As the media frenzy over Tiger Woods’ reported marital infidelity gained momentum, I waited for the inevitable disappointment, irrational guilt and surge of frustration. I braced myself for the symptoms I expected: Knot in stomach, distraught head-shaking and melodramatic muttering of “Oh, Tiger, why, why, why? We don’t need this.” The “we,” of course, being black people.
But I felt nothing.
This was strange. Sure, I’m no golf fan, but I have historically been afflicted with the old stomach knot without regard for how far removed I am from the person at the center of the controversy—or whether I even like them. My anxiety has to do with the run-of-the-mill special concern for members of one’s family or nation. In some ways, it’s akin to the phantom pain of an amputated limb. But it’s also infused with ideas of shared fate or linked destiny that are arguably grounded in reality.
I experienced that sense of anxious identification with Michael Jackson, whom I loved, and Kobe Bryant, whom I really didn’t know anything about before his “transgressions,” i.e., his rape trial. I felt it with Michael Vick, even though animal abuse is horrifying to me. Years ago, it hit me when I found out the Washington area snipers were black. This year, Serena Williams’ and Kanye West’s outbursts set it off once again.
It’s the source of the familiar first response—“Oh, God, I hope it wasn’t a black person”—when we hear that someone has committed a brutal crime, as if we, too, are guilty just for sharing the same racial identity. It even carries over to fictional characters, like Disney’s new Princess Tiana. It causes black women to fret that the media almost never get us right, fueling the frustration of skeptics of Precious and the entire Tyler Perry oeuvre.
But there was Tiger, caught in a sex scandal complete with alleged multiple skanks, embarrassing voice-mails and eyebrow-raising texts. And other than the normal workday interest in celebrity gossip, I felt: Yawn. Nothing.
I re-read the texts and scrutinized pictures of the alleged mistresses. Second yawn. I took my racial anxiety temperature and found it to be normal. Interested, but not personally invested, I felt exactly like I did when David Letterman revealed his infidelity. No stress, no angst, no, “Why did you have to do this to us?”
And I suspect that Tiger would be thrilled with my reaction.
As Tiger famously didn’t want to be seen as black, but rather “Cablinasian,” he would have resented any black-specific phantom pain on my part.