Monday, January 14, 2008

The "Non-issue" that has a history of issues

Most have likely heard of the comments made by Golf Channel correspondent, Kelly Tilghman. In her remarks she and famed golf pro Nick Faldo were discussing the dominance of Tiger Woods in the world of golf. Faldo jokingly urged younger golfers to gang up on Woods and Tilghman followed up by saying that other players should "lynch him in a back alley."

Since making these comments, Tighlman was suspended for two weeks and has apologized to Tiger and to audiences on the air. The Rev. Al Sharpton called for her immediate firing. Woods, speaking through representative, said that he has been friends with Tighlman for twelve years and that the situation was a "non-issue." Well, Mr. Woods maybe for you it is not an issue. Maybe for Tighlman it was just a "slip of the tongue." However, had the situation been a remark that could have been viewed as anti-semitic, the Anti-Defamation League would have been all over this. Similarly, as Sharpton pointed out, had there been a comment that was sexist the situation would have garnered even more attention and a harsher punishment.

The issue of the "non-issue" is that the very word "lynch" is synonymous with the destruction of the black body by one or more persons because of the color of skin. From 1882-1968, Alabama's Tuskegee University reports that 3,466 African-Americans were lynched in the United States. In the recent acclaimed movie The Great Debaters, Denzel Washington's character speaks to the history of the term describing it as a way to subjugate and oppress transplanted Africans. Through the terrorizing and violent act of lynching, American whites hoped to deal a death blow to the spirit of resistance of African Americans. "Keep the body, take the mind."

Pathetically, the U.S. Senate officially apologized for failing to act on more than 200 anti-lynching bills introduced over the years. However, the psychological trauma to African Americans and the "wage" afforded to whites still exists just as much as if one mentions the death camps of Nazi Germany.

Dr. James Cone, known widely for his work Black Theology of Liberation or Martin and Malcolm: A Dream or a Nightmare speaks truth to power in his latest work that links the cross to the lynching tree. Cone proclaims, "The cross is victory out of defeat...the lynching tree is transcendence of defeat." In a recent interview with Bill Moyers, Prof. Cone commented that "people don't like to talk about what is really deep and ugly. The history of lynching is bodies hanging on trees...if America could understand itself as not being innocent it could play a more creative role in the world today."

I could not agree with Prof. Cone more. While Mr. Woods may find that there is a "non-issue" for him due to his friendship with Ms. Tighlman, the words she employed in a so called joking manner illustrate just how entrenched racist ideologies and practices are in the American psyche. I am disappointed in, but not surprised by Woods response. He similarly made no big fuss about Fuzzy Zoeller's racist comments about changing the menu at the Masters. When asked what he would do if Tiger won the Masters in 1997 Zoeller said he would, "Pat him on the back. Say congratulations ... and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year ... or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."

How far we really come? Yes, African Americans largely exist in this society unmolested and participate in this so called democracy. However, we still have a long way to go to save our righteous minds from those who would rather see us indeed lynched either literally or figuratively. I only wish Tiger Woods would have seen the issue not in his friend or her apology but in the history behind a term of terror, violence, and death.


Leslie said...

Absolutely brilliant, and right on point. I have been deeply disturbed by the comparative lack of response to this racist attack on Black manhood, and I find it morally reprehensible that Tiger Woods feels he can speak for the entire race and quietly dismiss Tilghman's racially violent remarks.

A.S. said...

I wonder if it would have struck the same nerve had Ms. Tilghman used the phrase “lynch him in a back alley” in reference to, I don’t know say, Angel Cabrera or Geoff Ogilvy? Is the need for action because it was a white woman who said it in reference to a black man or is it because it was said period? Had it been toward one of our melanin challenged brothers would the comment been perceived as malicious and racist or just inappropriate?

Should we petition to bury the word “Lynch” also to never be used again because of what it’s synonymous for? Nothing will change the events of history. So I ask also, how do you suppose we get past some of these issues? I personally don’t think jumping up every time someone of the wrong color uses the wrong word because of what it has meant for our ancestors and how that history affects us is the answer. I’m not suggesting it be dismissed either but I think there is power in discernment. Knowing when it’s not your issue but that of the ignorant person who spoke it and knowing when it’s time to ring the alarm. Regardless of the horrible past our people went through and we continue to go through, I’m empowered by our resilience. I refuse to be the overly sensitive Negro. There’s no shame in my hair being nappy, there’s no shame in my love for collard greens and fried chicken, and there’s no shame in my pedigree.

I understand Mr. Wood’s response classifying Ms. Tilgham’s “slip of the tongue” as a “non-issue.” As far as I see it, he chose to keep his mind and recognize this indeed is not a time to suffer his own issues but for others to see theirs.

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