At the age of twenty-one, Tiger Woods won the Masters Tournament, and never had the African American community been so excited about golf. Nike built its advertising campaign around this exuberance by producing the “I am Tiger Woods” commercials. Yet not since Mohammed Ali, have African Americans been so ultimately polarized by a sports hero. For a time, Tiger was the shining prince who allowed Blacks to celebrate his achievement, thus reminding the community of other Black figures whose struggles radically changed the perception of what it is to be African American. That time has come and gone.
When he was asked on the Oprah show if it bothered him to be called African American, Tiger answered in the affirmative: “Growing up, I came up with this name: I’m a ‘Cablinasian” (Caucasian-Black-Indian-Asian).
There are those that would argue that as a bi-racial person, it is his right to identify as he chooses. Yet to the Black community, these words symbolized a rejection. Colin Powell responded to Woods commentary by stating, “In America, which I love from the depths of my heart and soul, when you look like me, you’re black.” The perception of Tiger as an outsider solidified when he chose as his wife a White Swedish woman, following in the steps of many male African American celebrities who marry outside of their race.
It was announced last weekend that Tiger got into a car accident. Like most incidents involving celebrities, this quickly became headline news. The paparazzi circled like vultures, sure that there was more to the story than a simple traffic incident. One by one, women stepped forward to allege having extra-marital affairs with Woods. Embarrassing text messages came to light, revealing the extent of Tiger’s lechery. Suddenly, the man that led such a private life found that no amount of begging for privacy would erase his name from the headlines, or from Black blogs.
For many, it was easy to ridicule Tiger. He did, after all, refuse to identify solely as Black. Beyond his message of hope, declaring for the entire world that he is African American bound Blacks to Barack Obama. The kind of relationship that the Black community has with Black leaders and celebrities was something that Tiger failed to understand when he made his fateful statement.
Mr. Cablinasian became an instant punchline as many refused to embrace him in the manner that they had supported stars like R. Kelly and Kobe Bryant. Recently, Tiger jokes became huge on the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner show for the past week. In one parody it was stated, “The question everyone in America wants to ask you is, how many white women does one brother want?”
Not only did Tiger marry outside of his race, but the women he allegedly chose to be unfaithful with were also not exactly Black. Just as Michelle Obama adds to Barack’s identity as a Black man in the eyes of the community, Elin, Tiger’s wife, detracts from it. Tired of being passed over, Black women reacted with glee to Tiger’s marital woes.
A commenter on the blog Black Voices wrote:
“As far as I’m concerned, Tiger Woods is just one of the many OREO (cookie) out there, who had to lose himself to gain acceptance in the world that he’s working so hard to exist in. People do have choices in whom they choose but from the beginning of time…and based on his own comments during interviews…Tiger doesn’t know who he truly is. Hence, his ‘all white’ choices.”
On the popular Black blog Bossip, the women that he is alleged to have had affairs with were routinely described as “ho’s” and “bitches.” One commenter stated:
“I GUESS WHITE AINT ALWAYS RIGHT IS IT TIGER. WOW THIS IS GREAT. I HAVE NOT LIKED TIGER WOODS EVER SINCE HE DENIED HE WAS BLACK SO I DON’T CARE WHAT HAPPENS TO HIS SELL OUT *****. I HOPE THERE ARE MORE WHITE HOES THAT COME OUT ON HIM”.
Whom Tiger chooses to engage in sex with should be a personal matter, but his celebrity and his racial identity have caused this to be about more than infidelity. The Black community is not interested in the actual infidelity as much as it is interested in Woods’ complex personal identification. Blackness is very much a disciplined identity with a complex set of behaviours that are necessary for inclusion. When Tiger Woods identified as something else, he broke one of the most sacred rules: Black solidarity at all costs.
He would have been forgiven for the White wife — many Black celebrities have been in interracial marriages — but not fully owning a Black identity is unforgivable for many who must still struggle with racism. Even though he is clearly bi-racial the “one drop rule” still applies in the case of men like Woods, whose Black genes are undeniable. Tiger’s marriage may or may not withstand his dalliances, but what is certain is that his reputation in the Black community has suffered yet another blow.