Sunday, December 06, 2009

Keepers of the Color Line

Seems that adultery is not the only thing that's got Americans talking about Tiger Woods. For some, the real transgression is not that he cheated on his wife but that he cheated on his wife with white women. Check it out:

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.

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. (Read the whole thing here)

Let me start by saying that internalized racism is a very real problem and that it can and frequently does influence people's behavior, including their choice of a mate. As such it is worthy of deep thought and serious discussion, not just among African Americans but everyone. However as a Baha'i and a Black man who is happily married to a white woman, I believe that real, true and perfectly healthy love is possible across the color line. Such marriages are encouraged and quite common within the Baha'i community and we are learning a lot about the possibilities of racial unity functioning at the most intimate level, the family.

What strikes me about some of the comments about Tiger Woods is that exemplify an irony I've observed for some time; African Americans have become keepers of the color line. What I mean by this is that we spend tremendous energy policing boundaries that supposedly separate us from our fellow human beings; boundaries which we did not actually create but are the historical artifacts of white supremacy. By doing so, we collude in the perpetuation of the color line and thus our own oppression.

For example, many African Americans adhere tenaciously to the so called, "one drop rule", claiming as black anyone with African ancestry regardless of their actual parentage. Those who question this notion (like Tiger Woods) risk fierce criticism in spite of the fact that the "one drop rule" originates in efforts to support slavery and racial discrimination. Why on earth would those who have suffered due to this racist idea want to legitimize it?

Another example is that in my daily life the people who are most likely to offer unsolicited opinions or criticisms about how I should think, feel, behave, dress, eat, entertain myself, socialize and so on are not whites but other African Americans. Many of these opinions and criticisms are based not upon racial pride but adherence to racial stereotypes. These stereotypes have come to function as the touch stone of racial authenticity. The whole notion that there is a way that African Americans have to be entered our consciousness through the brutal socialization of chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation. The essence of our struggle for freedom has been crossing the color line, transgressing the color line. Did our ancestors really fight and die so that today we should willingly limit the possibilities of our lives based on race? I find that hard to believe. I refuse to allow the color line to determine who I am or who I am able to become. I choose to cross it, to transgress it, to transcend it.

"Can we apply the test of racial color and say that man of a certain hue -- white, black, brown, yellow, red -- is the true image of his Creator? We must conclude that color is not the standard and estimate of judgment and that it is of no importance, for color is accidental in nature. The spirit and intelligence of man is essential, and that is the manifestation of divine virtues, the merciful bestowals of God, the eternal life and baptism through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, be it known that color or race is of no importance. He who is the image and likeness of God, who is the manifestation of the bestowals of God, is acceptable at the threshold of God -- whether his color be white, black or brown; it matters not. Man is not man simply because of bodily attributes. The standard of divine measure and judgment is his intelligence and spirit. Therefore, let this be the only criterion and estimate, for this is the image and likeness of God. (Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 70)