Sunday 20 October 2019

At the Masters the Good Ol' Boys still linger...

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

If you're watching the last round of the Masters this evening, you will be seeing many spectacular and beautiful things. You will be seeing feats of skill that are all but superhuman, being executed by men who are sublimely gifted, on a track that is beyond compare.

But there'll be something going on as well that you probably won't be seeing, something that may not snag your attention at all, even though it is happening right in front of you.

What you won't be seeing is the white people.

To which you will respond that I am clearly trying to lead you astray here, to bamboozle you for reasons best known to myself - after all, doesn't everybody know that Augusta is a white man's institution of the most ancient kind, that the benighted culture of the Old South still lingers there, among the long-needle pines and the Carolina Cherry?

To which I say that sometimes there are just so many white people in the one place that you really can't see them at all. Their whiteness is somehow too white for the human mind to process in what is otherwise quite a racially diverse world - even in Ireland these days, we are getting used to the idea that at any given public gathering, you are quite likely to encounter a few people who may not be entirely white.

Paddy is cool with that now - or at least he thinks he is - but Paddy loves the Masters, too. There is a wide and deep love of the game of golf in this country that we would sometimes prefer not to acknowledge, feeling perhaps that it is not quintessentially Irish enough - though we can't hide the fact that we are clearly good at it too, and we could even be looking at someone from this island putting on the green jacket tonight.

Yes, as lovers of the Royal and Ancient game we would obviously be drawn to the Masters as the most perfect golfing experience available to humanity - but perhaps another of the reasons that Paddy is drawn to it, at a subconscious level, is that overwhelming whiteness which is to be found there.

Perhaps it reminds us in some obscure way of what Ireland was like back in the 1970s or 1980s, when you could have a fair crack at actually naming all the black people who were living here.

All we need to do, is to pause the picture at any time during the TV coverage of Masters this evening, when a section of the crowd can clearly be seen.

Just stop it there… and there… and there… and tell me if there is even one person in the frame who is not white.

Take your time… have a good look there, at some images of the crowds, or rather the "patrons" at Augusta, behind the tee box at the 12th or at the 16th, or at the 18th green.

I got the notion a couple of years ago to start doing this; to take a just a few seconds out of my otherwise complete enjoyment of this great golf tournament to conduct this experiment on the patrons.

And while the pedants among you may argue that the methodology here has a certain random quality, I feel it is all the better for that - if you can't even find a black person in that crowd by accident, you can start to think that maybe they just aren't meant to be there.

Moreover, part of the beauty of the Masters is the attention to detail which is fetishistic to the point of being insane. If they thought that anything looked even slightly wrong, they would fix it. If they felt that the white dogwood flowers looked a little bit too white, they would probably darken them just a shade.

Likewise if it occurred to them for a moment that there was any downside in displaying themselves and their patrons to the world as an almost entirely white community, they would adjust that situation with loving care by arranging to have a few non-white people strategically placed in the galleries around the track.

But they do not resort to such crass manipulation. It's as if they want this truth to be known, undiluted. They want to present us with this vision of paradise in which to be black is so unusual, you virtually need to be Tiger Woods himself to get in there.

Nor do they have to ask the black people to leave, or to otherwise exclude them from the picture. It works so perfectly for them. It all just materialises naturally, as it were. As if the Lord in His Wisdom had ordained it thus.

And this works too, for the Good Ol' Boys, because the game of professional golf in America is profoundly politicised. Though it pretends to be doing nothing of this nature, nothing but organising a bunch of golf tournaments, it is the sporting wing of Corporate America, whose CEOs can be seen every Sunday night being interviewed at the PGA tournament they are sponsoring, talking about all the charitable donations that they are making, out of the goodness of their hearts.

Almost all the golfers themselves are pathologically Republican, with a cabal of Christian fundamentalists in there too, and of course public and enthusiastic demonstrations of love for the military are routine - the merest flicker of dissent from this is unknown and would be utterly unacceptable.

And they are fine with Trump, and he is fine with them. Though many of them are bright enough to see the darkness that he embraces, they are too rich and too self-absorbed to care. Even Tiger is happy to be seen with Trump, which is the first seriously wrong move he has made, in my eyes.

As for "taking a knee" during the anthem, as many US athletes have been doing as a gesture against institutionalised racism, the professional golfers of America are not entirely silent on it - I am aware that at least one of one of them, Peter Malnati, has declared that he would "take a knee".

Malnati is No 647 in the world and he is not at Augusta this week.

It would look completely weird anyway, him taking a knee at what might be called a haven of white supremacy, except of course nobody calls it that.

Perhaps because it is so white, so whiter-than-white, it avoids the "supremacist" bit because there are so few black people there, next to whom they can look supreme. And perhaps when America had a more settled democracy, all these country club types could be seen as one side of the coin, to which there was another side.

But in the time of Trump there is no longer that settled democracy, there is a darker dimension to this army of the right. Indeed the only major regiment that we are not seeing is the National Rifle Association, some of whose members are no doubt there in an unofficial capacity, keeping a watching brief at Amen Corner.

There is something disgraceful at the heart of Augusta, something horrible behind the magnolias in this beautiful and charming place.

But listen… enjoy the golf.

Sunday Independent

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