Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods are golfers who don’t like each other very much. It’s not hard to see why. Tiger is hyper-competitive and arrogant. I cheer for him, but have often been a little bothered by or even ashamed of his behavior. Sergio Garcia is, by most accounts, a whiner. He gets easily distracted and complains about what goes on around him. The tension that has been growing between the two of them over the years has exploded in recent days. They went head to head in the Players Championship a couple of weeks back. The crowd following Tiger made noise that distracted Sergio and he hit a bad shot. He complained after the round about Tiger’s perceived misdeeds. Tiger responded and the back and forth escalated.
It became a pretty ugly incident.
It got worse when Sergio was speaking at the European Tour Awards dinner and responded to a question. He was asked if he would invite Tiger over for dinner during an upcoming tournament. He responded:
“We’ll have him ’round every night. We will serve fried chicken.”
Golf fans, of course, are reminded of Fuzzy Zoeller’s comments after Tiger won his first Masters Tournament, suggesting the winner’s dinner would consist of fried chicken and collard greens. Need I even mention that the reference to fried chicken is a racist stereotype. Whether he meant it that way or not, Sergio looked to put down Tiger with a racially-based caricature.
Those remarks set off a firestorm. Sergio at first came out with one of those non-apology apologies that have become so common today.
“I apologize for any offense that may have been caused by my comment on stage during the European Tour Players’ Awards dinner. I answered a question that was clearly made towards me as a joke with a silly remark, but in no way was the comment meant in a racist manner.”
He apologized, but he did not really repent. He was sorry that some got offended by his comment, but not for the comment itself. He passed off his remark as a “joke” or a “silly remark.” It was not, he claimed coming from a heart of racism or meant in a “racist manner.”
To Sergio’s credit, by the next day he came out with a more genuine apology in which he rejected his remarks clearly and admitted they were wrong.
The time is long past when we can say racially insensitive things, or use racial stereotypes, then claim that we did not intend for them to be racist or hurtful. A racial stereotype is by definition racist, whatever one might have meant. What I might consider to be a harmless joke is not seen the same way by the person about whom the joke is made. It is my job to guard my words. The offended person can show grace and forgiveness – that is what God expects of his people. But it is my job not to give that offense or to repent when I do. If I give offense, I need to repent and apologize whether it was intended or not.
Discussing race and racial issues is a minefield. There are times we give offense and we are truly clueless that we are doing so. If such is the case, we need to be gently instructed and have the humility and concern to adjust our behavior and deal with any repercussions.
It is hard for us as white Americans to understand this whole issue. I had a man in my church who opened my eyes to a lot of things before he passed on a couple of years ago. He told me stories that shocked me – not things that happened in Mississippi or Alabama, but in Sioux City, Iowa. This man of character, love and dignity had been treated often as if he was something less than a human being. Dwight McKissic sees the political, Christian and Baptist world from some distinctly different perspectives than I do. We may do something and think it is no big deal, but it comes across as a pretty big deal on the other side.
As we pursue racial reconciliation and even more importantly, partnership in ministry beyond racial lines, we need to guard our words carefully. We need to put racial stereotypes and characterizations on the shelf. They are hurtful and do not help the process of rebuilding what the sins of racism, discrimination and segregation have destroyed in the Family of God.
We don’t need to create some kind of politically correct environment in the SBC, but we do need to view our words and actions through the eyes of those who might be offended by them. We must create a culture in which racially charged statements, even jokes, are not acceptable. Even if there is not a minority around, we must reject caricature and stereotype.
For the sake of the Kingdom, we need to leave the club of racially insensitive joking in the bag and never pull it out.