Dispatches from the Creation Wars

There are few phrases more overused than “political correctness.” Its usual usage is as little more than a meaningless catchphrase to bypass any criticism of anything a conservative says. But there is a kernel of truth to the complaints about political correctness and once in a while a situation comes up that demonstrates the absurdity of the kind of kneejerk reaction that the phrase was originally intended to criticize. And Tiger Woods is caught in the middle of one such situation right now.

For those who don’t know about it, here’s what happened. A Golf Channel anchor named Kelly Tilghman was having a conversation on air with Nick Faldo about Tiger’s dominance and how the other players could stop him from winning. Faldo joked that nothing short of “ganging up” on him would work and Tilghman responded by saying that the only way to stop him is to “lynch him in a back alley.”

The whole thing is mountain being made out of less than a molehill. Everyone knows what she meant. She just meant that he’s so much better than everyone else that the only way to beat him is to keep him from making it to the course. But she used the word “lynch”, which of course has some inflated meaning because of the historical use of lynching against blacks by racists in this country.

All hell broke loose. Despite the fact that no one could seriously claim that Tilghman intended to make any sort of racial comment whatsoever, she was suspended for two weeks by the Golf Channel. Have we really come that far? Have we really reached the point where the intent of a speaker in saying something is totally irrrelevant, where the mere mention of that word is enough to bring down punishment? It appears we have.

But it gets worse. Golfweek magazine then published a story about the controversy that included a picture of a noose on the cover and their editor was immediately fired for doing so. It’s bad enough that she was punished for a statement that clearly contained no ill will, but to fire a guy for using a symbol like a noose in an article discussing lynching is absolutely ridiculous.

Now comes Tiger Woods, who is competing this week for the first time in a few weeks, and he’s asked about it. He replies perfectly reasonably, saying that he knows Tilghman and is friends with her, that he talked to her about it and doesn’t believe that she meant anything racially insensitive by it and, as far as he’s concerned, that’s the end of it. And that indeed should be the end of it. But it’s not.

Now the stories are all about whether Tiger is doing enough about this “serious issue.” Jim Brown, the NFL hall of famer, came out and criticized Tiger for not speaking out sooner and for not….well, who knows. His critics don’t seem to know what Tiger should be doing, but they’re sure he’s not doing enough. And Jim Brown’s reasoning is simply absurd:

“He should have come out right away. Instead, he waited until it was politically correct [to comment],” Brown said. “The word ‘lynch’ … there is no redeeming part of it.

“When you say lynch, you’re gonna have to pay the price. That is a very embarrassing word, a humiliating one, in the history of our country.”

But Jim…you just said the word lynch, yet you obviously don’t think you should pay any price for doing so. It’s not the mere usage of the word, it’s the context and the intent of the speaker that matters. And no one has even pretended to believe that Tilghman was actually encouraging anyone to lynch Tiger Woods, for crying out loud. She’s being bashed for meaning something that no one, even those calling for her head, actually believes she meant.

This is exactly the sort of reflexive, kneejerk, simpleminded reaction that the term “political correctness” was coined to criticize. It’s groupthink and identity politics at its most unthinking and irrational. If she had said, “they can’t beat this guy unless they hire Tonya Harding’s bodyguard to take him out”, no one would have reacted this way at all. We would have taken it exactly the way she meant it. We should be taking it that way anyway.