Revisiting “100% Cablinasian”: 6 Thoughts on Tiger Woods

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

It sucks when your readers don’t like what you write. It really sucks when they hate what you write. But – and this may reflect badly on my personality – I learn the most from posts that I eff up. It’s the failures that really drive me to try and better at what we do here.

In writing 100% Cablinasian: Getting the Race Facts Right on Tiger Woods, I consulted with Carmen, Latoya and Andrea. After the post was done, I sent it to Latoya and asked her to approve it before posting it. Usually I just write something and put it up – these extra steps were taken because I knew that I was dealing with a sticky subject. Yet even in my preparations, I completely failed to understand how sticky a subject I was dealing with.

So after much thinking, talking, and about 40 emails with Carmen and Latoya, here are six things that I want to say about Tiger Woods. A lot of this I already said last week, but I did it badly. If you were to read “100% Cablinasian” outside of the context of Racialicious and outside of the context of my writing, it propagates stereotypes about black folks. That’s unacceptable, and that’s why I am writing about Tiger Woods again.

Tiger Woods is perceived to be black, and his behaviour is interpreted in terms of blackness.

Within American culture, Tiger Woods is perceived to be black. Two early examples:

From Jan 10, 2008:

Faldo and Tilghman were discussing young players who could challenge the world’s No. 1 player toward the end of Friday’s broadcast at Kapalua when Faldo suggested that “to take Tiger on, maybe they should just gang up for a while.”

“Lynch him in a back alley,” Tilghman replied.

From Apr 7, 2002:

Asked about Woods’s victory at the 1997 Masters and the traditional victory dinner – at which the new champion gets to choose the menu – Zoeller remarked: “That little boy is driving well and putting well. You pat him on the back and say congratulations and tell him not serve fried chicken, or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”

Woods has been the butt of the anti-black racism since he came on the scene. This is a problem because
a) Hello, these “jokes” are disgusting.
b) Woods is not just black – he’s Cablinasian, or Blasian as he recently texted to Jaimee Grubbs.

But while it was clear before his philandering scandal that Woods was seen as black more than he was seen as Cablinasian, it has become inescapable since. Woods’ philandering is being interpreted via stereotypes about black men: he’s spectacularly unfaithful, and he has a hankering for white women. Within American culture’s racist conception of black masculinity, this is textbook behaviour. In other words his bad behaviour is the result of the fact that he is a black man, married to a white woman.

Some folks are using Tiger’s scandal to reinforce narrow beliefs that black men need to get it together and black women are unloveable. You don’t need me to tell you that that’s just plain racist and ignorant. Instead, what I wanted to focus on in “100% Cablinasian” is how media, comedians and bloggers are using Tiger’s behaviour to probe the issue of successful black men dating white women and distancing themselves from blackness when they become successful. See the Sister Toldja bit that we cross-posted a while back.

Or this Wanda Sykes joke:

Wanda Sykes stopped by The Tonight Show last night to take a few shots at him with Conan O’Brien. “It just got to the point where I was like, ‘Okay, I can’t do anymore jokes on this man. I can’t do it.’ But more stuff keeps comin’ out,” she said. “Women after women after women. I’m like, I had to stop for a minute and go, ‘Wait a minute. Did I have sex with Tiger Woods?’…. Then I was like, ‘Oh wait a minute. I’m black. I’m cool. I’m cool. …

Generally people are using this flashpoint of successful black men dating exclusively white for a quick laugh, and I will admit Wanda’s joke made me LOL.

But not only is this stereotype wrong because like all stereotypes, it’s reductive – it also doesn’t quite fit Tiger Woods.  Tiger is black but he’s also Cablinasian; solely applying the framework of black masculinity onto him to explain his behaviour is going to force certain scripts on him that potentially don’t apply.  And usually, the forcing of these scripts is done at the expense of understanding how Woods’ mixedness might inform his stepping out.

Interpreting Tiger Woods’ philandering as a “black issue” implies that the Black Community is full of jealous, petty in-fighting.

One of the major errors I made in “100% Cablinasian”?

There are two problems with painting Woods’ philandering as being about blackness:
Problem 1): Doing so effaces Woods’ mixedness
Problem 2): Doing so reduces black folks to gross stereotypes.

I raised Problem 1, but I didn’t raise Problem 2, which is this: using Woods’ behaviour to talk about how all black folks think about relationships, is inherently stupid. Black folks are not a monolith, black folks obviously have a vast range of ideas about Woods’ identity (if they have any at all), and black folks have a vast range of ideas about Woods’ philandering, if they have any at all.

I didn’t speak to Problem 2, because that’s not what I wanted to write about. I realise now that was a big mistake. In order to write the article, I quoted sources that were painting Woods’ scandal as a black thing, raising the spectre of both Problem 1 and Problem 2. I then talked about all the things that were wrong with Problem 1. But in doing so, I allowed Problem 2 to stand unchallenged. Sure, Problem 2 wasn’t the issue I was going after, but I quoted sources with problems 1 and 2. By not acknowledging Problem 2, I was propagating it. That was wrong, and very sloppy.

To illustrate:I quoted this from an Associated Press article,

The darts reflect blacks’ resistance to interracial romance. They also are a reflection of discomfort with a man who has smashed barriers in one of the whitest of all sports and assumed the mantle of world’s most famous athlete, once worn by Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan.

This article plays up quotes from black women that make it sound as if all black women are offended, hurt and resentful of Tiger Woods’ choice to date, and fool around with, solely white women.

I should have indicated that media which articulates or reports anger towards Tiger Woods’ dating patterns is not representative of all black folks. But more than this, the media trend is to hype black anger, overblowing it to make a story. The AP article chose to drum up scandal, making it look as if all black women are FURIOUS about Tiger. Danielle Belton comments on this, saying

The reality is, Angry Black Woman will always be “sexier” to a journalist than Apathetic Black Woman. Apathetic Black Woman doesn’t care about Tiger or what he does and who he does things with. Apathetic Black Woman is just morbidly curious, watching the car wreck of alleged girlfriends and jump-offs like everyone else. Apathetic Black Woman doesn’t fit the stereotype, so she doesn’t get as much ink as everyone’s favorite black straw woman to bash — ANGRY BLACK WOMAN.

(Sidenote: the article actually quoted Racialicious’ very own Carmen, and it’s worth noting that abridged versions of the article leave Carmen out; perhaps her comments weren’t divisive enough.)

Some people of colour have no problem with interracial relationships between POCs and white folks. Some people of colour (not just black folks) do, because POC/white IRs seem to replicate a pattern where whiteness is valued over POCness. When the person of colour in question is a successful person, this rejection of POCness and blackness is even more painful. Is it wrong for POCs to project their own anger about how they are denigrated and undervalued over and over, onto the private relationship of two random people? Yes. But I think it is worth noting that such anger, while misplaced, is genuine – and I would argue justifiable.

But when this anger is handled by the hammy paws of the media, it gets translated into: women of colour (or black women) are jealous-ass bitches who can’t hold their men down – and even POCs who didn’t have that anger in the first place get lumped into this.

Tiger Woods is the best and worst celebrity illustration of mixed raceness.

Tiger is a great celebrity illustration of mixed raceness, because he really seems to identify with mixedness. He’s staunchly mixed race, insisting on Cablinasianess – a hybrid space. This attachment to the often uncomfortable limbo of mixed raceness is unusual and fascinating. And it’s arguably brave, consider how folks have called him a race traitor for simply trying to express his identity.

But this is not to say that Tiger hasn’t actively distanced himself from blackness. Calling himself Cablinasian is an invocation of his heritage, not a distancing move. But making jokes about blackness? That IS distancing. In “100% Cablinasian,” I did not give enough credence to the actual jerk moves Tiger has madeFrom a 1997 GQ article published when Woods was 21, via Adrienne:

This is one of the jokes that Tiger told:

He puts the tips of his expensive shoes together, and he rubs them up and down against each other. “What’s this?” he asks the women, who do not know the answer.

“It’s a black guy taking off his condom,” Tiger explains.

And those jokes that I opened with, which were both made by white sportscasters? Woods brushed off these comments instead of confronting them. Perhaps he didn’t speak up – apart from not wanting to upset his sponsorships – because Woods does not totally or solely identify with blackness. Is that an excuse? Hell no. Is this brushing off a poor move on Tiger’s part, no matter what? Hell yes. Has Tiger let the black community down time and again? Most definitely.  Disturbingly, he appears to use his mixed race identity as an excuse to not challenge anti-black racism.

Woods doesn’t just let down black folks. He also lets down mixed race folks, who are often viewed with suspicion because light-skinned mixed race folks can pass. Are they going to take up their ticket into whiteness, or are they going to advocate for anti-racism? Again, this is unfair pressure to put on a mixed race person, but 1) in some cases mixed race people do trade on their ethnicity to get ahead 2) this pressure or anxiety comes from something very real: the oppression and rejection of people of colour, and particularly of dark skin.

When one of the world’s most famous mixed race people denigrates one of his racial groups – specifically blackness – to a white audience, he fulfills every negative stereotype there is about mixed race people.

Thanks a lot Tiger.

But Tiger Woods is a mixed race person of colour – and this matters.

When I wrote “100% Cablinasian,” I thought that people did not know or understand that Woods was Asian. Yet dozens of angry people on my post indicated that they do in fact know that Woods is Asian, thankyouverymuch.

I realise now that it’s not that folks don’t know Woods is mixed and Asian. Rather, it’s that folks don’t care that Woods is mixed and Asian.

I remember Carmen telling the story that when she first moved to the US, she would explain her ethnic background to people who asked. They would listen, and then say, ok, so you’re basically Asian?

I feel like Tiger gets very similar treatment. He explains that his father is Black and his mother is Asian, and then people say, ok, so you’re basically Black?

I should make it clear at this point, that when I say “folks” or refer to responses Woods get, “folks” is not code for Black People.  It is not Black People who respond to Tiger this way. It is racist culture – across the board – that responds to Tiger this way.

What both these responses indicate is that it doesn’t matter that Carmen’s dad is Belgian or that Tiger’s mother is Thai, at the end of the day they are basically just one thing.

While I made a lot of mistakes in “100% Cablinasian,” I said some things that I still stand by. I said that while most Americans, including African Americans are mixed, Woods is mixed in a different way. Commenters stated that I was dismissing what it meant for African Americans to have many different ethnicities within their family tree. I was stating rather that African Americans are mixed, Tiger is mixed – but they are not mixed in the same way.

It’s not that Tiger is more “Authentically Mixed Race” than African Americans with two African American parents, it’s just that he’s mixed in a different way. Saying that he’s mixed in the same way African Americans are mixed suggests that the impact of being raised in two distinct cultures is negligible.

Within our culture, Tiger is perceived to be black. The perception goes: sure, he came to blackness from a different route, but at the end of the day, he’s black.

The fact that he’s perceived to be black is incredibly typical of the way mixed race people are treated. Mixed race people are alternatingly made to choose between their ethnic heritages, expected to live up to racial scripts they don’t identify with, or written off as one thing or another (or another), without respect for their own understanding of what it means to be them.

In my original post, I said “Tiger doesn’t look like a black man, he looks Asian.” As a result, some commenters thought that I wanted Woods to be perceived as Asian instead of black, and again I can see why people got that out of my post. I should’ve thought through more carefully both what I was trying to say and how I said it.

What I should’ve said is that Woods looks like a black man, and he also has the face of an Southeast Asian. In other words, unlike other mixed race people – like Obama or Jennifer Tilly – Woods looks particularly mixed, or particularly Blasian. Yet when people look at him, they just see a black guy.

Let mixed race people self-identify, please.

This is an obvious thought, but I am going to articulate it just so that readers are clear on what I mean.  It is a problem that Woods’ is perceived as black, NOT because there is something wrong with being black!  It is a problem because by his own statements, he doesn’t identify solely with blackness.

Last year I criticised a piece of English journalism that argued we should refer to Obama as a mixed race president rather than a black president. I disagreed with this article, because Obama identifies as black.  So we should refer to him as black.

In essence, my issue is not that all mixed race people should be seen as mixed race.  It is that mixed race people should have the right to self-identify. So, if a mixed race person of black parentage wants to be seen as black, we should call ‘em that.  If a mixed race person of black heritage wants to be seen as Cablinasian, they should be seen as that.  If a mixed race person of white parentage wants to be seen as white, we should call them that. To quote myself:

In my experience, a mixed race* person’s racial identity is based on:
a) the racial identity they identify with most, based on their complicated life experience,
but moreover on:
b) how they are seen by the society around them, based on their physical appearance.

In a CNN video that Carmen posted a few weeks back, Obama discusses how he is read as black, and other mixed race commenters discuss how, due to the colour of their skin, identifying as anything other than a mixed person of colour is not an option. In America Barack Obama is a black man…

Consider the flip of this: I have friends who are mixed (black/white, Japanese/white…) who are read as white, and so tend to identify as white. To call this identification internalised racism – or anything other than a response to their lived experience – is to devalue and insult what they have learned to be true.

The process of coming to a racial identity is an intensely personal (if not angst-filled) process…if nothing else, it’s freakin’ rude – NOT progressive – to make helpful hints as to how others should identify.

Tiger Woods’ philandering through a mixed race lens.

Celebrity behaviour is fascinating; despite the fact that most of us haven’t the foggiest idea about the internal life of any given celebrity, we talk and theorise about their actions because they appear to reflect our own. Claims that this should be a “private family matter” aside, one reason why Tiger’s transgressions are being poked and prodded is because of all the possible patterns and meanings we can read into his meltdown, along the lines of race, gender, success and the American Dream. In the whiteness of Tiger’s women on the side, some read a bid to escape blackness. But I read a bid to escape mixedness.

If you take a look at at the sorry sexts Woods sent Grubbs, it seems like he just can’t stop talking about race, and in particular how much Grubbs’ apparent assumptions about race have to do with her interest in sexing him. Both the GQ article quoted above, and the sexts indicate an extreme level of discomfort with his own ethnic heritage, especially when he is in the company of white women.

While some people view Tiger’s fetish for whiteness and see black internalised racism, as a mixed race person I recognise a pattern of anguish typical to mixed race people in a racist culture: a hyper-consciousness of how others perceive your looks and appearance; imposter paranoia – the constant anxiety that others’ affection for you is based on racial qualities you don’t actually possess; and an unshakeable feeling that you are never enough of anything.

From this point of view, Tiger doesn’t just hate blackness. He hates mixedness. Or probably more than anything, he hates Tigerness.

When Woods claims Cablinasian heritage, it’s not an empty or meaningless claim. He’s not just vying for attention, or being petty or trying to distance himself from blackness. Because being mixed does mean something; being mixed does matter. Mixed raceness is not some variation on other races, some offshoot. Just as blackness, Chineseness, Mexicanness…is not some offshoot of whiteness. Mixed raceness is its own distinct thing, with its own distinct set of experiences, difficulties and joys. And mixed race people, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, have the right to express that distinction. That’s ultimately what I wanted to say the last time I sat down to write this.

If we want to draw huge, potentially inadvisable conclusions from the Tiger Woods mess, we should base those conclusions on how he is a Cablinasian man, as well as a black man. Any other conclusions will be inaccurate, will propagate racist stereotypes about black folks, and will propagate the racist notion that races/cultures of colour all look, feel and exist the same.

Latoya’s Note: Some of the comments we have received are already starting to piss me off.  Thea wanted to address what happened in her last post – this is her space to do so.  Please remain on topic (no need to delve into what is happening with Woods, that’s covered all over the place).  And snarky ass comments about “fake apologies” will not be approved.  Thea’s post ended up bringing out hurt across two communities – African American readers who felt unjustly maligned in her post, and mixed race readers who once again felt that their identities were erased, since the ensuing discussion was not about the complexities of the mixed race experience at all.  She chose to clarify in a larger post.  And that’s what’s here.  Changes to the comments moderation policy are also afoot. – LDP