No reason to pretend we haven’t seen this a few hundred times. It happens via Twitter or Facebook on a daily basis. It’s happening on a schoolyard, in a dorm room, inside a nightclub as you read this.
Someone, somewhere is losing a verbal or physical fight and there’s a damn good chance they’ll try to play catch-up by resorting to a racial taunt. The tactic is colorblind; the identifying marker is “loser,” not skin pigmentation.
Sergio Garcia is a loser. He’s been whining about losing to Tiger Woods for more than a decade. Two weeks ago, with a chance to beat Woods in The Players Championship, Garcia bitched about Tiger’s course etiquette during the third round and then dropped two tee shots in the water on the second-to-last hole on Sunday. He made himself an international punch line, a stereotypical choke artist.
What happened on Tuesday was virtually inevitable. Dogged by questions about his one-sided “feud” with Woods, Garcia dropped a racial taunt at an awards dinner when an interviewer asked whether Garcia would invite Tiger to dinner during the U.S. Open.
“We will have him round every night,” Garcia retorted. “We will serve fried chicken.”
If he wanted to be funny, inappropriate and non-racial, Garcia easily could’ve said: “We’ll have porn stars serve him dinner from Perkins restaurant.”
But Garcia chose the racial route. He chose the path blazed by a large percentage of our global society when losing a fight and a large percentage of comedians and wannabe comedians (Jason Whitlock on Jeremy Lin) looking for an easy way to be funny. In the right setting, we all laugh uncontrollably at racial-stereotype jokes. Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle earned millions cracking them. They lose their humor when they’re delivered with obvious animus.
There’s bad blood between Sergio and Tiger. Sergio had two goals: 1) He wanted to be funny; 2) He wanted to be mean-spirited and superior.
When you’re losing a fight, you’re tempted to play the “at least I’m not a so-and-so” card. It’s never funny. It’s always intended to inflict pain. It’s the nuclear weapon for losers. This bomb detonated in Sergio’s lap.
There will be an attempt to frame the Garcia-Woods controversy in golf’s history of racial intolerance. There will be discussion focused on how much diversity progress has been made since Tiger lapped the field to win his first Masters and caused Fuzzy Zoeller to loose the original fried-chicken taunt.
It’s all fair to discuss. But I’m not sure golf and Garcia are all that much different from the rest of us when we’re frustrated, flustered, losing a battle and in a setting full of people we believe are sympathizers.
Let’s apply the lessons we should’ve learned from the Zoeller incident. It would be a mistake to single out Garcia and golf. The truth is, we’re all capable of giving into our biases and saying the wrong thing. The very people castigating Garcia as some sort of special racist are the very people incapable of recognizing and combatting their own racial biases.
Garcia’s mishap is a reminder for me to be on guard to avoid making a similar mistake. It’s also a reminder to avoid the fallacy that the key to promoting racial harmony is the avoidance of discussing race. It’s the equivalent of believing the key to beating cancer is ignoring any sign of it in hopes that it will just go away.
Tiger Woods is quite adept at sidestepping the subject of race. And perhaps that’s why golf pretty much looks and sounds the same as it did when he won the 1997 Masters.
The man who wants to be the world’s greatest Cablasian golfer keeps getting reminded that no one cares all that much about his Caucasian and Asian heritage. People care about his brown skin. Stevie Williams, Tiger’s former caddie, wants to shove it up his “black arsehole,” and, when it comes to food, everybody wants to take Tiger to Big Mama’s House, not Benihana.
My point is Tiger plays a contributing role in Garcia’s ignorance. Given an opportunity to promote enlightenment, sensitivity and tolerance on racial matters, Tiger has chosen to remain silent, non-controversial, colorless and highly marketable. He stayed true to form Wednesday morning.
“The comment that was made wasn’t silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate,” Woods tweeted. “I’m confident that there is real regret that the remark was made. The Players ended nearly two weeks ago and it’s long past time to move on and talk about golf.”
Nothing to see here. Nothing to learn. In Woods’ mind, this isn’t a teachable moment.
He is clearly uncomfortable with the topic of race. It’s America. He has a right to be indifferent on any topic he chooses. But there is a consequence of that indifference. The person determined to address a known problem by ignoring it will oftentimes get the nastiest and most frequent reminders of its existence.
As long as Tiger Woods refuses to demand that his peers respect his African-American heritage, they never will. As with most fights, there’s blame, stupidity and cowardice on both sides.