In the past few weeks, the two most famous and arguably most successful black men in America have taken a huge fall. It has become clear that both pro golfer Tiger Woods, just named Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press, and the American president, Barack Obama, the first black person to lead the country, suffer from a surfeit of hubris which has finally caught up with them. If both men somehow thought they were untouchable, they have been put to right.
It is hard to know where to begin with this strange argument. First, why even link the two, an athlete and a president? The reason seems mainly racial: They are both black men, apparently like two peas in a pod. Would anyone ever have written that first sentence with “white men” in it? The last president is generally considered one of the leading failures as a U.S. president, but I do not remember a racialized article accenting his whiteness in comparison to other white male failures. And what is this stuff about they thought “they were untouchable” and a “surfeit of hubris.” The number of black men for whom that is true is certainly quite low in this highly racist society where black men are under constant threat of attacks of all kinds.
She continues in this vein:
And now while the news is full of Tiger Woods’ penchant for tawdry moments with women who can’t hold a candle to the physical beauty of his wife, the information we get on Obama, while far less salacious, is even more disillusioning. The expectations of real change that had people in tears a little over a year have been so thoroughly dashed that too many of his supporters feel betrayed by their naiveté.
Again, an odd juxtaposition. Are Tiger Woods’ “tawdry moments” even remotely comparable to the difficulties a president faces? There seems to be more than a hint in this whole piece too, with its heavy accents on Woods as “black” and on his “salacious” and “tawdry” sexual actions, of the over-sexed black men of stereotyped white imaginations, long central to the white racial frame. (Significantly, she does not ruminate on the actions of the numerous women involved with Woods and why they chose as “white women” to engage in such “tawdry moments.”)
A little later she makes the racialized theme more central, if less clear:
Both men are of mixed race. Yet the majority of the country, including black Americans, sees them as black. That’s not a bad thing. Except when such men of intelligence and talent, men who have such influence and power, can’t help but succumb to the age old twins of greed and power. Although each has risen from ordinary beginnings to be at the top of their field but now things don’t look so good for either of them.
OK, I have read this several times, and I am still not sure I understand it entirely. Clearly, the argument is that they are both black men, as seen by the “majority of the country.” The last phrase is rather vague, especially when one considers that long ago self-defined “whites” invented this racial meaning of “black” (for mixed-race people and others) as part of a racial framing to rationalize oppression and imposed it on enslaved Africans and African Americans. Both men are dealing thus with a racial identity long ago imposed on their group by white Americans. Notice that nowhere in her piece (including what I left out) are “whites” named as such and highlighted as relevant to the racialized commentary.
This last commentary also seems to say that both men are failures because they “can’t help but succumb” to “greed and power.” Somehow, their racial characteristics are factored in to help explain their similar (?) “fall from grace,” yet just how this works remains rather unclear.
A bit later she adds:
What the people who worked and voted for Barack Obama wanted to see was a man who would stand up for principle and the ideals he spoke so stunningly of while campaigning. What those who were shocked at Woods’ dalliances wanted to believe was that the first black man to be famous for a sport other than basketball or football was really who he appeared he was.
Well, in this last comment I guess she forgot about Jack Johnson and Jesse Owens and more recently Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, etc..
And her comments on Obama’s failure seem a bit premature. How long has Obama been president now? Not yet eleven months. And she is reading him off the stage, in spite of a Nobel Prize and numerous rather significant achievements, many of them trying to undo the great damage done to the United States by the previous president who presided over some full eight years.
And what is the standard used to measure Obama (or Woods) here? The standard of recent white presidents or other leading politicians?
And on tawdriness, numerous white Senators and Representatives, at national and state levels, have been caught with their pants down, but I do not remember seeing an article that jointly, comparatively, and aggressively calls several of them out as “white men,” or racializes their sexual escapes in a comparative framework.
I wonder how common this line of thinking is these days.