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Thursday, January 10, 2008
Rebuking Excuses to Lynching Tiger Woods Jokes

The Golf Channel reporter Kelly Tilghman stated the only hope young professional golfers have in competing with Tiger Woods would be to “lynch [him] in a back alley.” The three common excuses have risen again to urge that such comments are not really such a big deal: (1) Tiger Woods is not offended so neither should we, (2) the comment was a joke, without ill-intent, and (3) any punishment is only misguided mislabeled “political correctness”.

As to whether Tiger Woods’ lack of offense excuses her from offending others I offer the following analysis. If the comment was made at a private dinner party between the two of them, then fine. If Woods was not offended from that interaction between the two of them the only parties to the discussion can resolve the matter. But the comment wasn’t just between the two of them. The comments were part of what is shared with the public. The Golf Channel (TGC) is in the business of sending messages on public airwaves designed for the public. On air reporters like Tilghman comprise the talking face of TGC. More importantly, they are paid professional wordsmiths, hired to use professional judgment consistent with the business plan of TGC. The target of the crafted messages therefore is not just the individual (Tiger Woods), but the public and audience from which TGC has the privilege of reaching and profiting from through an FCC license. The FCC only gains its authority statutorily through Congress, and Congress gets its authority from the votes of the public. TGC and PGA’s business plan is to gain more audience share through inclusiveness – bringing more minorities and women into its market share tent. Antithetical to that business plan is any comment that links lynching with African Americans, particularly with the current Jena 6 and related incidents within present memory. So such comments are not about her personal relationship with Woods, whether Woods would be offended, or political correctness. Most fundamentally, this was an error of professional judgment by a person who is paid to craft words carefully. [1]

And whether Tilghman intended harm by the comments is not nearly as important as the consequences of those statements. The consequence of showing insensitivity to a group of the audience the company is trying to include is more important than her intent. We, in fact, will not definitively know her intent as there is no empirical test that proves it either way.

And saliently, none of the excuses can excuse a joke that ties lynching with an African American because it dismisses and insults those who care about unjustified brutal killings. Historians note that between 1889 and 1918, a total of 2,522 black Americans were lynched, 50 of them women.[2] There is nothing funny about people who were hanged and often burned alive. In far too many instances the crime was petty offenses such as stealing a cow, arguing with a white man, or attempting to register to vote. No one was punished in the South for taking part in a lynching until 1918.[3] As a writer opined, “The real purpose of these savage demonstrations is to teach the Negro that in the South he has no rights that the law will enforce.”[4] Lynching has been recorded at least into the mid-1930’s, which is within the lifetime of millions of African Americans, some of whom probably watch TGC or the media reports about it. Lynching jokes would not be funny to those who lived with it, those who actually identify with those who suffered or those who simply want people treated fairly in this country. So unless we want to be the United States of Amnesia, we should remember this part of our history with the same sober-mindedness we would have at a funeral, or at a museum that commemorates fallen heroes from other types of atrocities. None of which, like lynching in America, is funny.
[1] TGC suspended her, but the terse announcement I read did not state whether the suspension was with or without pay. If with pay, then shame on TGC and its lack of honesty, sensitivity and hypocrisy. If with pay, then but for the time it took to decide, it remains on my remote’s auto favorites.
[2] Georgia

[3] Id.
[4] Id.



I just want to make a minor clarification in your otherwise compelling post. Since the Golf Channel is, at least to my knowledge, a network found on cable systems, it is not deemed an over the air broadcaster for FCC purposes. So, I would not argue that the insult is made more compelling because it is shared in the public airwaves. It was insulting whether it was on broadcast, cable, print or Internet.

Blogger Mark Conrad -- 1/10/2008 9:36 PM  

Tiger is actually more Asian than anything else, so the lynching comment isn't really relevant.

Anonymous Peter -- 1/10/2008 10:30 PM  

Why do people want to make victims out of every black? BY THE WAY, THEY ARE FRIENDS!

I think her comment shows that she does not see Tiger as black. I for one NEVER do. I would say something about him that I would say about a white golfer.

The viewership on the golf channel is what? 50 people? This would not be a big thing if the pc police were not searching for it.

And why bring up the Jena 6 into the conversation? Read up on it. The the rope had nothing to do with the eventual fight. The fight came later (months?).

As a kid, the only people I ever heard the "n" word from were blacks. I never could understand why my parents said it was a bad word. I heard it all the time at school.

Everybody needs to take a deep breath. I'm in Chicago. Have you read the news this past week? We've had so many black on black murders since Christmas. That is what should offend everyone.

Blogger elena -- 1/11/2008 6:31 PM  

What I find most compelling about this post and its subsequent comments, particularly the last two, is the fact that there is still a need to explain WHY comments such as this are inappropriate. I can not believe that people really don't get it.

The fact is racism against Blacks was a living, breathing, vicious animal in this country not very long ago. It has been the cause of countless deaths, turmoil and embarrassment for many Blacks in America for ages. Regardless of whether one individual sees Tiger as Black does not mean that he is not. We do not have to go that far back to a time where NO one would have cared that he was "more Asian" than Black. He still would have been called the “N” word and hung from a tree because he whistled at a white woman.[1]

It is clear to me that Americans would much rather sweep under the rug all the unfortunate circumstances Blacks have had to deal with in this country and make light of the mere fact that they ONLY dealt with those things because of the color of their skin. Tilghman’s comment would NOT have been made if Tiger's skin color wasn't dark & he wasn't Black, because then there would have been no "joke".

Until the time comes where individuals stop trying to justify the use of words whose connotation have a KNOWN history of hatred, I will remain convinced that racism is STILL living and breathing in the United States of Amnesia. The need to explain why this is wrong and/or justify why it is okay to use such words demonstrates an alarming level of ignorance and insensitivity to what REAL people in this country have lived with.

It matters not that Tilghman considers herself to be Tiger’s friend or that she did not “intend” ill will. All that matters is that a comment of lynching a Black man is INAPPROPRIATE. That should be where the discussion ends.


Anonymous deanna -- 1/12/2008 9:23 AM  

Truly, it is immaterial whether Woods & Tilghman are best friends or strangers. That is relevant for the feelings in their personal relationship, but not between The Golf Channel & its public.

Also, Tilghman being 'racist' or not is immaterial as well. As an on-air anchor, she committed a mistake and was thus punished for it. So, it doesnt matter whether or not YOU, I, the President or Alan Cummings view Tiger Woods as Black. It is wholly insulting to assume that this only concerns Woods.

In fact, Woods has famously claimed that he's NOT "Black" but comblinasian. Yet there are scores of people who DO identify as Black, or simply decent Americans who dont treat lynchings in cavalier conversation.
Yet, it is interesting that neither Fuzzy Zoeller or Kelly Tilghman didnt make a Thai, caucasian or native american jokes.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/14/2008 6:38 PM  

America must never forget the pain caused by lynching. It does not matters if the anchors women’s comments were crafted as a harmless joke, not intended to offend but to entertain, the insensitivity of the comments goes well beyond ignorance. While Tiger may not be able to challenge such comments without jeopardizing his stature among his peers, they affect a greater audience. Even though this is 2008, some still think lynching is the only way to control the movement of a person or people. Again, Tiger may not care, but those of us who understand the "Dream" know that there this is no place for these types of comments in present day America.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/17/2008 10:02 PM  

Quite honestly, if you can spell MORON, you'll have this lady down cold.

Tilghman, JOKING about lynching is not funny. Let's hear you "joke" about sending Jews to the gas chamber, and see how long you'll have your cushy job. Tiger really IS your friend. He chose to brush this off and not tank your career. I hope you learned your lesson, though. That stuff is NOT FUNNY.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/24/2008 1:27 PM  

I have no idea what the politics (if any) of posters Peter and elena above might be, so this comment is not [necessarily] about them.
But isn't it a curious coincidence how so many of the people who whine most loudly and frequently that repressive "political correctness" won't permit what are clearly "harmless jokes" are also the same ones loudly decrying the "War on Christmas," and calling LGBT
demands for civil equality "the gay agenda" and "special rights?"
Free speech for me -- but not for thee.

Anonymous smartalek -- 11/28/2009 5:05 PM  

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