“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.