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The Pernicious Prevalence of Race in American Discourse

The response to Tiger Woods' choice of women shows how some still deem color of skin more important than content of character.

by
David A. Eisenberg

Bio

January 25, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Speaking of the Woods affair on Tom Joyner’s radio show, comedienne Sheryl Underwood quipped that if “you never date a black woman or a woman of color or you never sample the greatness of the international buffet of human beings … we got a problem.” One wonders if it is a problem only when someone as racially diverse and sexually voracious as Tiger is reputed to be fails to feast at the international buffet of human beings or if this applies to everyone. If the latter is the case, those who tend to err in the direction of fidelity and monogamy might have, as Underwood would put it, “a problem.”

Also taking issue with Tiger’s predilection for white women was Alicia Weekes, fashion editor for Giant magazine: “I don’t feel there is anything wrong with black men dating white women, but when a black man makes that his preference, it becomes an issue.” Weekes locates the root of the black male’s desire for white women in slavery and avers that notwithstanding all the racial progress that has been made, too often blacks regard some of their distinctive features as inferior and, as a result, seek out the fairer of the fairer sex as a sort of redress. Whether this undertaking proves fruitful for the black male is not made clear, but one suspects that it cannot be too salutary for the white woman who learns that she ultimately is viewed as little more than a compensatory prize.

In the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson remarked that one of the “most disappointing” aspects of the whole Tiger Woods story is that “the women who’ve been linked to Woods resemble one another.” Oh, horror of horrors! A man of immense fortune and fame has a preference for a certain type of woman and, capable of getting virtually any woman he wants, goes out and gets — well, the women he wants. One only can imagine Robinson’s discomfiture were he to discover that an acquaintance of his is a baroque music aficionado who, over the years, has been collecting the works not only of Bach, Handel, and Monteverdi, but Telemann, Purcell, and Vivaldi as well. Of course, the real problem for Robinson is not so much that Tiger’s women resemble each other but that they all, according to Robinson, resemble Barbie. And that really betrays not just the superficiality of Robinson’s thinking, but the perversity of all those who think that the real transgression here is that Tiger did not show greater attention to the diversity of his sexual exploits.

Tiger’s transgressions are all too real, but none of them has anything to do with the color of his skin — or the color of anyone else’s skin for that matter. The fact that Tiger’s taste in women would not have been an issue had Tiger been a “Cablinasian” who appeared more Asian and less black gets to the heart of the problem and confirms that, in spite of all the progress that has been secured on the subject of race in this country, there still exists a pernicious mindset that champions — and seemingly does so with a clean conscience — the idea that a person should be judged according to the color of one’s skin and not on the content of one’s character.

In an age of racial intolerance, Homer Plessy was condemned for a racial trait that could not be perceived. In an age of racial tolerance, Tiger Woods is condemned for a racial trait that cannot be ignored. If there is irony to be found in this, it does nothing to mitigate the odium.

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David A. Eisenberg is assistant director for academic affairs in the Arts and Sciences at Columbia University and is adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Baruch College, City University of New York.
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