Tiger Woods: Black, white, other

Tiger Woods: Black, white, other


In April 1997, Tiger Woods made history by becoming the first black winner of the US Masters in Augusta, Georgia. His victory at the age of 21 not only broke records but also sparked discussions about racial diversity in the sport of golf. This article explores the significance of Woods’ win, his racial identity, and the broader implications of race and ethnicity in society.

The Symbolic Meaning of Woods’ Victory

Woods’ victory at the US Masters was not just about his exceptional golfing skills, but also about breaking down racial barriers in a sport that had long been associated with white, Christian, and middle-class elites. Golf in the US was seen as a symbol of respectability and exclusivity, with limited access for black players. The Masters tournament in Augusta only allowed black competitors since 1975, and until 1982, all the caddies had to be black. Augusta National Golf Club, the host of the tournament, only admitted black members in 1990, under pressure to conform to societal changes. Woods’ win represented a breakthrough in racial equality and challenged the perception of golf as a white-dominated sport.

Woods’ Recognition of Golfing Giants

Woods, being aware of the racial significance of his victory, expressed his gratitude to three black golfing legends – Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, and Ted Rhodes – who had paved the way for him by challenging racial barriers in the sport. These individuals had not received full recognition for their achievements, and Woods acknowledged their contributions in his success. Woods’ sponsors also recognized the broader meaning of his victory, as he appeared in a Nike commercial highlighting the racial discrimination he faced in some golf courses.

Woods’ Complex Racial Identity

Woods’ racial identity became a topic of discussion after he appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show and expressed his discomfort with being labeled as “African-American.” He introduced the term “Cablinasian” to describe his mixed racial and ethnic heritage. Woods’ father, Earl, had African-American, Chinese, and Native American ancestry, while his mother, Kultida, had Thai, Chinese, and Dutch heritage. Woods felt that identifying solely as African-American would disregard his diverse background. He chose to embrace all aspects of his heritage and refused to conform to traditional racial categorizations.

Debate on Woods’ Racial Identity

Woods’ self-identification as “Cablinasian” sparked a debate among black Americans. Some felt that Woods was trying to distance himself from his African-American roots, while others recognized his right to define his identity as he saw fit. The disagreement highlighted the complexities of racial categorization and the struggles faced by individuals who do not fit neatly into established racial classifications. Some argued that Woods’ choice to create a new racial category for himself did not advance the goal of eliminating racial divisions but rather reinforced them.

Challenges of Retiring Race as a Restrictive Category

While Woods’ insistence on his complex racial identity was seen by some as a step towards transcending race, others viewed it as a retreat from efforts to overcome racial divisions. The article argues that Woods’ creation of the “Cablinasian” category did not abolish racial categories but instead added a new category tailored specifically to himself. It suggests that retiring race as a restrictive category requires considering social construction and the historical context of racial identities.

The Construction of Race and Ethnicity

The article emphasizes that race and ethnicity are social constructs and that the meaning assigned to these categories is not based on biological fact. It points out that genetic analysis reveals greater variation within racial groups than between them, highlighting the arbitrary nature of racial distinctions. The article also discusses the historical construction of race in the United States, particularly the “one-drop rule” that classified individuals with any trace of black ancestry as black. It highlights the economic and political motivations behind racial classifications and the need to challenge these constructs.

Mixed-Race Identity and Societal Recognition

The article explores the emergence of a mixed-race movement in the United States, which sought recognition and inclusion for individuals with mixed racial backgrounds. It discusses the debate surrounding the inclusion of a “multiracial” category on official forms and the challenges of defining and measuring mixed-race identity. The article acknowledges the right of individuals to choose their own identity but emphasizes the need for coherence and understanding in how these identities are perceived and received by society.

The Complexity of Identity and Societal Construction

The article concludes by emphasizing the importance of constructing identities that make sense in response to external realities. It shares a personal anecdote of the author’s experience in Sudan, where he struggled to define his own identity. The article also discusses the perception of Barack Obama as the first black president and the limitations of self-identification when societal interpretation matters. It argues that while identities can be constructed differently, they must still align with the social context and understanding of race and ethnicity.


The article highlights the historic significance of Tiger Woods’ victory in breaking racial barriers in golf. It explores Woods’ complex racial identity and the debates surrounding his self-identification. The article also delves into the construction of race and ethnicity in society, emphasizing the arbitrary nature of these classifications. It concludes by emphasizing the importance of coherence and understanding in identity construction and the need to challenge societal constructs to achieve a more inclusive and equitable future.