Tiger Woods and Talk of Lynching

The Sports-Law blog has a very good summary of key issues regarding golf commentator Kelly Tilghman’s comments on golfing competitors thinking about “lynching” Tiger Woods to keep him from winning:

“Unfortunately, barely hours into 2008 we were hit with what can only be described as a breathtaking breach in the world of sports and race equality. A few days ago, while broadcasting a PGA tour event, Kelly Tilghman, the Golf Channel’s main play-by-play anchor commented nonchalantly to co-anchor Nick Faldo when discussing Tiger Woods’ dominance on the Professional Golf Tour that his competitors should ‘lynch Tiger Woods in a back alley.’ Tilghman stated on live television that today’s young players should ‘lynch Tiger Woods.’ “

She made these comments in a time period when we have had noose incidents in many places across the United States since the Jena, Louisiana events last year. All too often, nooses seem inconsequential to many white Americans, as do racist jokes about lynching black Americans. Yet nooses and lynching jokes are contemporary signs of white Americans’ 400-year rationalizations of the oppression of African Americans. Too many white minds are still deeply filled with what I have termed the white racial frame, a framing of African Americans that includes a great many negative images and emotions aimed at black men, women, and children. Whites like this commentator seem so isolated from the reality of the discrimination and subsequent pain that African Americans face that they appear clueless and out of touch with societal reality.

Thus, in recent years the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and similar federal agencies have received many thousands of complaints of racial harassment in U.S. workplaces. Not long ago, at just one major power company worksite at least five hangman’s nooses were scattered about apparently to threaten black employees. In a midwestern workplace white workers, including a supervisor, paraded around in Klan costumes. In many other workplaces black employees have encountered hangman’s nooses, racist graffiti on walls, racist cartoons mocking African Americans, and white employees in KKK hoods or sheets. White workers have also put up effigies (such as coconuts in blackface) of black workers or family members, with racist epithets written on them. (Andrew R. McIlvaine, “Hostile Environments,” Human Resource Executive Magazine; and Gregory Weaver, Indianapolis Star, January 14, 2001; and see Jessie’s earlier posts here about noose incidents in the news.)

Whites who do this type of harassment often think it is funny. Indeed, many white employers allow this type of “joking” behavior to continue in worksites. Such racial harassment is a violation of U.S. laws. While many white Americans would likely see much of this as discriminatory and improper, most do not see that these recurring harassments bring major psychological and stress-related physical costs to their African American targets.

Such racist practices do much harm. (See, for example, Feagin and McKinney, The Many Costs of Racism). Hangman’s nooses and other KKK symbols suggest today to most African Americans the brutal violence that African Americans have endured at the hands of white supremacists for hundreds of years. I once interviewed an elderly African American professor who explained that when he hears racist epithets (such as the N-word), he often sees in the back of his mind a black man hanging from a tree. Actually he grew up when lynchings were more common, and his past experience with violent racism is recalled by racist acts in the present. He reported that white friends will tell him to just “let go” of such racist comments from bigots and quickly “move on.” However, even this sympathetic perspective suggests that whites do not understand how one incident can trigger the accumulated pain of past racist events. Indeed, most whites, perhaps like Kelly Tilghman, do not realize the great extent of the past and continuing damage of racial oppression in this United States.


  1. Seattle in Texas

    I guess this is not too surprising, which is disturbing to me—the fact that I can actually say that. If her comment was out of privilege, it seems to show that privilege lends to ignorance, yet ignorance is no excuse at all. But this type of stuff goes further. As I was walking through a university back in the Northwest, I saw a piece of paper on the ground that was approximately 4’ X 6’ in. and it was an invitation somebody had dropped for a “victory celebration” planned on a football night. While photocopied, the invitation was hand written with a drawing of the other team’s mascot dead and hanging with a noose around its throat and its tongue hanging out (a specific K-9 breed to be exact) and the eyes were simply X’s. The historical meaning was evident. While I love animals, but this is different than the whole “To you a Longhorn is a Mascot, to me it’s a hamburger” thing (and not to excuse symbolic violence against any animals). Considering this was found at a predominately “white” university…I’m not sure how students of color (at either university) or members of color representing the rival team would have felt with this type of presentation for a football “victory party” celebration—it just seemed so threatening and sadistic, with intention to come across that way. I don’t think anything with nooses, regardless of how they are presented or who they are directed at or in which context, can come across as humorous, harmless, and/or excusable. I am certain any person of color in that state and surrounding states would have felt threatened by that image…and for a public figure to refer to Woods in that fashion?

  2. Will

    You bring up an interesting point with regard to the privilege of the white college student specifically. We, as I am finishing my degree in May, like to believe that simply because we are college students we are “open-minded” as if by default and therefore any action we take cannot be perceived as racist sexist or classist. For example, the entirety of the promotion for homecoming weekend is focused on sexual conquest by male students. Whether this is a reflection of the culture of the college campus, with regard to the experience being an extension of childhood, or a reflection of a racist white power structure is not for me to judge. But I have learned one thing here, we white boys love our racism.


  3. Seattle in Texas

    It is what it is, is it not? I think you just described a fallacy all to common that is acquired in higher education? However, I think it’s those who possess the ability to see things for what they are (much rare I think that being said in perhaps a Marxist spirit?), that possess the highest potential to bring about change in positive ways. Will congrats on the degree!

  4. Seattle in Texas

    And Will, I have to say in terms of education in the U.S. and racism; I think it’s something that comes free of charge. I was thinking of something a professor said the other night as she had taught in Canada and had repeated criticism from an administrator for how she was organizing her own curriculum and teaching her students: “You Americans. You Americans always have to put things into categories. You teach Math separately, then teach English separately, etc. Have you ever thought about teaching…” basically a way that incorporates and synthesizes all academic areas into one, yet getting through each with the different lessons taught. But it’s so true; Americans do have to put everything into categories, including people. Then changes are supposedly made based on categories, which over time, shows that the differences only become stronger or the problems worse for those who are/were oppressed in the first place. What would happen if whites lost their category? Or all people lost their category? I think problems in the U.S. would erupt largely on behalf of the whites because much of their power, privilege, and all the other symbolic rewards that go with it would be lost and irrelevant (ideally). I don’t think they would have it, and would prevent it from coming about at any cost. Thus, I think they rely on the categories to keep their own social positions firm and stable. The categories keep the differences in place and the collective historical memories (whether good or bad) generally mutually exclusive to each group, which makes it difficult for all people be enjoy the good, share the pain collectively, and take responsibility for the harms that various groups have endured as a result of the categories. I think in this society, the categories serve to keep things stratified, etc. Yet, I can see that if they were removed, there is the possibility of no real change occurring—yet the inequalities and racial experiences being denied, and so on. I think it could be successful if structural changes were made as other posts have discussed—but things that apply to everybody (which means modifications in distributions of wealth and income (caps on both), and universal benefits (healthcare, education, etc.)) that all Americans would be entitled to. I think higher education in the U.S. plays a large role in keeping the society both through how the system itself works in separate categories (departments, disciplines, etc.) while at the same time channeling the fallacy that you had described—meanwhile, upholding the idea of keeping human beings in categories both inside the institution and out. Ahhh, it’s so interesting. And to address the issue above, if the categories were removed and not tolerated, would all people become more sensitive to the noose, or the “N” word, etc.? I don’t really know.

  5. Joe Author

    Good points. The categories “white” and “black” in their modern racial senses were of course created in the late 1600s by the European colonists to North America, who named the categories, and whose descendants still are the primary enforcers of them. The white racial framing of society is now quite old. Dismantling it will require organized efforts, including massive education on all these matters. The naivete on all this is great, as we see commentators of all kinds who think we are a colorblind society now. Yet, watch what happens to Obama. A majority of whites, today, will never vote for a black candidate because of that entrenched white racial frame.

  6. Seattle in Texas

    It would have to be through education—still, even then, they would resist. This is not a colorblind society—maybe engulfed with blind privilege (coupled with Libertarianism that rationalizes and excuses their unjust social positions…) on part of whites, but certainly not colorblind. And I was thinking about what statisticians in this nation would do if categories (variables) were remove or irrelevant, haha, they would go crazy! And maybe even need some straight jackets! Just kidding—we love our statisticians, there is a time and place for such work.

    But with relation to Obama and voting…I think I found I am finally fed up with discussing the Democratic Party or “Democratic” anything with people in general. If I had a dollar for every time I heard something to this effect: “Oh Hillary and Obama—they’re the same, it doesn’t matter which one you vote for” I could probably take a nice vacation. A few evenings ago I heard it again by a white fellow and responded: “Oh? How so?” Then it goes on to the same lines I’ve heard before—they both weren’t raised in poverty, they both have the same political agenda, etc. Then I explained I totally disagreed—differences in ideas on healthcare reform, combating poverty, getting out of Iraq, etc. and argued Hillary is a centralist whereas Obama is much further in the “Blue” for the Democratic Party in terms what the Democratic Party is “supposed” to stand for. He said: “Ohhhhhh, you just wait. Hillary is much more Liberal than Obama, much more. She’s just playing conservative to win. But if she wins? She will do things much differently.” I sighed with aggravated patience. Then it hit me. I think this is the widespread rationalization white Democratic voters are relying in terms of not voting for a Black Presidential candidate…“it doesn’t matter which one you vote for, they’re both the same” (then after arguing Obama is much more Liberal) to the counter-argument of it’s just Hillary’s game—she’s far more Liberal than Obama…. (Oh and never mind the racism and unfair undermining that has occurred within not only her campaign, but also the Clinton administration prior…). The identities (names, race, gender, etc.) of all candidates should not be released to anybody—just their positions, plans, and agendas for people to read or hear through a one neutral reporter who can provide audio recordings for those who are blind, illiterate, etc. Or simply disenfranchise all U.S. voters and let others vote for us. I have no other ideas at the moment…but the current strategies aren’t working and certainly have done no justice in the past…with the exception of a few maybe….

  7. Seattle in Texas

    And if Hillary and Obama are really one in the same as I keep hearing, why don’t those Democratic voters just vote with a coin—Obama-heads and Hillary-tales, do an honest flip, then make an honest vote based on the landing. Statistics would suggest that biases would be removed and both would have an equal chance of winning….that’s exactly what my suggestion will be every time I hear that….

  8. Joe Author

    Yes, there are real differences between them, though they both were much less forthright on that in the ‘debate’ last night. Hillary will likely win most primaries, because of that deep white racial frame that keeps even a significant minority of liberal whites from considering and voting for Obama. And moderate, independent, Repub whites mostly will not at this point in our history consider Obama — with heads full of negative black stereotypes.

  9. Seattle in Texas

    Well…that certainly seems to be the case…the optimism is fading on this end, that’s for sure…racism is certainly playing a role. Even one of the most “Democratic-Liberal” people I’ve met in Texas said she was likely going to vote for Hillary because she can just relate to her. They both grew up in a middle class home, became politically conscious around the same time, etc. etc. although said it is possible her mind may change before then…. I think it’s perhaps the rationales people are relying on to not vote for Obama and keep from confronting their own racism is what is interesting (and/or seeing the white racial frame in live action during these conversations?)…. (just not Republican again…please, please, please not Republican again) If Obama weren’t in, I’d be Green all the way….

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