Vintage Photo Depicts Barefoot Black Golf Caddy, Is it Racist?
After a 16-month renovation project, the Dubsdread Golf Course in Orlando, FL reopened today amidst controversy of this photo missing from its decor. For years the sepia-toned photograph sat on the walls of the golf course’s restaurant, The Tap Room. Yet the Commissioner asked that it be removed stating that a city-owned property should not display material that could be offensive to African-Americans.
But should the “legend of Bagger Vance” be forgotten? Byron Brooks, the city’s chief administrative officer, thinks that removing this photo from the walls of The Tap Room might be a way of dishonoring the black caddies and their historical role in the game of golf.
What do you think? Is this photograph racist or should it be a part of the new Dubsdread Golf Course?
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Keith raises some great points about this image and how he believes it’s foolish to believe it can an aggregator of anything more than what it is, a still photograph. But I think there is a better place for it other then above a snooty club house bar! It sends a signal of elitism and if I were an African American person sitting at that bar after having spent years waiting and a small fortune trying to become a member, well frankly I might find myself a little mystified if not upset by it. I’m not sure if I would have the capacity at that very moment to intellectualize it as well as Keith does other then thinking “Hell if that’s Bagger Vance up there then it’s a terrible shame he couldn’t play because he would have been the best damn golfer in the world and if he happened to have his very own white caddy well at least the man would be wearing shoes on his feet!” Picture going into a Manhattan restaurant and seeing a turn of the century black kitchen maid or cook serving white patrons? It’s not the sort of picture you want on your walls if you are running a commercial establishment unless of course it’s a photo gallery! So I say take it down. Let this picture reside in a history book so that a qualified explanation of what was happening at that very moment from the author’s research can be mentioned. I mean do you think it’s likely that the owner of the club would have hung that picture on the wall knowing that the Caddy grew up to have ten kids with that golfers daughter. Some how I don’t think so!
Thanks for reframing the question.
Is a photograph racist? Is it communist? Is it fascist? How is that even be possible? People can be racist. Things can’t. A photograph is an object. It has no claim on the truth. This image accurately represents a moment in time and space and nothing more. We have no way to judge if it’s true or not. That’s not a question to ask about a photograph. Nor is whether or not it’s racist.
Did the caddie come to the photo ‘shoeless’? Did the photographer ask him to remove his shoes? Were there white kids who caddied also and the club or photographer decided to pick a black kid? Did the club set up the photograph with some purpose in mind? These are not flippant questions.There are thousands more that the photo may generate but will never answer. It’s not pointless to ask the questions, but it is to attach an ‘-ism’ to the image.
And, the image’s embodiment of racism or classism or ‘whatever-ism’ all reside in the eye and mind of the individual viewer. For some people it symbolizes the racist/classist relationship that they feel the country club embodies. For some it shows the indomitable spirit of a kid making a pittance (I know, I used to caddy), but doing what he has to, to get by. Neither interpretation is ‘the truth’.
So while I think no one can claim the photo to be racist, at the same time I realize the image does not exist in a vacuum. In the charged atmosphere of a city-owned property hanging a photo that on the surface contains a reference to a situation that a segment of the population finds offensive, then the decision to take it down is probably a good one. It’s not a Confederate flag, but the symbolism involved in the image may incite feelings equally divisive and visceral– forget the epistemology. Given that, the public property of a clubhouse’s walls seems like a poor place to display it.