Thursday, January 10, 2008


The Rev. Al Sharpton wants Kelly Tilghman fired.

Guess what, cupcake? People in hell want ice water, but ain't nobody handin' 'em a glass.
Tilghman made the gaffe du jour last Friday while covering Hawaii's Mercedes-Benz Championship with co-host Nick Faldo. She and Faldo were discussing how young golfers might dethrone the golfing force of nature that is Woods. Faldo suggested up-and-comers "should just gang up for a while until ..."

"Lynch him in a back alley," Tilghman offered.

And that's about when the shit hit the fan.

Tilghman quickly realized she'd made a mistep and apologized on air. And reps for Woods said the golfer didn't take it personally. In fact, he and Tilghman are friends. The Golf Channel, Tilghman's employer and the station airing the broadcast, said the comment was a "non-issue." But good ole' Al had worked up a head full of steam over this latest in public missteps and began creating a ruckus, calling for Tilghman's ousting. And as word of the incident circulated rapidly throughout the media and blogosphere, the Golf Channel rescinded its previous stance and suspended Tilghman for two weeks.

But that's not enough for Rev. Al, who wants Tilghman fired, since it's still illegal to pillory someone. Sharpton said he's gonna get his group, National Action Network, to picket the Golf Channel's Orlando, Florida, headquarters.

The round reverend says it's the word -- not the person or their history -- that matters. In fact, he compared Tilghman's statement to calling for a woman to be raped or for a Jewish-American to be sent to a gas chamber. Rather interesting righteous indignation for someone who has publicly slandered Jews in the past, referring to them as "white interlopers," and calling for the segregation of New York, blacks from the Jews.

"Lynching is not murder in general. It is not assault in general. It is a specific racial term that this woman should be held accountable for," the reverend said. "What she said is racist. Whether she's a racist -- whether she runs around at night making racist statements -- is immaterial."

Big Al's right; the word is evocative of a specific period in American history. And it does conjure up images of African-Americans swinging from tree branches. But he's wrong about it being a specific racial term. The term has been around far longer than racial problems in America. And he's wrong to say that the context or a person's history and frame of mind are irrelevant.

Sharpton, of course, went so far as to say that Tilghman's comment may have been a mistake, but that it's evidence of a deep-seated and well-cloaked racism. What kind of fool makes such a blanket statement? Just because a person says something that's possibly inappropriate does not make them a racist. And just because Mussolini got the trains running on time in Italy didn't make him a decent person. What Tilghman said was a poor choice of a joke, for which she was embarrassed, as she should have been. But she's not like Don Imus, Howard Stern or any other name on a long list of people who have a history of making wildly inappropriate remarks belittling minority groups. She made an extemporaneous comment that, if circumstances were different (i.e. if Tiger were white) would have disappeared into the ether of television.
There is such a thing as being respectful of other cultures. And then there's having every square inch of the PC yardstick inserted in your rectum. Were Michael Richards' comments during his onstage meltdown wrong? With a capital "If-I-Had-a-Career-Still-It-Would-Surely-Be-Over." But the context was different. He wasn't kidding. He was most assuredly upset and attacking his hecklers in the most personal way he knew of in the moment. He unequivocally attacked the men's nationality and conjured up images that were very race specific and meant to wound. As for Imus, well, he's just a jackass who likes to torque people. But in both instances, Richards and Imus' histories were taken into account, as were the contexts of the situations. And you know what, race relations were none the worse for wear after the dust had settled. They weren't necessarily any better, but that's because both sides are clinging onto some very old ideas and indignations. And until we're willing to let those go, we're never going to get anywhere.

Sharpton's biggest problem is that he loves to hear himself speak. And he considers himself the mouthpiece for black America. Well, then, it must chafe like a sonuvabitch that Tiger Woods shrugged the whole shebang-a-bang off. But wait, this is larger than the golf pro.

"It's not about Tiger Woods," Sharpton said. "It's about the station. It's about using public airwaves to offend people."

Mr. Sharpton? It's the pot calling for you. He wanted me to tell you, you're a black kettle, sir.

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