January 18, 2010

Tiger Woods and the Hyper-Sexualization of Black Men

new janis By Janis Prince Inniss

The Wanda Sykes Show recently spoofed The Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. Sykes and the rest of the Prize Patrol pay women for denying that they have had sex with golfing legend, Tiger Woods with this offer: “(The Tiger Woods Cleaning House Damage Control) is giving away millions to girls who know how to zip it!” When the Prize Patrol tries to award a $10 million check to Kelly O’Brien, and a Black woman answers the door, Sykes says, “Clearly, we have the wrong house!”

With that line, Sykes and her show state what is obvious but not much commented on in the Woods sex scandal: All the women who claim to have had sex with Woods are white.

Tiger Woods has said his self identity is that of “Cablinasian”—a term he created to account for his Thai, African American, Chinese, Native American, and Caucasian racial and ethnic heritage. By describing himself this way, Woods set himself apart from other mixed race Americans who are usually identified as African American—both by themselves and by others in the society. (Click here to read more about racial classification in the U.S.) Regardless of our self-identity, however, others classify us based on their own ideas about race. No matter how Tiger Woods describes himself, most Americans probably think of him as African American.

Given the country’s racial legacy, what role does Woods’ race play in the news coverage of his extramarital affairs? There is no lab in which we can run an experiment to answer this question definitively and all comparisons to other famous people—whether athletes, politicians, or actors—will be have limitations revolving around at least two issues. First, as one of the most famous and most accomplished athletes today, Woods is very unique. Second, a perfect comparison would have to include enough people who are very similar on a number of variables. Without the ability to make such precise comparisons, this public conversation is still a platform from which we can reflect on issues of race that this story raises.

How is race relevant in this case? Elin Nordegren, Tiger Woods’ wife is white and so are all of the women he is alleged to have had affairs with. (Woods admits to infidelity but does not say with whom he has dallied.) How much of the frenzied chasing of this story is related to those two factors, when most see him as African American? And what of the steam coming out of reporters’ ears as they discuss the case? Do they seem even more revved up than usual? For example, Pat Lalama was Guest Host on CNN’s Nancy Grace Show and she made no objections to the following comments by Lou Palumbo, a private investigator

LALAMA: Lou Palumbo, private investigator, former Nassau County Police investigator. You`ve seen a lot of this kind of thing, how does this rank to you, this case?
PALUMBO: As low as you can go, quite frankly. I mean.
LALAMA: Really?
PALUMBO: Yes, he`s somewhat on himself here. It wasn`t an issue that he wasn`t finding comfort or rapport in his home with his wife and he sought comfort with someone else. This guy was a sociopath. I mean, he traveled through continents to do this. And it`s unconscionable and quite frankly his complete lack of regard first and foremost for his children is inexplicable.

And I really don`t think this guy cares, quite frankly, and I think he`s a coward. In fact, what he should do is come out of hiding and just confront this issue and try to make some sense of it with people which we know he cannot do but he needs to confront this issue. He`s just hiding.

Palumbo’s comments and demeanor have been common among television commentators who seem to feel no need to appear journalistic as they discuss the Woods saga. How much of this vitriol is really based on the old stereotypical threat of African American men pursuing white women and defiling them?

That old fear was at the root of many lynchings and other racially motivated crimes against blacks. In 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy was beaten, shot, and then tied to a 70-pound cotton gin fan before being thrown into a river. His crime? Allegedly whistling at or maybe touching a white woman when he visited Mississippi from Chicago.

According to Jane Dailey, Till’s murder is seen by many historians as being directly tied to the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. How so? The decision was seen as opening white women to the sexual advances of black men in school; Walter C. Givhan, an Alabama state senator said the real purpose of the decision was “to open the bedroom doors of our white women to Negro men."

The tone of some of the coverage of the Tiger Woods sex scandal is suggestive of those earlier days. To be sure, Tiger Woods is no Emmett Till. (And I’m no apologist for Woods and his wandering ways!) In some ways, the 34 years between their births might as well be 134 years: Woods is married to a white woman, is wealthy, and famous. He’s famous for being the best in the world in a sport that has been mainly played by rich whites. I am reminded, though, that in other ways 34 years is not very long. For example, although interracial marriages have increased since Till’s time, they are still relatively rare—they make-up about 7% of all U.S. marriages. Coverage of the Tiger Woods affairs tinged with a lens that says that he has ‘gone too far’ –first by marrying a white woman and worse by cheating on her with even more white women—underscores some of that recent history.

Speaking about Woods, celebrity judge Jeanine Pirro exclaimed, “Men are pigs!”, and although tamped down, there was intense coverage of a physician who treated Woods because the doctor was being tied to performance enhancement drugs. With all of the non-stop coverage of this story, I have seen none of the contempt for Woods directed at the ever-growing list of women who agreed to have sex with the married superstar athlete, a subject for another post.

Do you detect a racial subtext in the coverage of this story? How do you imagine the coverage of the story would be the same, or different, if Woods was married to a black woman? Or if he were white? What if the women alleging that he was their paramour were women of color? How does this story reinforce the stereotype of the hyper-sexualized black man?


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Your article was interesting. It definitely did not go the way I expected it.
But I don't think this is a valid point. I'm sure some people noticed all the women were white and didn't say anything. But how many people didn't even notice?
You point out that interracial marriages make up only 7% of all marriages. To me that is so hard to believe. I'm from Southern California. Maybe we throw the curve off. It seems to me that every marriage is interracial.
My Dad was born and raised in Honduras. My mom, Missouri. My sisters both married men who are not their race. My brother married a woman who is not the same race as well.
I am dating a man whose mother and father were born and raised in Colombia and Japan respectively.
The other night we laughed at our dinner, which was Kimchi (Korean), rice, salad, Japanese dressings and seasoning, and corn tortillas with hot dogs.
Are we just blessed to honestly live in a multi-cultural world, while other parts of the country would be shocked and appalled by our lives?
I hope not.
I honestly did not even notice the ethnicity of the women whom Tiger allegedly had affairs with, until you pointed it out.
Honestly, I was simply disgusted by his infidelity. As I think I would be by any man, of any race.

Tiger Woods should have come out the first moment when this happenned because he is not the first person to deal with this.History repeat itself.thats why pople are now calling him a coward.Men are men.SAYING THAT MEN ARE ALL THE SAME IS JUST A BIGGER PICTURE.

Whilst I agree there is a racial discourse here (many famous white men have had affairs without resulting in this level of coverage), I'd suggest both gender and sexist discourses are operating here.

The current media coverage on this issue has assumed that Tiger Woods went out 'hunting' for women. There doesn't appear to be mention of women making the choice to engage in sexual intercourse with a married man: the cultural and social assumption is that women are still subordinated to men as it is the man who does the 'hunting'. Would there not be women actively throwing themselves at famous people like Tiger? It doesn't excuse what he did, but there are always 2 sides to every story.

i agree. Tiger Woods should have come out when this first started. By one man doing this is making women think that every man is like this. Apart of me feels that he is only doing this because he wants the attention. He already knows that he has ruined everything with is wife, that he mind as well "take it all the way" and get the publicity that he wants.

I've not seen the coverage as the hyper-sexualization of black men, but perhaps that is due to the fact that I've never thought of Tiger Woods as being African-American, rather, as simply the mix that he is (is it easier for me to see other people as simply mixed because I am, too?). If any label is applicable, I'd use "Blasian", a term even Woods has used (I believe he even used it in some of his texts with his mistresses). To me he looks more Asian than African-American, so I've noticed more of the blog comments and articles joking about he's blown the stereotype of Asians' low sexual prowess out of the water.

It also hadn't dawned on me until reading your post that all his mistresses were white; what I had noticed was, fair or not, what their non-racial and non-ethnic appearances portrayed: the stereotype of "easy" girls characterized by bad fake tans, bleached hair, excessive makeup and revealing clothing; the stereotype of women of low economic class willing to do anything for some money, possibly a book or reality show deal, and a few minutes of fame, regardless of how the media portray them; uneducated women, based on interviews that have been broadcast and published and the text messages released, that either don't value intelligence or are just naturally not that smart and could perhaps be easy prey for a megastar like Woods.

I do think Elin Woods has something to do with the public's and the media's reactions, but for me it wasn't due to her race, rather it was due to her non-racial appearance and image compared to that of her husband's other lovers. That is, not only does Elin Woods appear to have better hair, makeup, clothes, and be more sexually reserved, minus industry-appropriate swimsuit shots (whether this is true, I don't know; millions upon millions of dollars can do wonders for your physical appearance). What's more, Swedes are stereotyped for being tall, blonde, beautiful, and I've never encountered an American stereotype of Swedish women being promiscuous, fame-hungry mistresses. Compare that image to that of Tiger's other women, and I can see why many would turn against him, a la, "Why would he stoop so low when he's got THAT at home?" (But of course his reasons run far deeper than mere libido.) I do think, though, that in this respect the public's reaction might have been different had his wife been black. We still suffer to some extent of the Jezebel stereotype with black women, and statistics, the hip-hop industry, and television and movies don't do anything to raise the image of the African-American family life (volatile and often violent relationships; children out of wedlock; extremely sexualized men and women), and I think you're right that a black wife may not have elicited the same response. Additionally, I wonder if I might have seen Woods as more African-American, rather than mixed, had his wife been black.

I didn’t realize the gravity of the situation with Tiger Woods’s affairs until now. I knew that there was a scandal but not how out of control it had gotten.
I found you post very interesting in that it ties in with my sociology class. It’s difficult to figure out why there was so much coverage of Woods’s affairs. Was it because of his race, race of the women involved, his pro-athlete status? It is hard to determine why exactly there was so much coverage because there are so many different variables in play. I guess we’ll never know why Americans find Tiger Woods’s scandal so fascinating that we need to know every detail.

When I heard about this scandal, I thought of a scene from the movie I saw in my Sociology class. In this scene, a black male was on his knees proposing to a white female. This also reminded me of when Kobe Bryant was caught in a scandal of his own, and he bought his wife a $4 million ring. This scandal could have gotten a lot of coverage because Tiger Woods is a black male and married to a white female. He also has affairs with white females. Tiger Woods' mother-in-law is a Swedish Social Democratic politician. I wonder how much attention he got in Sweden?

I definitely agree!!! I found this informative and interesting blog so I think it is very useful and knowledgeable. Thanks for taking the time to share this and I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. Keep it up!!!

I am a black male. I know black males. In my entire life I have never met one who has had an honest relationship with a female, including myself. Our enslavement to our lust is the reason why we fail in every aspect of our lives; whether it is academic, domestic, business, religion, social or personal. The hyper-sexualized mind of the black male is the source of all personal and mass misery within the black community. Barack Obama values an honest relationship with one woman, which is the foundation of his successful existence. Most African-American males fear monogamy as an affront to their twisted ideation of what it means to be a man. I have done a decade worth of independent research on the subject.

Interesting, this is the reason i come to your site almost daily. Your articles are always up to date and interesting. Thanks again.

This is a media created event to tell about a dark skinned athelete , with power who crossed the line and had it coming to him for being what they created him to be.

this is goes for all men they are cheats i dont think black men cheat anymore than white but they are more likely to make it obvious or be suspected, good post

Ok so this is a bit old now, but has just been bought to my attention, either way the situation still excists, Men in general have a reduced respect to staying faithfull to one woman, no matter their race. Not all men tho - if their women were to stick by their guns and dump these no good men as soon as they know, then maybe they wont feel like they can get away with it. Interesting Article tho

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