I’m Really Unsettled By This.

John McWhorter writes something that I agree with:

Tiger Woods, in designating himself truly a mutt rather than Black By Default, is ahead of the curve. There are those who think he was supposed to declare himself “black” because of how, say, police might see him. But to do that would be to deny that his Thai mother contributed half of his genes and raised him – raised him, unable, as someone not Black American, to do so as a Black Mother. So, Tiger was brave enough to – brace yourself, Soul Patrol – be what he is. Two things. Not just black – and not even mainly black.

Something we can all agree on – in fifty years a lot of people will see it as odd that in our times that was seen as news. We’re mixing, a lot. There are now increasing numbers of self-avowedly “biracial” people – the days I knew as a kid when the black-white “mixed” kid was faced with having to “admit” that she was “black” when she was about thirteen, crying at forums where such issues were discussed out of ambivalence over disowning her non-black parent, are past. Tiger isn’t, from what is evident publicly, especially deep – but he’s prescient. He is the future, just as FDR, hardly deep himself, gave us Social Security, the FDIC and so much more. Sometimes we need to hearken to people who are not given to thinking too very much.

And:

The idea that anyone who steps outside of identity as “black” must not like black people is, quite simply, a sign of the lingering stain of insecurity in the race. Think about it – a brown-skinned guy with a Thai mother says he can’t say he’s just black and he must not like black people? That’s extremely 1990. And thankfully, increasingly antique in 2009.

This, this, is exactly my problem with the majority of conversations I’ve been seeing black people have about Woods. And I couldn’t agree with McWhorter more here.

In the past, I’ve often found McWhorter intensely frustrating, mainly because he’s completely brilliant and a gifted writer who frequently says dishonest and ridiculous things about race, racism, and hip-hop. But this year, something seems to have changed about him. A friend suggested McWhorter’s shift may be due to the racism-fueled political criticism Barack Obama has received since his inauguration — Obama is the example McWhorter needed to understand that being qualified, being good, just isn’t good enough.

More and more, he’s reminding me of Glenn Loury (with whom he did a series of Bloggingheads during the campaign last year).

As an aside, in the piece, McWhorter nitpicks a bit at a piece by David Swerdlick at The Root, in which Swerdlick notes that the recent events made Tiger more interesting than his desire to distance himself from blackness (or his Asian ancestry) did. Today, Swerdlick responds, noting the bland personality Tiger used to sell golf is the problem, not the distance from blackness.

*Still haven’t forgiven dude for this piece on Zora Neale Hurston, though, which is a perfect example of the sublime and the frustrating in his thinking.

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20 comments to I’m Really Unsettled By This.

  • Lisa

    You and McWhorter may be right, but after this negative incident, I think that Tiger will probably be considered MORE black than he ever was before b/c black folk do “BAD” stuff so more people who like him who previously just thought of him as mixed race or an exception or a model minority will focus more on his quarter-blackness than his 1/2 asian-ness and 1/4 white and 1/4 native-american parts.

  • RB

    The Hurston piece drove me mad, too.

  • keke

    I find myself more focused on Tiger Woods now than before. I know that is not a good thing and I do feel a tad bit guilty about the attention I have given to this scandal. I have never really thought of Tiger Woods as an interesting person. He is a great golfer and I only really know this because that is what people who really enjoy golf tell me. I have always thought of him as bland and basically willing to put his name on anything to make a dollar.

    I have not been offended by Tiger Woods publicly claiming his mother and his Asian background. I can admit that I am somewhat guilty of assuming that Tiger Woods has separated himself from his blackness and his Asian ethnicity. I have based this assumption on his choice of mates. I’m not talking about the women he has allegedly had affairs with, I could care less who he sleeps around with. I’m talking about the women he dates and marries. He tends to choose partners who fall in line with the white, blond hair, blue eyed, standard of beauty. He has not been linked to black women and/or Asian women that I know of and I do find that interesting. So I will admit that I have made unfair judgments about Tiger based on those choices alone.

    • I can admit that I am somewhat guilty of assuming that Tiger Woods has separated himself from his blackness and his Asian ethnicity. I have based this assumption on his choice of mates. I’m not talking about the women he has allegedly had affairs with, I could care less who he sleeps around with. I’m talking about the women he dates and marries. He tends to choose partners who fall in line with the white, blond hair, blue eyed, standard of beauty. He has not been linked to black women and/or Asian women that I know of and I do find that interesting.

      You just said you weren’t studying him like that but you paid special attention to the women he dates?

      At least you admit this is your issue and not his.

      • keke

        No, I don’t “study” him like that. I did admit that I have been paying attention to this scandal though.

        When it comes to his dating life or his wife, I only know what I have seen in magazines pics. So while I don’t go researching for that information, its still gets some mention throughout the world of popular culture. There were a few stories when he was linked a girlfriend in the past and it was big news when he got married. So I had passing knowledge of his choice of partners.

        • so if it’s passing knowledge, how can you be sure he hasn’t dated black/Asian women?

          and even if he did…who cares?

          • keke

            I never said that I was *SURE* about whether he dated black or Asian women. Please refer to my original comment towards the end in which I stated that he has not dated any black or Asian women *That I Know Of*.

            So once again, I never stated that I knew for sure.

  • Black folks really do seem to have been laying in wait for this from Tiger.

    There seems to be a little Glee in all the engagement. I think it says more about Black folks than it does about him.

  • Ladyfresh

    um…what?

    Tiger isn’t especially ‘deep’ and we may need to hearken to ‘people who are not given to thinking too very much.’ but somehow he is the future?

    somehow mixed people will eliminate the bias because there will be more of them? This is the line of thinking?

    forget about the fact that most black people in the US are already mixed. forget about the biases and inequalities in brazil and the dominican republic with their already highly black(leaning) mixed population. oh god…forget about sammy sosa…

    so somehow because tiger is mixed and claims all of his heritage this eliminates the potential of any bias? (tries very hard not to look at his fetishistic tastes in women)

    correct me if i’m misreading this because at this point this is what i’m gathering

    • Zesi

      Amen, Sister Fresh. That “we’ll all be brown” line of thinking is quite tired. DNA does not a person with a healthy attitude towards race and difference make.

      Plus…I don’t believe that quarter Native American part. You know…

    • shani-o

      Well, obviously, there are many mixed people within the Diaspora — always have been, always will be. But I think what you’re missing is that Woods is one of the first to successfully claim a multiracial identity. The days of ‘mixed-up mixed kids’ having to agonize over whether or not to check ‘black’ as their race — and, in the process, erasing half of their parentage — are receding.

      • Ladyfresh

        ok i figured i was missing something this article is rubbing me all kinds of wrong or maybe it’s just tiger lol

        i can agree and definitely understand that which box do i check
        i was haunted by those boxes in the 80s but this was waay back and i’m not so sure tiger could be considered successful at it…more ignored…hrm

    • wow, did you misread this.

  • Scott

    I have a number of problems with McWhorter and this post in general. It is not odd that people who are members of a minority group have some discomfort when members of their group date outside the race. I’m not saying it’s right, but I understand where they are coming from. Yes Tiger is mixed, but as a lot of biracial people in this country will tell you, when you look like Tiger (or Barack Obama), people identify you as black, and that is typically how people view themselves. I’m sure both Tiger and Barack know they are biracial, but both probably also identify as black men. I think someone else on this sited the negative history of how black women have been portrayed in terms of sex/partners in this country, and so when you see a successful “black man” marry a blond white woman you kind of wonder if he hasn’t fallen victim to this societies standard of beauty – which of course has not historically included black women. IMHO the response by black people is not odd at all. And like Ladyfresh points out, just because the number of biracial people is increasing that doesn’t mean we are moving anywhere – Brazil being the perfect example. I don’t know anything about McWorther, but it from this excerpt he surely doesn’t found very informed on racial issues. Is he some old white guy or something? I presume a google search would reveal that. I’m guessing he isn’t someone who has spent much time really talking to black people, thinking and reading on the topic of race (and instead just speaking).

  • dilettante

    Something we can all agree on – in fifty years a lot of people will see it as odd that in our times that was seen as news.

    In 50 years time we may find it odd that people wrote checks to pay a phone bill. I imagine 50 years ago the concept of an debit card payment to buy groceries would have been mind blowing.

    You don’t jump from one epoch to the next without some transition and influence from the people who came before you and remember how it used to be Thats not always negative nor a sign of insecurity. In this respect I think McWorter is taking an ahistorical (out of context) view.

    I don’t want or need anyone to “be black” for me. But I do want and need everyone to know how and why we came to a place when Tiger , me , you and anyone else can self ID as black, African American, Calbasian , relaxed vegan, natural KFC lover or whatever said person feels best describes him/her.

  • blackink12

    You know, I was going to do something similar on this but John Mac and Shani stole my thunder. :( So the thing I’ll say is that for all those people who are falling victim to a particularly nasty brand of identity politics, it’s important to remember that Tiger was extremely close with his mother (as lots of children are, don’t cha know).

    Over the weekend, G.D. and I had a brief Twitter tussle with filmmaker and otherwise decent dude Jamil Smith. He kicked things off with this: “That ‘cablinasian’ nonsense was an insult to every Black person in America. Or anywhere, really” http://twitter.com/JamilSmith/status/6385121981

    And then went on to say that Tiger was trying to opt out of “the experience.” Of black people in America, supposedly.

    Then Smith linked to this essay from Salon – http://www.salon.com/april97/tiger970430.html – as evidence that Tiger was essentially trying to pass.

    Sigh. And, no disrespect, but I think this is just ridiculous.

    Here, take a gander at this excerpt from Gerry Callahan’s “In Search of a Tiger,” which was written with Woods. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0HFI/is_4_54/ai_100839565/

    In it, Tiger tells us that “although I am an American citizen my heart is Thai” and his mother says that she raised him “as an Asian child.”

    In that context, it makes sense that Tiger wouldn’t want to be narrowly defined as “black.” In fact, given that he was so close with his mother (and most people only view his childhood as though he was only raised by his father), I think it’s the respectful thing to do.

    He doesn’t have to select a racial identity based on others’ expectations of him. Especially since racial identity is such a complicated and imperfect thing already. Just because people want him to be black and ONLY black, doesn’t mean that he should. I don’t even understand why it would matter to anyone else.

    Not only that, adhering to society’s expectations are about the dumbest reason to do anything ever.

    Ok. That’s enough disjointed thoughts in one place. McWhorter’s piece was aight.

  • VC

    I agree totally about Tiger, but what bothered you about the ZNH piece? I think McWhorter represented her views pretty fairly — she certainly wasn’t a liberal.

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