1.14.2008

IT'S NOT COOL

I'm largely with ESPN columnist Scoop Jackson concerning his recent article about Tiger Woods, race, and the "lynching" comment: "Now is Time for Tiger to Fulfill Dad's Prophecy." If you missed it, some journalist said the best hope Tiger's competition had was to "lynch him in a back alley." Tiger and his agent have dismissed the comment and held nothing against the person who said it.

Scoop's right: that was an opportunity to really make a dent in race awareness in America. Mainstream America usually only gets two messages: 1) black people are irrationally angry, and we can dismiss their rantings, or 2) black people are past all that, and we can go about our lives.

So when an ugly comment hits the national media, mainstream America holds its breath. Will we have to hear a litany of irrationally angry talk, or will we hear what we want to hear: "Hey, it's cool. We're cool."

Tiger's chosen to play it cool. Barack Obama is afraid to do anything but play it cool, lest he be lumped in with the other black folks mainstream America is tired of hearing from.

And that's too bad. Because it's not cool. We're not cool. Lynching is a disgustingly brutal and painfully recent era in American race relations. The Urban League of Philadelphia just released a report lamenting the social, economic, and family disparities between blacks and others, circa 2007. We've got a lot of healing to go, and comments like the one directed at Tiger this week are picking at a scab that has hardly formed.

If you're wondering where the emotion is coming from in my words, consider this: were it not for the heroes of the civil rights movement barely a generation ago, it is likely Asians would not have had the legal right to immigrate to this country in as large numbers as they did in the 1960's and 1970's. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks might have been fighting for black people to sit on the same buses and drink from the same fountains, but in doing so they opened the doors for people like my parents to come to America, earn a decent living, and give me and my generation a good start on a good life.

Tiger Woods, of course, represents both the black and Asian perspective. He is also a multinational, multi-facted enterprise. He is also but one person. So I don't blame him for wanting this incident to be swept under the rug as fast as possible, for his own ability to concentrate as well as for the protection of his brand image.

And yet, Scoop's right: this is a moment when Tiger can identify with his unique racial perspective, and let folks know that it's not cool to evoke such racially incendiary imagery, no matter how innocent or jokingly. This thing is bigger than even Tiger himself. Hopefully, as with every challenge and challenger he's faced on the golf course, Tiger can rise up in response.
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