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You're Black Whether You Like It Or Not! Tiger Woods and How Misery LOVES Company

Posted by JD on Wednesday, December 2, 2009 , under , | comments (4)

I remember watching the Oprah interview in which Tiger Woods referred to himself as Cablinasian.

From Salon Magazine

Woods made his remarks on "Oprah," when he was asked if it bothered him to be called an African-American. "It does," he said. "Growing up, I came up with this name: I'm a 'Cablinasian.'" As in Caucasian-black-Indian-Asian. Woods has a black father (or to be precise, if I am interpreting Woods' reported ancestry correctly, a half-black, one-quarter American Indian, one-quarter white father) and a Thai mother (or, with the same caveat, a half-Thai, half-Chinese mother). "I'm just who I am," Woods told Oprah Winfrey, "whoever you see in front of you."

From that moment on, many black people were upset. They said Woods didn’t want to be black. They questioned why he made up a name for himself. They accused him of distancing himself in an effort to be unique or different. I remember thinking that it didn’t matter what Tiger said, some segment of the black community would be upset. If he said “I’m Black.” Then he would have been questioned about how his mother felt about his singular identification or how he can consider himself black when he’s so obviously mixed. Worse, some people would have undoubtedly said “He ain’t black!”

Now that Woods has been caught in a domestic issue, for some reason, black people have, once again, taken the opportunity to mock Woods for his racial identification and the fact that he married a white woman. It’s as though black people were looking for an excuse to drag him through the proverbial racial mud yet again--and then simultaneously wonder why on earth being called black makes him uncomfortable. (If you don’t see the irony in that sentence, God bless you)

Actually, let me correct that. Woods did not say he preferred not to be called black. Oprah’s specific question to Woods was about whether it ‘bothered’ him to be called “African American.” I’ve been a part of many debates about the use of the term African American vs. the use of the term Black. Personally, it does bother me to be called African American—do I object to it? No. Do I prefer the term Black American? Yes. It’s totally a personal choice based on my understanding of the history of blacks in America and what certain terms mean culturally, ethnically, and socially.

That’s why I believe that the way in which someone identifies themselves is personal. And the way that people interpret that identification is personal as well. People interpret statements through their own filters, many of which are, quite frankly, fucked up and ignorant and affected and jaded. When I hear black people complain that Woods doesn’t identify himself as “black” or that he doesn’t “acknowledge” is blackness enough or any other similar combination of criticisms about how he PERSONALLY identifies HIMSELF, what I hear, through MY filters is simple: “Mixed people think they are better than other black people and they are beneficiaries of certain privileges as a result. Damn I wish I were mixed.”

I believe many black people have a deep-seated resentment toward the privilege that many mixed people receive. Doesn’t matter how small the privilege, whether it be that white folks feel more comfortable around mixed people or that certain black men find mixed women more attractive. The criticisms of biracial people and the like, from what I’ve seen, stem all too often from an effort to knock that person off the pedestal on which some blacks perceive they sit i.e. “look at you now, you thought you were special, but you’re just another nigga. TOLD YOU SO!” [not sure what makes black people think that mixed people aren’t already painfully aware of their relative n*gga status]

Why else would black people be compelled to comment on how those who are readily identifiable as mixed choose to identify themselves? If Woods didn’t “look mixed” it wouldn’t be an issue. Why? Because there aren’t any perceived privileges to “just looking black” and therefore, no pedestal from which to knock them. And when people who don’t “look black” or at least not all the way black, don’t rush to visibly embrace all the consequences of being black, other blacks tend to feel personally rejected by that person –even if they don’t know the person or their history.

So many black people aren’t happy unless everyone that they personally perceive as black empathizes and identifies with them. And that’s fine, black people should contiue to exact change through the sharing of their struggles and experiences. And I too, question the Michael Steele’s of the world who seem oblivious to things like institutionalized racism or the impact of conservative policies on urban life etc.

But the problem is that many blacks not only insist that you empathize, they insist you suffer like them as well. And if you don’t appear to, you are subjected to a never-ending set of requirements: talk this way, wear your hair like that, call yourself black, mixed, mulatto blah! I could go on with all the many ways black people judge you upon finding out that you’re mixed. Sometimes I believe black people ask you what your race is just so that they can pull the right set of mocking talking points out of their arsenal. It seems to be that misery loves the shit out of company. And black people have made many a mixed person miserable by bowling over their right to have and communicate a different experience. And that is plain wrong.

Speaking of filters, based on my life experiences, I interpreted Woods’ statements to mean that he is many things none more important than the other. I felt he was trying to avoid a national conversation on the issue of his race and simply was disinterested in being remembered historically as the greatest “negro” golfer in history, an asterisk bigger (and more hurtful) than the one Phil Jackson put on the San Antonio Spurs 1999 NBA championship. In other words, “despite all your glorious accomplishments, you’re not the greatest golfer ever Woods, you’re just the great negro golfer. Oh and by the way, do you mind dropping off this “Best To Ever Play” plaque at Phil Mickelson’s house? Nevermind, I’ll ask that Vijay Singh to do it. He’s darker than you anyway, and I think he might come from ragpicking stock. No worries.”

The most poignant thing Woods said in his interview with Oprah was this: “I am whoever you see in front of you.” That’s a true statement. For all those who complain about how Woods identified himself in that interview or any other, it didn’t change your personal perception of him. You still have your opinion, however unfair.

30 Years Later...You STILL Can't Tell By Looking

Posted by JD on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 , under | comments (0)

I remember years ago when I first heard of HIV, it was before I became sexually active myself. I vowed that I would never have sex with anyone unless we both got tested first and I saw definitive paperwork saying they were free from any diseases, including the virus that causes AIDS. I was afraid. I knew you that you can’t tell someone’s disease status by looking. I didn’t think any man was worth a death sentence.

Needless to say I have never stuck made good on that promise. I haven’t slept with very many people (I can still count my sexual partners on one hand); however, when it comes to the transmission of disease through sexual contact, it really doesn’t matter how many people you’ve slept with because it only takes one encounter to get something of which you cannot rid yourself. I won’t lie, it continues to amaze me that someone who looks healthy and normal can carry a disease so hateful and cruel and…deathly.

While pursuing my bachelor’s degree at Temple University, I took a course called “AIDS in Society” over winter break. I thought it would be an easy A to get because I was already fairly educated about the disease.

I was wrong.

I learned so much.

I learned that the messages that have been promoted to people who already have HIV to encourage them to choose life with the disease rather than give up on treatments and embrace the death sentence the disease once was, have actually made a lot of people (with the disease and without) more complacent. See, if HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence, why worry so much?

I learned that HIV is a disease, AIDs is a diagnoses made after your cell count dips below a certain level. There are plenty of people who have been diagnosed with AIDS who are healthier than people who have HIV.

I learned that although HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence, it is a LIFE sentence. Every meal, every pill, every outing, every trip…everything you do in life will have to be planned. Drugs must be taken on time or risk their efficacy. HIV destroys immunity, you will be susceptible to dying from complications e.g. pneumonia, influenza etc.

I learned that people with HIV often think that they can have unprotected sex with other people who have the disease without consequences but in reality you can pass on immunities and next thing you know none of the drugs are working for either of you.

I learned that we are all a few degrees of separation from the primary pathways by which HIV/AIDs is spread: heterosexual sex, sex between male prisoners, drug addicts. It all counts, we are all at risk.

I learned that we all know someone who has HIV/AIDS and we’re unaware of their status simply because, again, you can’t tell by looking.

Unfortunately, we still live in a day an age where we don’t fully grasp anything until it impacts us personally. How many people turn a blind eye to the importance of cancer research until their mother or aunt gets the disease? When they see their loved one’s hair begin to fall out, or skin start to pale, or notice the glimmer that once in their eye has perished. Then they start walking for the cure. Then they start donating money. Then they become aware.

So often, we don’t really begin to care until someone we care about has to care. And by then it’s too late. But HIV/AIDs isn’t cancer. It’s predictable as the day is long. It’s as preventable disease as we could ever hope for. It’s one of the few things in which you PERSONAL actions actually can make a difference. But we still don’t take it as seriously as we might because you can’t tell by looking.

World AIDS day is a day like many other days in which we wear ribbons and start conversations that never seem to reach a resolution. I keep reading articles that state that money has been wasted on HIV/AIDs programs in areas with high HIV rates like Washington DC. People still think that gay, bisexual, or closeted men are the main issue with these disease…some still believe they’re the only ones who get it. Some are still too busy debating the origin of HIV/AIDs, blaming the government, discussing conspiracy theories that no matter the origin do not negate the prevention advice we’ve been provided.

So if you’re wondering why this disease continues to spread and has now become the leading cause of death for black women in my age group (25-34 yrs old), the answer is easy. Everyone is still in denial, that’s the one thing you CAN tell just by looking.