to questions of sexism and racism, of gender and race, with respect to Obama and Clinton. But is anyone asking John McCain these types of questions? Is anyone wondering how a McCain White House would be a progressive step forward for women or African Americans or people of color? Are we just assuming that Republicans don't care about racism and sexism? The partisan part of me wants to say "YES" but I don't think that's true--I think that the situation is more complex--it just puzzles me that self-identified Republicans have not stepped up more to claim sexism and racism as social ills that they want to tackle. Or perhaps they feel they already have.

I know I started with Tiger but I think I'm going to end with something that has really disturbed me lately, and that's the co-option of language that Conservatives have been doing over the last 20 years. Take, for example, this article by Jay Nordinger of the National Review, published in 2001 (click on title for link). In it he talks about the "racialists" who want Tiger to be the spokesman of all things racial. Nordinger calls himself an "anti-racialist" as if to suggest that talking about race is uncouth, is, in fact, racist. I HATE THAT (IL)LOGIC!!! IT DRIVES ME NUTS!!! It is the way that conservatives have dodged questions of racism and racial equality. Any attention to racial inequity, prejudice, discrimination, means that the person pointing out the racism is, him/herself, RACIST because, according to the conservative definition, any scrutiny or analysis of a situation from a race-based point-of-view is racist. AGHHH!!!!!!

I don't agree with much of Nordinger's opinions, although I do believe, as I noted above, that to a large degree we should "Let Tiger Be Tiger"--that as much as I want him to take on social justice issues--to decry racism and sexism--to take stands because he may, as a mixed-race African-Asian American, know the sting of racism all too well--that this is an unfair expectation to make on him. Although for an alternative perspective, you should read Scoop Jackson's take on the responsibility and the power that Tiger Woods symbolizes in American culture (click here).

There is a part of me that sympathizes with Jackson's argument. A part of me that keeps *hoping* that Tiger Woods will take that stand and make that great gesture--to be someone who practices anti-racism and raises our social consciousness.

But I don't know if it will ever happen, and until the time when I expect this of Mickelson or even, of past greats like Nicklaus and Player, or turning to the LPGA, Wie, Ochoa, Lee, Pak and others, I think I should just let Tiger be Tiger.

But I'm not going to stop my own analysis and questioning and interpretations. Because as someone who does want to practice anti-racism, it's my job to try to understand just how mixed-up we are about mixed-race issues in America.


The Constructivist said...

Hey, is Steve Elling a pseudonym you use when you write for the MSM? And does mispelling Ochoa's name mean you're a closet Sorenstam fan? ;)

Jennifer said...

Hi Constructivist,
Thanks for catching the typo on Ochoa--I think she's a great golfer, so don't want to show any disrespect!

As for Steve Elling, I do agree with the gist of what he's saying, but I think we disagree as to the next step. As in, my issue with the attention paid to Tiger is that the same type of scrutiny over race (or gender or any other "identity politics if you will) are not being applied to other golfers.

I think the main reason for this is power--Tiger has incredible power: he is dominant in the world of golf (ie: wins a lot of tournaments), which also means he leads the world's golfers on the career money list, and when we add endorsements, no one doubts that Tiger will be the world's first sports billionaire.

And people, generally, really like him. He's not controversial in terms of his personal/family life. What I mean is, he doesn't trash talk like Rory Sabitini. He isn't a self-proclaimed and unabashed alcoholic like John Daly. He doesn't seem to be a womanizer, he's apparently unfailingly polite to the media and fellow players and fans, if a bit on the cold/aloof side. And he plays a beautiful game of golf.

That being said, where I would part with Elling and certainly with Nordinger, is the structural and historic problems with the sport. People seem to believe (and this is true not only in golf but in general society) that once the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1965, everything became OK. In other words, once the "Caucasian Clause" (rules that allowed only whites to essentially play certain PGA tournaments, in effect from 1943-1961--this is for others not for you Constructivist) was repealed in 1961, that didn't mean that everyone was going to be happy with AfAm golfers or, more importantly, that AfAm golfers would have access to play--in either muni or country club courses. Because even if something is "public" and "open" doesn't mean that people can make it clear that you don't belong or do things that make it technically impossible for you to play the game (which is one of the reasons Jim Crow laws existed for so long. African American men may have gotten the vote in the late 19th century, but the certainly weren't able to exercise this right freely thoughtout the segregated South).

So I guess when people point to Tiger and say, "See, we have no problems--racism in golf is a thing of the past--Tiger doesn't have a problem with it, why are all these other people giving him (and by extension the establishment of the PGA or the sport itself) a hard time, I think people recognize that the Caucasian Clause in golf and Jim Crow in the South would have continued for a good long while if people didn't protest. If both black & white (and every other hue of golfer for that matter) didn't say this is wrong--we aren't going to stand for it.

I read a brief blurb in an AfAm Journal contrasting Woods' lack of stance with white South African golf legend, Gary Player. Apparently Player had turned down an invitation to play certain tournaments in his home country as a protest against apartheid. I tried to confirm this by googling Player, but I wasn't really able to find anything to substantiate this--which doesn't mean he didn't do it, but it does make me feel that golf is a pretty conservative place that doesn't want to point to controversies, especially regarding race. Player has also set up a charitible foundation to help educate underprivileged children around the world, so I defintely think that there are prominent golf celebrities (Phil Mickelson also comes to mind) who have really great charities that they've established, especially to help kids.

Anyway (and I know this is much longer than you or anyone else probably expected) I do often feel torn about Tiger. Because he does have all this power and what he says and does is followed by billions around the world and he could probably be taking on humanitarian and social justice issues and make a substantial difference. Whether it would hurt his endorsement deals is another question--which is I think why some people are annoyed and frustrated by him, because a millionaire (soon to be billionaire) golfer worried about losing endoresments (I mean,lets face if, if Tiger never gets another endorsement, he still has money in the bank let alone the purses he will continue to win on the tour) strikes people (including me) as being gross.

Of course, not being a millionaire myself (or one overly concerned about acquiring money--because lets face it you don't get into academia for the bucks) maybe I'd want to clutch tight to the purse strings.

But Tiger is wrong to think that there's nothing he can do when he says that Private Clubs set their own rules and that he doesn't have a say in what they do. I think that's, especially, what strikes people (and me included) as short-sighted and potentially placating of a more conservative golf crowd--because of COURSE there's something he, and everyone else on the tour can do. In fact, I'd argue, it's the most American thing you can do--to protest and let someone know that their policies are against an open society--against a democratic principle that all people are created equal.

(she climbs down off soap box now to finish eating breakfast).

David said...

What a phenom. Google Answers once put together a very nice Q&A piece on Tiger Woods' personal heroes:

Who are Tiger Wood's Heroes

His dad's on the list, of course, but a few of them might come as quite a surprise.