It's the elephant in the room.
Almost all of Tiger Wood’s rumored infidelities are with white
women. No one is saying it, but everyone is showing it, by repeatedly
displaying the multiple images of the multiple women. “Tiger likes
white women” can be “said” without being “said.” Journalists don’t
want to say it because we aren’t supposed to care what color a person’s
partners are anymore. But of course we sill care and the journalists
Tiger Woods is an interesting personality when it comes to race. He
was lauded by some and treated with skepticism by others for his
insistent refusal to identify as “just black.” He vigorously claimed
his multiracial heritage. He famously told Oprah the name he had given
himself “Cablinasian” a designation so individual so as to make it not
a reference to a group, but just to himself. Tiger was "post-racial"
before post-racial was cool.
So, what are we to make of this racial performance? It is a show so old that even thinking about it is exhausting. Americans fear of and fascination with the idea of Black men having sexual desire for white women has a long and miserable history in the United States. It is tied to lynching. It is tied to sexism and racism at the same time. It is tied to stereotypes of black hyper-sexuality and animalistic lust. It is tied to the fall from grace of more than one public figure.
One way of interpreting this media spectacle is to consider how
Tiger’s infidelities might be seen in certain quarters as evidence that
no matter how assimilated and clean cut a black man might seem, there
is always the danger that underneath it all he is little more than a
walking stereotype. That is what the always incendiary Rush Limbaugh
has said about the Tiger Woods affair(s). This is a particularly
dramatic moment for such an image to come to the fore of American
culture, right as the country’s collective love affair with President
Obama is increasingly strained over the war, the recession, and health
Given how frequently Americans have fallen out of love with a black
hero, and how often it has been through the association of said heroes
with stereotypes, we have to wonder if Barack Obama, a politician who
was called “The Tiger Woods” of politics by some, is suffering from
some questions about whether his “true colors” are going to show. After
all, gossip rags have been running stories claiming that Obama has a
secret white female or male lover. It Is hard to imagine such stories
having truth, given the eager mudslinging in Washington, it would have
been quite a feat to prevent evidence of such affairs from leaking. I
think the rumors say more about our latent fears than any reality.
But with respect to the Tiger Woods fiasco on the other hand, there
is very good evidence supporting the claim that he was not only a
cheater, but a sloppy one. His indiscretion reveals either naivete,
stupidity or a delusional sense of his power over the women with whom
he was involved. And I think, without getting into the mind and heart
of Tiger Woods, the parade of women, the parade of white women, if
nothing else says, we are far from post racial.
A man who identifies as a member of three non-white racial groups, but appears to have little to no sexual desire (and who appears to act on his every sexual desire) for women of any of those non-white racial groups is a product of history whether he likes it or not. From the 18th through mid 20th century, standards of idealized white beauty were promulgated around the world, and those standards of beauty reflected the ideology of white supremacy that was used to justify the domination and exploitation of non-white people.
We live with the residue of that
history in our ongoing beauty cultures and ideals, not just in the
United States but in many places around the world. Even though
individual women of color have become beauty icons, the normative ideal
remains white and blonde and blue-eyed. I am sure some readers will
respond, “Tiger just has a type, it isn’t racial.” Well, with the
exception of two who look like his wife, all of the women actually look
very different. What unifies them is their race. That’s his type: white.
(There is the one counter example of Jaimee Grubbs, a half Native
American woman who claims to have had an affair with Woods. Grubbs grew
up on a Colville Indian Reservation, and reportedly has given
interviews in which she has shared her racist stereotypes about, and
disaffection for Native Americans. But I digress.)
That said, I would never suggest that Tiger Woods has any obligation
to display any racial loyalty to any of the racial groups to which he
belongs. I think those politics are not useful. Performing loyalty
when it isn’t felt, is both sad and lacks meaning. Nor do I think
loyalty is necessarily displayed through sexual partnerships. There are
many people who have been of service to their communities while
partnering interracially and many who have partnered with people of
their group and been a destructive force within that group.
Tiger Woods has and should continue to be with women he finds attractive (although ideally without the lying and cheating). But our collective fascination with that collective of women, and his own fascination with them, is yet another sign that our racial past continues to impact our racial present.