The colour line in the U.S. presidential election

OCTOBER 15, 2012 – In the run-up to the November 2 presidential election in the United States, polls are indicating an almost evenly divided electorate. As of this writing, support for President Barack Obama was standing just above 46%, support for Republican challenger Mitt Romney just above 47% (RealClearPolitics). Given these figures, imagine entering a room of 200 randomly chosen U.S. voters, with people sitting at tables by party-affiliation, but with no table signs to indicate which party-table was which. To avoid a night of tea-party polemics, you might reasonably wish to find a table of Obama supporters, and you figure the odds aren’t too bad – roughly 50-50. This is statistically true, but sociologically misleading. There is a straightforward way to qualitatively improve your chances of finding a table of Obama supporters, and avoiding a table of Romney supporters. The U.S. remains an extremely racially-divided society, and your encounter with an Obama supporter would be made much easier, with just a little research.

Follow, for a moment, the logic represented by Table 1, starting with Column 1, Share of Total Population.

According to the latest figures in the U.S. census, the country’s population breaks down as follows: approximately 1.2% are indigenous, 13.1% identify as African-American, 16.7% as of Hispanic or Latino origin, 5% as Asian, and 63.4% as white (Caucasian, excluding those who identify as of Hispanic or Latino origin) (United States Census Bureau 2012).

But this is not representative of the actual “voting universe” of the U.S. population. Fully 5.8 million U.S. citizens of voting age are excluded from voting – disenfranchised – because of laws in certain states which prohibit those with a criminal record from casting a ballot. Because of the widely-acknowledged, deeply racialized nature of the criminal justice system in the U.S., these laws disproportionately impact African Americans. For non-African Americans, these “felon laws” have the effect of excluding 1.8% of voting age adults. For African American citizens, the excluded percentage jumps to an astonishingly high 7.7% (Uggen, Shannon, and Manza 2012, 1).

To fully understand the intent and origin of these laws, examine for a minute where their effect is the most pronounced. “In six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than 7% of the adult population is disenfranchised.” In Virginia and Kentucky, the figure is 20% or one in five. In Florida the figure is 23%, almost one in four (Uggen, Shannon, and Manza 2012, 1–2). Five of these – Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – were part of the old, racist Confederacy where plantation slavery was deeply entrenched until the Civil War. Kentucky was a border state with divided loyalties. In the post Civil War era, the old white racist power structure found many methods to continue the disenfranchisement of African American citizens. Laughlin McDonald, Voting Rights Program Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is quoted in The Huffington Post, saying: “There’s no question this has a basis in race discrimination. It’s part of the history of the racial minorities in the South. The Southern states adopted a whole variety of measures to take away the right to vote after Reconstruction” (McLaughlin 2012).

Column 2 displays this 7.7% figure for African-Americans, while “1.8%” has been entered for all others, as the only two categories for which we have readily available statistics are “African-American” and “non-African American”. But given the enormous weight of African-Americans in the U.S. prison system, this will not appreciably distort the statistics. Column 3 shows the way in which this reduces the percent of the African-American population available to exercise their franchise, Column 4 expresses this as a percent (of all adults who are not excluded from voting by the ‘felon laws’).

Another adjustment has to be made (Column 5). There are quite different patterns of voter participation depending on ‘race’ or ethnicity. A reasonable benchmark would be the last (2008) presidential election. In that election, just 47.0% of Asian Americans voted, 49.9 percent of Hispanic-Latinos, 65.2% of African-Americans, and 66.1% of non-Hispanic Whites. We do not have accurate figures for Indigenous voters and “others”, so for those two categories, the overall turnout rate of 63.6% has been entered (Mark Hugo 2009). Column 6 shows the resulting percentage of actual voters by ‘race’ and ethnicity, while Column 7 expresses this as a percent of all adults who are likely to vote.

Using these statistics, Table 2 attempts to compare and contrast the voting tendencies of these groups, beginning with the raw data for each candidate listed in Columns 1 and 2.

For Indigenous people, we do not have reliable information. In poll after poll after poll, when it comes to national politics, “Indian country is invisible,” in the words of Mark Trahant (2012). But given the fact that nearly 90% of indigenous voters in 2008 supported Obama (and given the tea-party base behind the Romney campaign), it is not unreasonable to expect an overwhelming majority to also support Obama in this election (Native Vote Washington 2008). Among African-Americans, support for Obama is also overwhelming. One recent poll had 94% of African-Americans supporting Obama and none supporting Romney (Murray 2012). More reasonable, probably, are figures from Gallup showing support for Obama at 88.5% and Romney at 4.5%. According to the same Gallup poll, among the Hispanic-Latino population, support for Obama runs at 61% compared to 26% for Romney. But for non-Hispanic whites, only 38% support Obama, compared to 54.5% who support Romney (Newport 2012). For the 0.6% who fit into none of these categories, we can, for the purpose of argument, arbitrarily split their vote 50-50 between Obama and Romney. This will not significantly change the results.

Two more steps are necessary to complete the voting profile for each candidate. The percentage figures, above, do not add up to 100, because they include those who support neither candidate, those who do not intend to vote, and those who have no opinion. The task here, however, is to restrict this to a universe of only Obama and Romney supporters. This is reflected in Columns 3 and 4, figures for each candidate adjusted so that their total adds up to 100 for each category. That done, we get our close to final results in Columns 5 and 6. There you can see the results for each candidate, by category, adding up to 46.3% for Obama and 47.3% for Romney.

Table 3 translates this into percentage terms (the percentage of supporters for both Obama and Romney who come from each of given categories of U.S. citizen).

Look first at the column for Romney. An astonishing 88.5% of his supporters are white. The television images from the Republican convention were not misleading, when they portrayed an audience so white, that wearing sunglasses while you watched them on television was not a bad idea. No other category makes it to double-digit support. Just 1.24% of his supporters are African-American, 7.42 percent Hispanic or Latino, 1.93 Asian, and 0.26 Indigenous.

Contrast this with the support base for Barack Obama. More than one-quarter of his voting base (26.72%) is African-American, more than one-fifth (20.43%) Hispanic or Latino, 4.27% Asian and 2.40% Indigenous. White supporters for Obama make up less than half (44.51%) of his voting base, almost exactly half the percentage figure for Romney.

Finally, we can go to our room of 200 randomly chosen U.S. voters, and orient ourselves much more easily. A seating plan which divided the room between tables of Democrats and tables of Republicans would clearly reveal the colour line which continues to mar U.S. society. Of the 200, 102 would be Romney supporters, 98 Obama supporters. Of the 102 Romney supporters, fully 90 would be non-Hispanic whites, there would be no Indigenous people, 2 Asians, 8 Hispanic, and 1 African-American.

The 44 white supporters of Obama, would be outnumbered by the combined presence of 26 African-Americans, 20 who identify as Hispanic or Latino, five with an Asian background, and two Indigenous people.

There is another factor that needs to be taken into consideration – gender. More women support Obama (50%) than Romney (42%), but this is only because Obama has the overwhelming support of African-American women (89%) and Hispanic-Latina women (66%). When the universe is restricted to white women, Obama has the support of only 42% compared to 51% for Romney. Given the Republican positions on gender issues, this is a rather shocking statistic.

Let’s save the worst for last. In the universe of white men, Romney leads overwhelmingly with 58%, Obama far behind at 34%. Think about this. Just one white man in three supports Barack Obama. When the universe is restricted to those who are going to vote either Democrat or Republican, virtually two-thirds of the white men in that universe will be voting for Romney.

So go back to the room of 200 randomly chosen U.S. voters. If you are looking for a conversation about improving accessibility to health care, then scan the room, and avoid the table which is all white. Odds are that two-thirds of those at the table will be Romney supporters, and avidly opposed to “Obamacare” (and same-sex marriage, tax increases for the rich, regulation and control of the sale of semi-automatic weapons, etc. etc.). If it’s a table of white men, you’re in even more trouble.

You will quickly pick out the multi-racial table. Grab a chair, and you can have a dinner conversation, as opposed to a tea-party polemic. Not that there won’t be some arguments. While you’re discussing healthcare and choice on abortion, it would probably be a good idea to raise, for instance, the question of the use of drones for extra-judicial and illegal bombing, assassination, and the killing of civilians in Global South countries. The dinner might get uncomfortable as a result, but it’s an important issue to raise nonetheless.

In 2008, Obama won because his base enthusiastically mobilized. In 2012, his re-election is in jeopardy, because big sections of that base have become disillusioned. Obama’s whole presidency has been about taking his base for granted, and trying to look “moderate” to increase his support in the largely white Republican world. It’s a dangerous strategy, because a) there is little evidence that the white Republican base is about to shift in numbers and b) without a big turn-out from his own base, he could lose.

This is particularly true because Romney has no such qualms. His disgusting remark writing off 47% of the U.S. electorate was based on the realization that he has little hope of breaking out of his white citadel. His whole strategy now is to do everything he can to mobilize that base, increase its turnout at the polls, and swamp the Democrats with a mobilized, angry, anti-Obama (white) vote.

In 1903, the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois picked up a term used earlier by Frederick Douglass. “The problem of the twentieth century,” he wrote in one of his masterpieces, The Souls of Black Folk, would be “the problem of the color line” (Bois 2005, chap. The Forethought). Our brief examination of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, shows that this colour line remains a problem in the second decade of the 21st century.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References

Bois, W. E. B. Du. 2005. The Souls of Black Folk. Kindle. New York: Bantam Classics.

Mark Hugo, Lopez. 2009. Dissecting the 2008 Electorate: Most Diverse in U.S. History. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Centre.

McLaughlin, Michael. 2012. “Felon Voting Laws Disenfranchise 5.85 Million Americans With Criminal Records: The Sentencing Project.” Huffington Post.

Murray, Mark. 2012. “NBC/WSJ Poll: Heading into Conventions, Obama Has Four-point Lead.” First Read.

Native Vote Washington. 2008. “Obama Draws Nearly 90% of Native Vote.”

Newport, Frank. 2012. Obama Remains Women’s Presidential Pick; Romney, Men’s. Washington, D.C.: Gallup.

RealClearPolitics. “2012 – General Election: Romney Vs. Obama.”

Trahant, Mark. 2012. “Elections 2012: Invisible in the Polls – Why Indians Don’t Count.” Indian Country Today Media Network.com.

Uggen, Chirstopher, Sarah Shannon, and Jeff Manza. 2012. State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010. Washington, D.C.: The Sentencing Project.

United States Census Bureau. 2012. “State & County QuickFacts.”

Golf’s colour line

The golfer, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods is back in the news, after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) tour. This was his first PGA tour victory in 2-1/2 years. In that period of time, Woods has been in the news, not for his golf, but for his personal life. He is not the first successful PGA professional to from time to time have his personal life trump his golf game. John Daly comes to mind. But Daly is white, and Woods is black. The different colour of their skin has resulted in their personal “indiscretions” being treated by completely different standards.

Many of us have become familiar with Woods’ issues. While married, he had several relationships with women other than his wife. When this came to light in the press, his golf game fell apart. Ultimately, he and his wife separated and are now divorced. But let’s emphasize a few things. There was never an allegation of sexual violence in this story. He never faced criminal charges. The only charge he received was for careless driving (Schneider, 2009).

However, for his sins, Woods became one of the most ridiculed public figures in North America. Coverage of his marital difficulties made the front page of the mass circulation New York Post for 20 consecutive days, more front-page coverage than that paper devoted to any other story in its history, including the attack on the twin towers September 1, 2001. Lest you think that was just rude Yankee journalism at work, in polite old Canada, the mass circulation Toronto Sun devoted a front page to Woods’ face behind the highly suggestive headline – all in capital letters – “NO BALLS” (Kellogg, 2011).

Now, for just a minute, focus on the story of that other professional golfer whose marital difficulties went public. In December 1992, John Daly was charged with third-degree assault on his second wife “after allegedly hurling … [her] against a wall, pulling her hair and trashing the house”. During their investigation, “Sheriff’s officers found broken glass all over the home, smashed pictures on the floor, windows broken, a big-screen television pushed over, broken liquor bottles on the floor, two large holes in the basement wall and blood splattered on a wall in the basement”. Daly was charged, not with careless driving, but with third-degree assault. He eventually pleaded guilty to a charge of misdemeanor harassment, and received two years’ probation including entry into a domestic-violence treatment program (AP, 1992; Markus, 1993; Nelson, 1994).

How is Daly covered in the press? One headline tells us that: “Unpredictable Daly is still endearing”. We encounter that adjective again in a review of his autobiographical, My Life In & Out of the Rough – the book had an almost “endearing effect because it is so real and unpretentious”. In 2005, Daly was called a golfer for the working class”. In May 2007 he was “a big favourite on the PGA Tour” (Daifallah, 2006; Daly & Waggoner, 2006; Ferguson, 2007; Rubenstein, 2004).

Then in June 2007 Daly’s fourth wife sought a restraining order against him because of what she described as a sexual assault by her drunken husband (The Ottawa Citizen, 2007). The New York Post didn’t devote 20 consecutive front covers to the issue. The Toronto Sun didn’t do a front-page headline with Daly’s face behind a headline saying “STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN”. One year after this second charge of domestic violence, he was affectionately referred to as that “big lug” (Miller, 2008).

The black man marries a white woman, and then has some intimate relations with other women. He is reviled. The white man is twice charged with violence against a spouse. He is a big, endearing, working class lug. The double standard is sickening.

Golf is a white man’s game. It was only November, 1961, that the PGA took out its “Caucasian-only” clause (Rubenstein, 1992). The signature event of the PGA tour is the offensively named “Masters.” Why offensive? Well, just think for a minute about the history of master and slave which so defiles Augusta Georgia, the venue for this tournament. Until Lee Elder was allowed to compete in 1975, no black man had ever been allowed in the event. “Until 1982, to get on the course at all as a black man, you had to be a caddy. In fact, until 1982 – when for the first time PGA tour golfers were allowed to bring their regular caddies – every caddy on the Masters course was black” (Kellogg, 2011).

You have to know this history of systemic racism to understand the ridiculous amount of attention paid to Woods’ personal life, to understand the contempt heaped on his head by the press in both the U.S. and Canada. In this white man’s game, the world’s best golfer has the wrong colour of skin.

And Tiger Woods is without question the best golfer of his generation, maybe of all time. Four tournaments are considered “majors.” The great Jack Nicklaus won 18 of those, more than any other golfer. Woods has won 14. Of currently active players, the next on the list is Phil Mickelson – with four (4). In total, Woods has won 72 times on the PGA tour, trailing only Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82). Again, of currently active players, it is Mickelson who is next to Woods – 32 wins behind with 40 (Kelley, 2012a, 2012b).

The greatest golfer ever to come out of Canada, Mike Weir, has won eight times on the PGA tour, putting him in a multi-player tie for spot number 119 on the all-time PGA tour winners’ list. So dominant is Woods, that if you only counted one tournament – the Arnold Palmer Invitational with which we opened this story – he would sit just one spot behind Weir, because Woods has won that single tournament seven (7) times.

The formerly whites-only Masters is teeing off in a few weeks. With Woods rounding back into form, it is likely that the leaderboard will have just a little bit of colour on it. We can’t expect 20 pages of front-page coverage about this from the New York Post. But perhaps the paper will be endeared by Woods’ return to golf’s elite. Perhaps the Toronto Sun will run that headline condemning violence against women.

Or perhaps we will still be faced with the task of building social movements to challenge both systemic racism and systemic sexism.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References

AP. (1992, December 26). Daly hit with assault; He “just lost it,” accusing wife says. The Gazette, p. F6. Montreal.

Daifallah, A. (2006, June 10). Life lessons from the fairway: John Daly lets loose; a son shares famous dad’s wisdom. The Gazette, p. J10. Montreal.

Daly, J., & Waggoner, G. (2006). My Life in and out of the Rough: The Truth Behind All That Bull**** You Think You Know About Me (1ST ed.). Harper.

Ferguson, D. (2007, May 23). Keeping ’em guessing; John Daly show still remains a big favourite on the PGA Tour. The Spectator, p. SP16. Hamilton.

Kelley, B. (2012a). Men’s Majors – Most Victories. About.com Golf. Retrieved from http://golf.about.com/cs/historyofgolf/a/menmajorwins.htm

Kelley, B. (2012b). Most Career Wins on the PGA Tour. About.com Golf. Retrieved from http://golf.about.com/cs/historyofgolf/a/pgatourcareerw.htm

Kellogg, P. (2011, March 11). Focus on Tiger Woods – The Issue is Racism. PolEcon.net. Analysis and commentary with a political economy slant. Retrieved March 26, 2012, from http://www.polecon.net/2011/03/focus-on-tiger-woods-issue-is-racism.html

Markus, D. (1993, May 20). Charisma, controversy characterize Long John Daly on and off tour. The Vancouver Sun, p. D10.

Miller, R. (2008, August 6). Fans still drawn to the big lug, er, John Daly. The Spectator, p. SP.16. Hamilton.

Nelson, M. B. (1994, June 23). Jock violence hits home. The Globe and Mail, p. A.19.

Rubenstein, L. (1992, August 25). GOLF As plain as black and white Racism remains 30 years after PGA removal of a whites-only clause. The Globe and Mail, p. D.12.

Rubenstein, L. (2004, February 18). Unpredictable Daly is still endearing. The Globe and Mail, p. S.2.

Schneider, M. (2009, December 2). Tiger won’t face criminal charges; Only $164 fine for careless driving. The Spectator, p. SP.5. Hamilton.

The Ottawa Citizen. (2007, June 13). Daly denies wife’s claim of sexual assault. The Ottawa Citizen, p. B3.

Focus on Tiger Woods – The Issue is Racism

December 11, 2010 (Last in a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”) • Eldrick “Tiger” Woods might have lost his top spot in golf rankings in 2010, but he kept his place at the top of search engines around the world, coming in, for instance, at seven out of 10 for the year on searches carried out by Yahoo Canada.[1] Of course what drove this was not his golf game. For the first time since 1995, Woods did not win a tournament, let alone a major. The year 2010 saw his record 623-week reign as the world’s number one ranked golfer come to an end. No, what drove interest in Mr. Woods was the publicity generated by the very public break-up with his wife, Elin Nordegren. Now it is not actually news that a celebrity athlete gets married, has a few affairs, and then has marital difficulties. However most do not receive the massive outpouring of media scrutiny experienced by Mr. Woods. But Woods, you see, is black. His wife, and his girlfriends, were white. That combination still touches a raw nerve throughout much of the Global North, particularly in the United States. The extraordinary obsession with the personal life of one golfer is a reflection of deeply held racist ideas, ideas which permeate modern society.

At the peak of the story, in the Autumn of 2009, the quantity of coverage of this one golfer’s personal life was by any standard, phenomenal. Take New York City. It is not surprising that in the wake of 9/11, that city’s New York Post would devote considerable coverage to the attack on the twin towers. In fact, 9/11 appeared on its front page for 19 consecutive days, and until 2009, that was a record for any one story in the paper’s history. But in 2009, coverage of Mr. Woods beat that record. For 20 consecutive days, the tabloid screamed out, on its front-page, headlines concerning his private life.[2] That is worth emphasizing – nineteen front pages for the attacks on the World Trade Centre which triggered wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 20 front pages for the marital difficulties of a golfer. This treatment of Woods was not from some marginal publication. The New York Post is one of the oldest continuously published media outlets in the United States, having been founded in the early 1800s by Alexander Hamilton.[3] In 2009 it was the sixth most widely circulated newspaper in all of the United States.[4]

It’s not that it was a “slow news” autumn. In that span (November 29 to December 18, 2009) there were a few other choices for an editor to feature on her/his front page. A quick glance at The Globe and Mail for that period offers a few possibilities: on November 30, the crushing debt problems of once booming Dubai;[5] on December 2, President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan;[6] or December 17, the president’s dilemma at the Climate Change talks in Cophenhagen.[7] Quite possibly the financial crisis, the war in Afghanistan and Global Warming could be considered more newsworthy than Mr. Woods’ personal life.

When the Woods’ Affair first broke, US Magazine lent its weight to the discussion, publishing a list of “12 Unforgettable Sports Scandals.”[8] The list includes one white man (Pete Rose for gambling in Baseball) and two white women (Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan – Harding having organized an assault on her fellow skater Kerrigan). All remaining nine were men of colour, eight of them African American. For seven of these nine men of colour, the “unforgettable scandal” involved their relations with women. For the top three, it involved their relations with white women.

Among the detritus of sports-coverage on the Internet, one oddity is a poll conducted by The Q Scores Company, designed to reveal the most liked and the most disliked athletes. The focus on Woods’ personal life saw his standing in this survey plummet, to the point that he quickly shot to the bottom as one of the six “most disliked” athletes in the U.S. Who were the other five? LeBron James, Michael Vick, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, and Kobe Bryant. What do they have in common? They are all African American males. [9]

But surely it is clear why Michael Vick, for instance, is so hated. After all, he was a grown man who organized illegal dog-fights, and surely that deserves opprobrium. Fine, but what about the grown men all throughout professional sports who organize legal man-fights? Thousands have seen the video of professional hockey player Todd Bertuzzi hitting Steve Moore from behind, ending Moore’s hockey career.[10] No one was put behind bars for that. The latest fad to sweep the sports pages is the gladiatorial “sport” called Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), a barely disguised street brawl. No one is sent to jail for that. Is it that we value dogs more than people? Or is something else behind the selection of who is hated and who is not? Think of the white faces not on the list of the most hated. Former cycling champion Floyd Landis, stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title for illegal doping[11] is not there, nor is disgraced multiple Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, himself also facing charges of illegal drug use, nor any number of white male athletes whose actions, or alleged actions, might well have qualified them for consideration.

The “most disliked” ratings story of basketball player LeBron James is quite revealing in this regard. In January 2010, James’ “positive score … was the highest we had ever seen it” said Henry Schafer, executive vice president of The Q Scores Company. But when he decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, and sign with the Miami Heat, he became an extraordinarily hated man – not just in Cleveland (where fans were understandably disappointed about losing one of the best athletes on the planet), but inexplicably across the entire United States. The switch of teams made him “the sixth most disliked sports personality” in the United States.[12] But just as Woods is not the only athlete to have marital difficulties, James is not the only athlete to abandon one team for another in search of more money and a championship. Roy Halladay’s decision to leave baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays for Philadelphia comes to mind. But Halladay didn’t, as a result, join Woods and James on the list of hated athletes. Instead he has been singled out for respect and praise on a fan-based web-site called “Thanks, Roy.”[13] Halladay, as you might have guessed is white. And don’t think the love for the now departed Roy is because Toronto is polite, while the United States is rude. Vince Carter was a sports idol in Toronto when he played for the Toronto Raptors, and nothing but an object for hatred since deciding to leave. [14] Vince Carter is not white.

There is only one explanation for the cluster of African Americans at the bottom of the “most disliked category” in 2010. It reflects attitudes towards African American males as a group. The obsession with Woods’ personal life has to be put in this context.

There are other issues in the Woods’ story that could be highlighted. Just before his fall from grace, Woods was in the news, not for his marital difficulties, but as “Sports’ First Billion-Dollar Man” – the first athlete in history whose lifetime earnings would top $1 billion.[15] Given this, there are some very progressive individuals who argue – because these are the troubles of a rich man, they just don’t matter.[16] Others see his comeuppance as an exposé of a sexist lifestyle. Martha Burk, for instance, quite rightly organized a boycott of the 2003 Masters event, because its venue, Augusta National, is a male-only preserve. Commenting on Mr. Woods’ choice of the Masters as the place for his return to golf after a self-imposed absence, she said: “I think this is a safe haven for him … They’re all chauvinists themselves. It’s a perfect fit.”[17].

But class and gender are not the main issues at stake here. Golf is a particularly “white” sport. Eldrick Woods – a black man – is arguably the greatest golfer ever to play the game. It is right to critique Augusta National and its showpiece annual event the Masters, the most prestigious golf tournament among the annual events sanctioned by the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). But what is most clearly revealed when one opens that door, is a stark picture of systemic racism.

The PGA “customarily excluded blacks from becoming members since its inception in 1916” and in 1943 made that exclusion official by inserting a clause – “widely known as the ‘caucasians-only clause’” into its constitution in 1943. That membership restriction was only removed in 1961.[18] As for the Masters, until the 1975 participation of Lee Elder, no black man had ever been allowed to play in the tournament. Until 1982, to get on the course at all as a black man, you had to be a caddy. In fact, until 1982 – when for the first time PGA tour golfers were allowed to bring their regular caddies – every caddy on the course was black. This was no accident. Clifford Roberts, founder of the tournament, is quoted as saying: “As long as I’m alive, golfers will be white, and caddies will be black.”[19] And even when, through the 1970s and 1980s, some golfers and some caddies were allowed onto the course, membership in the club itself remained white-only. Only late in 1990, in anticipation of new 1991 PGA guidelines “requiring private clubs that want to host tournaments to demonstrate that their membership policies are not discriminatory,” did Augusta National finally remove its “white-only” colour bar.[20]

This is worth emphasizing. We are describing a venue where until late in the 20th century, to golf you had to be white, and personal service on the golf course had to be performed by black men. That venue’s principal tournament was called “The Masters,” and its locale was in the former Confederate state of Georgia, a state which only abandoned the barbaric practice of slavery after suffering military defeat, and which became one of the centres for the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, and all manner of racist reaction in the post Civil War years. (This, by the way, somehow failed to make it to the US Magazine list of “Unforgettable Sports Scandals.”)

The attitudes shaped by this history of racism are by no means of only historical interest. Return to the coverage of Mr. Woods’ personal life. Toronto’s mass-circulation tabloid, the Toronto Sun, like many other media outlets, has used a considerable amount of ink to cover Woods, on subjects other than his golf game. Those familiar with Toronto would know that any interest displayed by that paper in Mr. Woods’ relations with women will quite likely have little to do with women’s rights. The Sun is, after all, notorious for its long-standing practice of objectifying women through its “Sunshine Girl” feature. But that paper’s editorial decision on February 20, 2010, to craft a front page around Mr. Woods’ public apology for his indiscretions, spoke volumes. The front page headline, that day, on its Saturday edition, was comprised of two enormous capitalized words – “NO BALLS,” two words which filled most of the page, accompanied by a photograph of a contrite looking Mr. Woods, his eyes lowered to the ground. This front page, far from being a source of controversy, was more likely to be seen as a “funny.” That, for instance, was the response of Ontario sportswriter Paul Svoboda, who “loved the headline.” [21] Mr. Svoboda notwithstanding, the headline is objectionable on many levels, not the least being the adolescent-level standard of its “humour.” But more importantly, the headline taps a nerve just below the surface in North America – a mixture of racism, violence and sexuality, about which serious journalists should be aware.

For their files we can compile a short dossier. The sport of golf, as documented, above, has only recently emerged from Jim Crow era segregation. That era was one where racism often took the form of violence, violence mixed up with sexuality and black-white relations. This took extreme forms after the defeat of the racist Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War

The separation of blacks and whites was essential to Southern whites who were determined to retain supremacy after the Civil War; consequently the “mixture’ of people of European ancestry and people of African ancestry became a much more serious taboo. Because it was the men among the former slave population who gained suffrage rights and a measure of political power – and who therefore had the potential to destroy the racial caste system – whites focused on the taboo of sex between white women and black men with new urgency.[22]

There was, in other words an “equation of political rights and black manhood.” Throughout the U.S. south, “extreme white anxiety over sexual liaisons between white women and black men was linked to fears of black men’s political and economic independence.” It meant that for the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, “the greatest violence was reserved for black men.”[23]

Some of this violence is well-known. “Lynching” – the extra-judicial killing, usually by hanging, carried out by racist white mobs – was a violent method by which white supremacy was enforced in post Civil War United States. Between 1882 and 1968, one source documents 3,446 black deaths from lynching – 539 in Mississippi, 352 in Texas, 335 in Louisiana, 299 in Alabama, 257 in Florida, 226 in Arkansas, 204 in Tennessee, 156 in South Carolina, 142 in Kentucky, and 492 in Georgia, home of the Masters.[24]

There were less publicized, but equally gruesome forms of violent assertion of white supremacy. For black men accused of sleeping with white women, castration was often the weapon of choice. The issue of black-white liaisons was often really only the surface excuse for this barbaric violence. The horrifying story of Henry Lowther brings this out in stark relief. Klansmen were after him for political reasons. “They said I had taken too great a stand against them in the republican party,” he said. The dispute escalated until, “[a]s Lowther remembered the scene, almost two hundred Klansmen arrived in the middle of the night, and twenty of them carried him away to a swamp. ‘The moon was shining bright, and I could see them,’ Lowther recalled; all the men were Democrats. There the Klansmen castrated him.”[25] Klansmen would resort to castration and other forms of “sexual mutilation for any act that struck them as demonstrating political or economic power on the part of black men, whether or not they tacked on an accusation of sexual misconduct.”[26] Had they known this history, perhaps the Toronto Sun editors would have reconsidered their choice of front-page headline for Feb. 20, 2010.

The shadow of this racist violence was visible late into the 20th century. It was reflected in laws which existed in many states prohibiting marriage between blacks and whites (so-called “miscegenation”) “Laws prohibiting miscegenation in the United States date back as early as 1661 and were common in many states until 1967.”[27] Laws are themselves reflections of attitudes. Even when the Supreme Court in 1967 ruled definitively that it was unconstitutional to prohibit intimate relations between blacks and whites, attitudes reflecting that prejudice persisted, often with tragic results. In New York City, in the summer of 1989, “a young black man named Yusuf Hawkins was shot and killed by a group of young white men, who thought Hawkins was going to visit a white girlfriend. … Only one white man was convicted for the murder … the others were convicted of lesser charges or acquitted.”[28]

This history needs to be understood, if we are to arrive at an explanation for the otherwise bizarre focus on one man’s personal life. There are celebrity figures in the spotlight because of violence or alleged violence in their personal lives. There have been no suggestions anywhere that Mr. Woods has been violent with any of his partners. There are other rich men who have had marital troubles. For most of them, the story remains a private matter – or at best, something which involves 15-minutes of infamy, and then a return to the back pages. Think David Letterman. But with Mr. Eldrick Woods, the media frenzy has lasted more than a year. The obsession with one man’s personal life can only be explained in the context of the grim history of racism briefly sketched out above. Mr. Woods’ spectacular success in a white man’s game and his pattern of marrying and/or dating white women, touched a deep nerve in North American society. The backlash against him is an exposé of the still deep racism which systemically permeates that society.

© 2011 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] “2010 Year In Review: Top Searches.” Yahoo! Canada News. Accessed 11 December, 2010.
[2] Kyle Koster. “New York Post puts Tiger Woods on cover for 20th straight day.” Chicago Sun-Times. 18 December 2009.
[3] Nicholas Tan. “New York: The History behind the New York Post.” Streetdirectory.com. (Accessed 12 December 2010)
[4] “2009 Top Media Outlets.” BurrellesLuce. .
[5] Patrick Martin. “Soaring debt brings Dubai back to Earth.” The Globe and Mail. 30 November 2009: A1.
[6] Paul Koring. “Bold troop surge, early exit: Obama makes Afghan war his own.” The Globe and Mail. 2 December 2009: A1.
[7] Konrad Yakabuski. “Obama’s climate challenge starts here.” The Globe and Mail. 17 December, 2009: A1.
[8] “Unforgettable Sports Scandals.” US Magazine. 11 September 2009.
[9] Darren Rovel. “LeBron’s Q Score Takes Huge Hit.” CNBC. 14 September 2010.
[10] “Todd Bertuzzi Sucker Punches Steve Moore.”
[11] “Landis says clenbuterol use widespread in cycling.” Merced Sun-Star. 29 November 2010.
[12] Darren Rovel. “LeBron’s Q Score Takes Huge Hit.” CNBC. 14 September 2010.
[13] “Thanks Roy.”
[14] See Adam Proteau. “How our love for Vince Carter turned to hate.” ESPN.com. 20 April 2007
[15] Kurt Badenhausen. “Sports’ First Billion-Dollar Man.” Forbes.com. 29 September 2009.
[16] Representative of the latter is Liam Macuaid. “Tiger Woods – a Marxist analysis.” 13 December 2009.
[17] Cited in Neil McLeman. “Tiger Woods a sexist pig.” Mirror. 2 April 2010.
[18] Marvin P. Dawkins. “Race Relations and the Sport of Golf: The African American Golf Legacy.” The Western Journal of Black Studies. Vol. 28, No. 1. 2004: 328.
[19] Cited in Rick Reilly. “Strokes of Genius.” Sports Illustrated. 21 April 1997.
[20] Jaime Diaz. “Augusta National Admits First Black Member.” The New York Times. 11 September 1990.
[21] Paul Svoboda. “Tiger should get into acting.” Paul Svoboda. 22 February 2010.
[22] Martha Hodes. “The Sexualization of Reconstruction Politics: White Women and Black Men in the South after the Civil War.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 1993, vol. 3, no. 3: 403.
[23] Hodes: 404 and 407.
[24] Charles Chesnutt. “Lynchings: By State and Race, 1882-1968.” The Charles Chesnutt Digital Archive. Accessed 14 December 2010.
[25] Hodes: 407.
[26] Hodes: 408.
[27] Bárbara C. Cruz and Michael J. Berson. “The American Melting Pot? Miscegenation Laws in the United States.” OAH Mazaine of History Vol. 16, No. 4. (Summer, 2001): 80.
[28] Hodes: 417.

Dudley Laws – 1934-2011

MARCH 30, 2011 – The passing of Dudley Laws is a blow to all supporters of justice and equality in Toronto. His life and accomplishments will be an ongoing inspiration to all those today, who seek to build a world without racism and oppression.

I first encountered in Dudley in 1988 after the police shooting of Lester Donaldson, an African-Canadian suffering from depression, and partially paralyzed as the result of an earlier police shooting April 11 that year. August 9, in his Lauder Ave. home, he was killed by a bullet from the gun of Constable David Deviney. His wife Myrtle said: “this is cold-blooded murder … Why would they want to go to a house where a man is so ill and shoot him in cold blood?”[1]

Dudley Laws at the time was a member of the Albert Johnson Committee, named after another African-Canadian man, killed by the police in 1979. Laws called for an investigation into Donaldson’s death, independent of the police. “This seems to be precisely like the shooting of Albert Johnson. This was a man they had previous dealings with and they went back and shot him in his house … The police cannot investigate themselves properly. They cannot be impartial.”[2]

Laws would go on to help found the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) which became an institution in the ongoing campaigns against racism and police violence in Toronto. Laws and BADC were subject to constant harassment from the police and the media, including a lawsuit brought against Laws by the police in 1991, after Laws called the police “racist” and “murderous.”

This harassment never stopped Dudley from campaigning for justice. As a young man, he was influenced by the writings of Marcus Garvey. Some argue that “Garveyism” is divisive, arguing for a separation of people of different skin colour. There was none of this in Dudley’s political practice. Laws’ Garveyism was about building capacity and solidarity in the fight against racism.

August 9, 2000, Hungarian immigrant Otto Vass died after being beaten by police at a 7-11 in the west end of Toronto. At a chaotic community meeting where west end residents vented their rage at Vass’ death, Laws quickly became a clear voice of forward-looking strategy. The fact that Vass was white had nothing to do with Dudley’s political commitment. He saw clearly the police violence directed against Vass as the same violence directed against members of the African-Canadian community in Toronto. From that point and four years after, Dudley was one of the core members of the Committee for Justice for Otto Vass.

Dudley will be sorely missed by his friends and family, and by the entire community of campaigners against racism and for police accountability.

There will be a wake for Dudley Laws, 6:00pm to 8:00 pm Friday April 1, at the Jamaican Canadian Association, 995 Arrow Road (south of Finch, between Weston Road and Highway 400). Funeral services will be held at 10:00 am, Saturday April 2 at the Revivaltime Tabernacle Church, 4340 Dufferin St. at Finch.

(c) 2011 Paul Kellogg

Publishing History

This article has been published as Respect: Dudley Laws, 1934-2011,X-Ray, Issue 19, 7 April.

References

[1] Cited in Cal Millar and Paul Bilodeau, “Family seeks independent probe into shooting.” Toronto Star, August 11, 1988: p. A1.
[2] Cited in Millar and Bilodeau.

The Gutter Press and the ‘War on Terror’

Letter to the Editor submitted to The Globe and Mail June 26, 2008 • George Bush is white. Stephen Harper is white. Tony Blair is white. So, I will now write about white terrorism as a plague covering the planet, given that several hundred thousand in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a result of the military actions of these white men, are dead, maimed and/or traumatized. I will use the term “honky.” Were I to do this, of course, and submitted it as an article to the very respected The Globe and Mail, it would be rejected as being inflammatory, crude and, well, just a little too “gutter”. The language of the tavern is not appropriate for Canada’s national newspaper. However, when Christie Blatchford applies the same technique to people from Pakistan, not only is her article accepted – it is featured on the front page.[1]

But I urge you not to stop at the front page. Read the article in its entirety. She goes on to write about a man whose mother was in the World Trade Centre September 11, 2001, but who managed to survive. But the son, to Blatchford’s surprise, does not sign up to fight for the United States but is “inspired to go to Afghanistan not to fight the guys who nearly killed his mummy, but to fight the dirty kuffar, or infidels.”

She then compares him to an elephant, likens Manhattan to “civilization,” Central Asia to “the jungle” and says that the fellow left Manhattan for “the wilds of northern Pakistan, and wanted all the more to blow civilization to smithereens.”

Rudyard Kipling would be delighted. Blatchford has “taken up the white man’s burden” complete with racializing the enemy (Kipling disgustingly called his era’s enemy “new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child”) all to prosecute our era’s “savage wars of peace.”[2]

It is a shame that 109 years after Kipling’s hymn to racism and imperialism, there are some who have not discovered a better hymnal. It is a shame that seven years after the launch of the “War on Terror,” Canada’s national newspaper could give pride of place to something as poorly written and racially provocative as this article by Blatchford.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] Christie Blatchford, “ ‘Down with the J,’ and out of their senses,” The Globe and Mail, June 24, 2008, p. A.1.
[2] Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden,” Literature Network, Rudyard Kipling, www.online-literature.com

‘I wouldn’t call it radical – I’d call it being Black in America’

Old sermons by Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor, have caused a storm of outrage to sweep through the presidential campaign in the United States. It is really a storm of hypocrisy. The outrage should be saved for the conditions faced by African Americans, conditions that remain appalling long after the end of slavery and Jim Crow.

In one of the sermons, Wright says: “The government gives them [African Americans] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.”[1] An ABC news reporter asked parishioners whether they thought Wright’s views were extreme. One said: “He spoke the truth, he continues to speak the truth, and people can label that as radical, but I say it’s insightful.” Another said, “No, I wouldn’t call it radical, I’d call it being Black in America.”[2]

The United States Census tells us something about being Black in America. Black men are twice as likely as Whites and Hispanics not to finish high school, and Whites and Hispanics are twice as likely as Black men to graduate from university with a Bachelor’s degree or more. Unemployment for Black men is in double digits, twice that of Black and Hispanic men. For Black women, unemployment rates are more than twice that of White women. The poverty rate for Blacks in 2001 was 23 percent, compared to 8 percent for non-Hispanic Whites. Put this figure another way – one poor person in four in 2001 was Black, far in excess of their share of the population.[3]

The American prison system tells us something about being Black in America. Black men in America are more than six times as likely as White men to end up in prison. For White men in 2006, 487 out of every 100,000 were in jail. For Black men the figure was an appalling 3,042 per 100,000.[4] For young Black men, the figures go from appalling to barbaric. One in nine black men, ages 20 to 34, are serving time in prison.[5] Put this in the terms used earlier – for every 100,000 young black men in America, eleven thousand, one hundred and eleven are in prison. These numbers only hint at the terrible reality faced by these young people. American prisons are cauldrons of rape. In the first ever survey of sexual abuse in the prison system, the group Stop Prisoner Rape reported that in 2007 alone, approximately 60,500 inmates were “subjected to sexual abuse.”[6] “God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.”

These are the facts. But these facts notwithstanding, Wright’s comments have put Obama on the defensive. “I completely reject” them Obama told a town-hall meeting at a high school in Plainfield Indiana, March 15.[7] Obama is up against the racism in American society from a different front. The more his candidacy has emerged as a credible one, the more the campaign inside the Democratic Party has polarized on racial lines. Obama’s campaign has captured the hope of millions. But to get elected, he needs to speak to a section of the electorate that does not want to hear about America’s systemic racism – and that means distancing himself from Wright.

According to John Ibbitson, in the Globe and Mail, “in early primaries, Mr. Obama often took a majority of the White vote, or at least of White male voters; in Mississippi’s primary last week, Mr. Obama took 92 per cent of the Black vote but only 26 per cent of the White vote.”[8] These kinds of statistics will figure prominently in the selection of the Democratic standard bearer.

Neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton can win enough delegates through the remaining primaries and caucuses, to secure the candidacy. Each will need to win over the non-elected delegates to the convention, the several hundred “super delegates” — party elders and full-timers – who will hold the balance of power. There is a real possibility that these super delegates will give the candidacy to Clinton, even if Obama has won more states, more delegates and more popular vote than her. There will be many of those super delegates open to an argument that a Black candidate cannot win the votes of substantial numbers of white American voters.

Obama’s campaign is in a double prison. First he is up against the deep racism of a society founded on slavery and only recently emerging from apartheid-like conditions in the American South, a society then that is deeply racist. Second, he is trapped inside a Democratic Party whose origins and history are dripping with that same racism. It was the Democratic Party “Dixiecrats” who for generations tried to preserve White privilege in post Civil War United States, the Democratic Party which has taken turns with the Republicans waging racist wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.

But even if the campaign of one man inside an old, establishment party will not transform this grim reality, we need to angrily reject the indignant howls of those “offended” by the comments of Obama’s pastor. Let them learn from Wright to direct their rage against the prison system, the education system, and the economic system, which remain to this day stained top to bottom with racism.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] Cited in Daniel Nasaw, “Controversial comments made by Rev Jeremiah Wright,” guardian.co.uk, March 18, 2008
[2] ABC News, “Obama’s Preacher: The Wright Message?” accessible on Youtube, www.youtube.com
[3] U.S. Census Bureau, “The Black Population in the United States: March 2002,” April 2003, www.census.gov
[4] U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Prison Statistics: Summary findings,” www.ojp.usdoj.gov
[5] Editorial, “Prison Nation,” New York Times, March 10, 2008, www.nytimes.com
[6] Stop Prisoner Rape, “First Ever National Survey of Prisoners Shows Widespread Sexual Abuse in Detention,” press release, December 16, 2007, www.spr.org
[7] Tom Raum, “Obama Decries Racial Rhetoric,” Associated Press, March 16, 2008
[8] John Ibbitson, “Racial resentments threaten to split Democrats,” The Globe and Mail, March 18, 2008, p. A15