Monday, December 21, 2009

Is Tiger Woods Racist?: A Cautionary Tale

Remember the April 1997 Oprah interview? Tiger claimed he wasn't just Black, but was "Cablinasian," honoring and embracing the heritage of both his parents. A citizen of the world. A walking United Nations. Fast forward to 2009 and the unexpressed question on the tip of many tongues: "Is Tiger Woods Racist?"
Let's look at the evidence. His wife, Elin. Very Blonde. Very Fair. Peaches and Cream. Former model and nanny. Girl Next Door Grown Up. She's Nordic - about as far - in more ways than one - from a Black woman as you can get. Perhaps picked so the children would be even further removed. That honoring and embracing, maybe not so much...
And then there's his other women. They are all, so far, White. Primarily blonde, mainly out of the bottle, with ample or amplified figures. Few with dark hair among them; most appear tanned or well bronzed as well. "Playboy" Barbie personified? That California surfer girl the Beach Boys harmonized so eloquently about? Either way, very early 1960s. Looks like Tiger has bought into those stagnant stereotypes in spades. And at least a baker's dozen of women have too.
I'd say he has a problem being (half) Black. And what I don't understand is the lack of a loud, cacophonous outcry from Black women who typically don't like White women stealing their men away. All I hear on point is deafening silence in the mainstream media and derisive whimpering from their "Urban" cohorts.
I'd also say Tiger is stuck in a pre women's lib, pre civil rights movement concept of a woman. And, sadly, he is probably not alone. We've come a long way baby...but have we? And have men? As Tiger's taste clearly shows, the preference for the pale palette still prevails. To Black men, and men in general, why are booby blondes still the ultimate sought after prize? And why are women in this day and age so accommodating and catering to THAT? Betty Friedan must be tossing and turning in her grave. Dove's Campaign For Real Beauty needs to amp it up. Big time.
Is it because approaching 2010, many of us, including Tiger, do not know who and what we are? I am a second generation Italian American, born and bred in New York. The original version of Mattel's aforementioned doll had a blonde ponytail and vastly outsold the fairly contemporaneous brown bubble cut version, which I was given because, we'll, I had (and have) short, relatively dark, curly hair and it was important that I have a doll that looked like me. Despite a wider variety of product, a much harder feat to accomplish today. Growing up, I repeatedly heard "marry your own." I didn't, and the 20 year union was a disaster. I liken it to "culture clash;" such differences can be divisive. During the divorce proceedings, I discovered that my now ex had spent most of that time at massage parlors and with prostitutes who did not remotely resemble flat chested, "au natural" me. I am not a racist, nor am I a bigot or prejudiced. I actually have "atypical" blue green eyes and porcelain skin. But I am a realist with a solid sense of who and what I am. Racially and ethnically blended people do not have that advantage; they are by their very nature pulled in more than one direction, and because of that may have a harder time forming a fixed identity, which may explain their search for and attraction to what they perceive as the All American ideal. It probably doesn't help that the majority of female "role models," from the current Barbies to the multitude of women in or covered by the mass media, still for the most part parallel in appearance that inaugural 1960s doll.
Which brings me to some closing food for thought. Did the political and social movements of the 1960s that created racial and sexual freedom and equality unintentionally and inadvertently birth a backlash failure of self image and crisis in self esteem? Too many variations and choices where we socially require some standards? Does that explain, even partially, the identical affinity, almost fifty years later, for the busty, blushing or bronzed blonde that still stubbornly hangs around? Those inquiries might be useful as a starting point in answering my opening question - "Is Tiger Woods Racist?" - and exploring whether the rest of us are obliviously as well.
As a nation, we are again at a similar crossroads, contemplating sweeping political and social change. Tiger's tale is more than a salacious saga and should be probed for cautionary clues and cues that sometimes what is reaped is other than what is sown. To the powers that be, beware, and take care with our country's future.

Karen Ann DeLuca