‘These are the white stairs’: the enduring insults of golfing while black

first_img Support The Guardian Pennsylvania golf club apologizes for calling police on black female members You don’t need to wait too long to be reminded how slow golf has been to evolve in America. The latest incident came last weekend after police were called on a group of black female golfers in Pennsylvania who had apparently been playing too slowly. (If that’s really a crime, most middle-aged white businessman in America would have been arrested at some point in their lives.)Not that the incident surprises me. I’m a golfer. I’ve also worked in corporate America in spaces where I was the only woman, and sometimes the only person of color. I’ve developed a thick skin, and that skin has been tested with all kinds of ignorance over the years – some of it, sadly, on the golf course. Like the time a course’s general manager told me I couldn’t take a certain set of stairs because “these are the white stairs”. A joke, he said. Or the email I received with the subject line “Jigga Boo”. Just one email of many like it. Or the foursome who paused to watch our group of black women play out of a bunker and told us “we didn’t know y’all could play like that.” Or the time I was standing in line at the grocery store with a Black Girls Golf polo on and the man behind me said, “Black Girls Golf? Y’all ain’t gotta ask for permission to do nothin’ no more.” I could go on. Golf’s long history as a game for rich white men is well documented. It wasn’t until 1961 that the PGA of America removed the ‘caucasians only’ clause from its bylaws, and we are not so far removed from the days of official racist policies that we do not still feel their sting. These black women paid like any other member or player, but at this club it appeared there were different rules for people of color.As the founder of Black Girls Golf, an organization I created to provide a safe space for black women and girls, I am constantly reminded that race relations haven’t made their way to the golf course. The latest incident underscores the work that Black Girls Golf and other grass-roots organizations are doing to create a more diverse and inclusive space on the golf course.The acute lack of representation of African Americans in golf remains a problem – Tiger Woods’s dazzling ascent still remains an outlier more than two decades after he burst onto the world stage – and the latest incident shines a light on the industry’s dark and ugly past. Although I have worked with some amazing individuals in golf who share my passion for diversity and inclusion, there are still remnants of racism and sexism, and only eight black American women have been members of the LPGA tour in its 70-year history. In order for women to feel safe, respected and welcomed in golf we cannot accept empty apologies like the one that Grandview golf club posted on its Facebook page. The club wrote: “Our team is very sorry for any interaction that may have made any member feel uncomfortable.” “May have made”? What happened on that golf course goes deeper than supposed slow play. It speaks to the way the police has been weaponized against people of color in America. As was shown in the recent incident at a Starbucks in which police were called on two black men who were simply waiting for a friend, when someone brings the authorities into what is essentially a customer service situation, one better handled by trained employees, we are in essence saying humanity is not recognized. Empty apologies after the fact do not cut it.Every golf course has a way to deal with slow play and every seasoned golfer understands how to handle slow players – although in this case it appears there are questions as to whether the ladies were, in fact, playing behind the pace. Either way, we should be asking Grandview’s owner how often the cops are called to the course for “slow play”. It seems unprecedented to me.Coffee shops, golf courses or elsewhere, we should no longer patronize establishments that claim to support diversity but which tolerate the absence of it. The responsibility of calling out hypocrisy falls on all of us, not just on black women.As situations like last weekend’s arise, each of us is forced to make a choice about where we stand. As for me and my organization, Black Girls Golf, we will be standing on the side of history that shows black girls that their blackness and their womanhood is enough – enough to play the course like anyone else, and enough to demand the respect and dignity they deserve as humans. Read more Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Topics … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. 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