Amid all the headlines generated by Tiger Woods‘ troubles – the puzzling car accident, the suggestions of marital turmoil and multiple mistresses – little attention has been given to the race of the women linked with the world’s greatest golfer.
Except in the black community.
When three white women were said to be romantically involved with Woods in addition to his blonde, Swedish wife, blogs, airwaves and barbershops started humming, and Woods’ already tenuous standing among many blacks took a beating.
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On the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner radio show, Woods was the butt of jokes all week.
“Thankfully, Tiger, you didn’t marry a black woman. Because if a sister caught you running around with a bunch of white hoochie-mamas,” one parody suggests in song, she would have castrated him.
“The Grinch’s Theme Song” didn’t stop there: “The question everyone in America wants to ask you is, how many white women does one brother waaant?”
As one blogger, Robert Paul Reyes, wrote: “If Tiger Woods had cheated on his gorgeous white wife with black women, the golfing great’s accident would have been barely a blip in the blogosphere.”
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 America’s whitest sports and assumed the mantle of the world’s most famous athlete, once worn by Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan.
But Woods has declined to identify himself as black, and famously chose the term “Cablinasian” (Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian) to describe the racial mixture he inherited from his African-American father and Thai mother.
This vexed some blacks, but it hasn’t stopped them from claiming Woods as one of their own. Or from disapproving of his marriage to Elin Nordegren, despite blacks’ historical fight against white racist opponents of mixed marriage.
On the one hand, Ebonie Johnson Cooper doesn’t care that Tiger Woods‘ wife and alleged mistresses are white because Woods is “quote-unquote not really black.”
“But at the same time we still see him as a black man with a white woman, and it makes a difference,” said Johnson Cooper, a 26-year-old African-American from New York City. “There’s just this preservation thing we have among one another. We like to see each other with each other.”
Black women have long felt slighted by the tendency of famous black men to pair with white women, and many have a list of current transgressors at the ready.
“We’ve discussed this for years among black women,” said Denene Millner, author of several books on black relationships. “Why is it when they get to this level … they tend to go directly for the nearest blonde?”
This tendency may be more prominent due to a relative lack of interracial marriages among average blacks. Although a recent Pew poll showed that 94 percent of blacks say it’s all right for blacks and whites to date, a study published this year in Sociological Quarterly showed that blacks are less likely to actually date outside their race than are other groups.
“There is a call for loyalty that is stronger in some ways than in other racial communities,” said the author of the study, George Yancey, a sociology professor at the University of North Texas and author of the book “Just Don’t Marry One.”
The color of one’s companion has long been a major measure of “blackness” – which is a big reason why the biracial Barack Obama was able to fend off early questions about his black authenticity.
“Had Barack had a white wife, I would have thought twice about voting for him,” Johnson Cooper said.
So do Woods’ women say something about the intensely private golfer’s views on race?
“I would like to say no, but I think it garners a bit of a yes,” Johnson Cooper said.
Carmen Van Kerckhove, founder of the race-meets-pop-culture blog Racialicious, said there have been frequent discussions on her site about the fine line between preference and fetish.
“Is there any difference between a white guy with a thing for blondes, and a non-white guy with a thing for blondes?” asked Van Kerckhove, who has a Chinese mother, a Belgian father and a husband born in America to parents from Benin.
She claims that Asians don’t fully embrace Woods, either.
“There are two layers of suspicion toward him,” Van Kerkhove said. “One toward the apparent pattern in the race of his partners, and the second in the way he sees himself. … People have been giving him the side-eye for a while.”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a mate who shares your culture, as long as it’s for the right reasons, the comedienne Sheryl Underwood said after unleashing a withering Woods monologue on Tom Joyner’s radio show.
“Would we question when a Jewish person wants to marry other Jewish people?” she said in an interview. “It’s not racist. It’s not bigotry. It’s cultural pride.”
“The issue comes in when you choose something white because you think it’s better,” Underwood said. “And then you never date a black woman or a woman of color or you never sample the greatness of the international buffet of human beings. If you never do that, we got a problem.”
Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press.