Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Do we judge Woods and Cole by different standards?

When a black man cheats, race is seen as a factor. But not if the man is white
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The Independent Online

Some people say I see race everywhere, seek it out even almost addictively, that bad things happen to everyone and life is tough, that on the whole the country is tolerant and does not deny opportunities and rights to people of colour. Anti-racists like me complain too much and only alienate the natives.

Maybe these people are right. Being alert to racial injustice is like having an over-sensitive aerial that picks up a cacophony of sounds, some that may need to be ignored. So I tried not to think about race when recent stories broke of celebrity blokes behaving deceitfully.

Tiger Woods and Ashley Cole were, like John Terry, super-talented characters from a picaresque novel who thought they could do what they wanted and sleep around with willing paramours. They hurt their wives. It was a man thing.

But then I realised that is not how others saw it. Several conversations I overheard and some I had, saw mixed-race Woods and Cole as cheating "black" men. John Terry was just John Terry the charlatan. His race didn't count.

After Woods was exposed as a serial philanderer I went along to one of those barber's shops that sculpts Afro hair into beautiful designs. It was a man place and I had to persuade them to let me in to talk about Tiger.

Ash, 24 was unforgiving. Tiger is a traitor, "to his wife, to us black people and to himself". He is "messed up in a white man's world, collecting trophies for sport and sex, as if then he can be a real man. I feel sorry for him. A billionaire and he got no balls". Lee, Jasp, Trevor all agreed.

The black American comedienne Sheryl Underwood also blasted the randy golfer: "The issue comes in when you choose something white because you think it's better. If you never date a black woman or women of colour you never sample the international buffet of human beings. If you never do that, we've got a problem."

Some black women I know say Woods goes for "the barbies" because he thinks he can pass for white. They come down hard on other black men too – like Seal, Trevor Macdonald, Lenny Henry and all those others who marry white. Cole has raised the same emotions among many black folk. He went for white, always, and so seems to be "self-hating".

There are white people out there who believe Woods and Cole exploited sweet white princesses, used them and tried to control them. It is vengeance for slavery and historical injustice. Back then torture and death were used to emasculate black males whose sexuality was feared, envied and hated by masters. To regain their pride and dignity, to punish their tormentors, black men turned that fear into reality.

Those attitudes still play out, said Sam, an American I met at a recent party: "What do you expect? That's what they do, these guys. They go out and get our girls to settle scores." So Woods and Cole can't just fancy white women, right? There has to be some other agenda. Less extreme but just as pernicious is the white view that such men charm gullible women to gain status; I don't know who should feel more insulted by that contention.

Couples in love care not for ethnic and racial barriers, and a good thing too. When I married my English husband 20 years ago some lame-brain black activists accused me of selling out. In this country these relationships are thankfully no longer a big deal. Desire cannot and should not be policed by race purists. But it would be naïve to pretend race plays no part in love and sex.

Way back in 1992 I co-wrote a book, The Colour of Love, a collection of interviews with mixed race couples. Ten years later I returned to the subject and the couples for my book Mixed Feelings. Sadly a number had split up by then and most described what happened in racial and ethnic terms.

When cracks appear in relationships, biological and cultural difference becomes an alibi, an explanation. Uncomfortable questions arise and cannot then be ignored. I do wonder what the reactions would have been to Cole's infidelities if his wife had been a jet black singer or if all his mistresses had been black? With a celeb wife going places, he needed to prove he was king perhaps, beyond football. Did Tiger Woods feel the same need to show that he was a somebody in bed as well as on the golf course in order to impress the white world?

Race matters, even in the most intimate and private of encounters. Just listen to what people are saying about these scandals as I did. That is reality. No point in denying it.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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