Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tiger Woods and the "One Drop Rule"

Tiger Woods won the 2006 British Open to capture his 3rd claret jug and 11th major championship. I root for Tiger Woods whenever he tees it up. He and I actually have a lot in common. We both suffer from allergies and near-sightedness. We've both overcome childhood speech impediments. We both used to wear braces. Neither one of us goes by his first name. Our fathers both served in Vietnam. To the uninformed observer, we're both African-American males in our early 30s. Yes, it's a match made in heaven. (Well, he did attend Stanford, but I stopped holding that against him many years ago.)

In spite of all these similarities, my boy Tiger has made life a little hard on me at times. You see, Tiger, by his words and actions off the golf course has started quite a few arguments within my circle of family and friends. I'm usually the one trying to defend him. I've now given up.
I know what you're thinking. What has he said? What has he done? First, let me tell you what he hasn't said or done.

He hasn't gotten stopped for driving under the influence. The police haven't discovered him with a stash of marijuana. I don't think he's ever stayed at a hotel in Eagle, Colorado. He hasn't fathered a bunch of kids by a bunch of different women, or climbed into the gallery during a tournament and started throwing punches.

He's never said that he's not a role model. He's never referred to the millions he makes as "slave wages" or questioned how he could feed his family on an income equal to the GNP of several small countries. As far as I know, he's never threatened to eat Phil Mickelson's children. He's never referred to himself as his own favorite charity.

No, Tiger Woods said he was a "cablinasian" and he married a blonde bombshell from Sweden. Ouch. Tiger, you're killin' me.

For those of you who don't know, Tiger's "cablinasian" comment was a reference to his racial and ethnic heritage: caucasian; black; asian; and (american) indian. Long after he's stopped catching heat for that comment, I still catch heat for it.

I am all for the recognition of multi-racial identities. I wrote my senior thesis, in part, on this subject. Statistical data and anecdotal observation all support the contention that the "browning of America" has been going on for quite some time. Amen. If distinctions of skin color become nonexistent, then how can we not begin to judge each other based upon the content of our characters. But, we're not there yet, and Tiger Woods is a walking example of how far we still have to go. A "cablinasian" might as well be a character from the Lord of the Rings. You might think you know what it's supposed to represent, but it's nonetheless reserved for the realm of fantasy.

You see, when a black male of my generation, professional athlete or no, says or does something idiotic, I am often called upon either to defend or explain his words or actions. Before any of you reading this think that I am placing the blame solely on the shoulders of white America, let me assure you that this is not the case. Black men of older generations ask me for the same explanation of his behavior. And black women of ALL generations do the same. Who does he think he is? What the hell is he talking about? Cablinasian, uh, was that the guy Billy Dee Williams played in Star Wars?

Yes, I've just about heard it all. I've spent many years trying to explain his point. I've tried to say that he was merely trying to honor his Thai heritage. I've tried to say that he was really asking society to look at its own definitions. Alternately, I've said that he was just plain crazy or that he was misquoted. I'm done. Now, I just think he was wrong. Someday, we all may be able to look at our family trees and split our racial and ethnic identity into as many parts as we can find. Cablinasian may be one of over 256 boxes one can check on a job application, census questionnaire, or any other document placed in front of us. Until then, I will hearken back to the days of the Old South, and adhere to the "one drop rule". Here's why.

If Tiger Woods ever actually does anything absolutely crazy or embarassing, the term "cablinasian" will never come up. As a member of the black community, I will suddenly be called upon to embrace him. It happened with Michael Jackson, but it doesn't only happen with celebrities. I've watched "Cops" more times than I care to admit, and I've never heard a perp referred to by a multi-racial classification. "We have a male cablinasian suspect, early 30s on foot". Nope. Every statistic used to tell me that black males are underperforming white men, white women, and black women, certainly takes cablinasians into account. If I get lumped in with the cablinasian who's caught boosting cars, then I'm going to claim the one who's got 10 major professional golf victories. That only seems fair.

That brings me to issue # 2, Mrs. Tiger Woods. She seems like a very nice young woman. Still, a lot of black women take issue with Tiger's choice in a spouse. Again, I have been called on to defend him. Again, I will defend him no longer.

A female relative of mine has voiced the typical complaint on this. She feels that Tiger, like a lot of other educated, successful black men (see, no cablinasian reference) is sending the message that there are no black women he deems of marriageable quality. She usually proceeds to insult black men in general and bemoan our seeming fixation with interracial dating and marriage. She herself states unequivocally that she would not date or marry a non-black man. I have not yet asked her if this extends to a desert island scenario or a "survival of the human race depends on it" scenario. I guess we'll all just have to cross that bridge when we come to it, but, as a species I have my doubts as to our survival.

A friend of mine, an educated, successful black woman, has a slightly different view. She similarly badmouths Tiger (and Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Cuba Gooding, Jr., et. al.) for their marriage choices. She, however, criticizes Tiger for marrying someone who, if she were an African-American female, he would not give the time of day much less a wedding ring. She has told me that, in general, black women are ahead of black men in terms of education and earning power. To her, this means that, individually, a black woman can justify marrying a white man while a black man cannot justify marrying a white woman.

Well, I've finally broken down here. I used to feel that my friend's view was hypocritical. Now, however, I recognize that her argument is no more or less logical than my own argument regarding Tiger and his attempt at racial self-definition. We have both reached our decisions based upon both statistical data and upon what we deem is good for African-Americans as a whole. In essence, if I'm calling on Tiger to "take one for the team", why can't she do the same? I think I speak for her (and many others) when I say, Tiger, I wish things were different, we're just not at that point yet.

As Tiger celebrates his win, I will also be busy. I will be trying to construct a family tree for Mrs. Tiger Woods. I'm cautiously optimistic, but I think that if I go back far enough, I can find a way to apply the "one drop rule" to her as well. That should settle the issue. Perhaps a trip to Sweden is in order for 2007.



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