George Davis

George Davis

Modern Melting Pot

Tiger Woods: Black Life in Cablinasia

What happened on the way to the American Dream

Posted Dec 15, 2009

I had often wondered about Tiger Woods. As a golf fan I loved watching the magical way he kept winning; but whenever I heard him being interviewed after a victory, there was something that disturbed me about him.

As I watched Woods over the years I always reflected on his statement to Oprah that he wasn't actually "black" at all. "Growing up, I came up with this name: I'm a 'Cablinasian.' (a word he compounded of Caucasian, Black, Indian (American), and Asian)"

I didn't have a negative reaction to his marital choice, as some black people do. I have family and friends who ignored racial lines in choosing spouses--good for them. What disturbed me was something else.

I had heard that it was Nike who pulled him away from his declaration that he was not "black." There was more money to be made as the only prominent black person in golf. Black and white --that made his story the American story. There was transcendence in it. There was magic. The "Cablinasian" story! Magic? Not yet!

I would have loved him if he had declared that he wanted to be an avatar of a multicultural future for the world. There were indications that his father, Earl Woods, had groomed him to be exactly that.

"I was personally selected by God himself...to nurture this young man...and bring him to the point where he can make his contribution to humanity.... Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity."

On a mundane note Colin Powell, whose skin is lighter than Woods' responded to Woods' denial of blackness by saying: "In America, which I love from the depths of my heart and soul, when you look like me, you're black."

I noticed that Woods was forever surrounded by white people, smiling broadly. His hero was Jack Nicklaus. . . that's fine. Nicklaus was (or is) a great golfer and Woods was chasing Nicklaus' golfing records. But Woods, in that voice that quacked from a deficiency of cultural overtones, rhapsodized when talking about the great white golfers who preceded him, with barely a mention of the black ones who struggled to open things up so he could walk through the door into this white Republican sport.

When President Clinton invited him to a Shea Stadium celebration for Jackie Robinson, Woods declined. Why wasn't Jackie Robinson one of his big heroes? Robinson had more to do with opening a road to Cablinasia than any of the white heroes he openly celebrated.

Then came the inauguration of Barack Obama. Woods gave an inaugural address without ever mentioning Obama's name. The omission was glaring. There is no doubt that with this omission he was making a statement. . . .about what? Blackness? When asked by a reporter on another occasion, Woods praised the country for electing a "person of color." It was as if he did not like the taste of the word black in his mouth or in his mind.

I began wondering if he had a mentality that was so linear that he would despise blackness because he could not appreciate the complex beauty of being black. Did he like jazz? Did he ever boogie? Were there accommodations in Cablinasia for Native Americans and Asians?

During a trip to Washington one of his golfing partners was John Boehner the Right-wing Republican leader who is most powerfully and personally opposed to Obama. Boehner is one of those that former President Jimmy Carter was referring to when Carter said much of the hate directed towards Obama is "based on racism".

Did Woods understand that on the way to the American dream you run into contradictions that can be escaped only by embracing both sides. Some things are both true and untrue. To hold them both in mind at the same time forces you to create magic. Then came the list of mistresses -all of them white, with little else to recommend them except whiteness. I wondered if Woods dreamed of being with whiteness as often and as intimately as he could, hoping on some deep level that conflicting blackness might disappear. I wondered if he ever thought that if whiteness or blackness disappears so also will magic.