Sergio Garcia should know better

I have a confession. I'm an African-American and I love fried chicken. I like my chicken with collard greens, and macaroni and cheese.

I have white friends who love the same Southern fried combination. They are writers, academics, editors, golfers, truck drivers, doctors, hunters, fishermen, barbecue joint owners and guys who like to watch SEC football on Saturday afternoons with a can of beer in their laps.

I could have told Sergio Garcia all of this had I been at the European Tour awards dinner on Tuesday night near London, when he quipped that he would serve fried chicken if his sworn enemy, Tiger Woods, came over for dinner.

Of course, Sergio meant to say that he would serve Tiger fried chicken because that's a favorite food of African-Americans. But he should know from his tour colleague, Boo Weekley, that African-Americans aren't the only ones who love fried chicken. On his first trip to the Open Championship in 2007, at Carnoustie in Scotland, Weekley complained about the food.

"It's been rough on that food," he said. "It's different eating here than it is at the house. Ain't got no sweet tea, and ain't got no fried chicken."

Raised in Milton, in the Florida panhandle, Weekley, who is white, grew up eating fried chicken long before major champion Fuzzy Zoeller jokingly commented on what Tiger might have on the menu for his champions dinner after Tiger's record 12-shot win at the '97 Masters.

"You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year," Zoeller said. "Got it? Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."

It was a joke, but it stung a lot of African-Americans, who are long tired of the stereotype.

Weekley could say proudly that he loved fried chicken, without having to carry the burden of what the food might connote about his racial heritage.

In a statement released Tuesday night after the dinner, Sergio said that he didn't mean the comment in a racist manner. It's not clear from this action, or anything from his past, that he's a racist. But what's certain is that his intent was to jab Tiger with the remark. He's played long enough in the United States to know the racial landscape. He didn't say this by accident.

Like Zoeller, Sergio reached for an old trope in an effort to reduce one of the best to ever hit a golf ball to a cultural and racial stereotype. Friends say things like this to each other, but this was mean-spirited and hurtful.

None of this, though, likely will shake Tiger's foundation. He defended Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman and his former caddie, Steve Williams, when they made comments that were construed by some as racist, though he's not likely to give Sergio that same free ride.

It's not Tiger's way to bring attention to any aspect of his racial heritage. His aim is to transcend race through excellence as a professional golfer. He reaches for a higher plateau that is post-racial in a way that not even President Barack Obama could ever attain as a self-identified African-American.

One of the cruel ironies of Tiger's hope for racial transcendence in a sport played predominantly by whites is that he has been both a symbol of racial harmony and a polarizing force along racial lines.

Sergio's off-the-cuff dinnertime ramblings are just more evidence of how Tiger is perceived by some, regardless of his nearly unparalleled success as a player.

Fried chicken isn't the real culprit in this newest segment in the public feud between Tiger and Sergio, which began during the third round of The Players Championship two weeks ago.

Everybody loves fried chicken.

I could have told the 33-year-old Spaniard a thing or two about New York and fried chicken, where European tourists and downtown hipsters flock uptown to Harlem for some so-called "authentic" soul food.

A Korean friend in the East Village serves up some of the best Korean fried chicken in Manhattan. On the weekends, it's hard to wrestle a table from young Koreans who wash down big helpings of delightfully seasoned wings and legs with Asian beer.

Another friend, John T. Edge, a white Georgia-born food writer and the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at Ole Miss, wrote a whole book about fried chicken called "Fried Chicken: An American Story."

The book is about how fried chicken went from plantation kitchens to KFC to the rest of the world.

John T., as everybody calls him, spent a whole year eating fried chicken around the country, collecting recipes and lore that helped him explain how the fried bird had been appropriated by every imaginable ethnic and racial group in America. In addition to Korean fried chicken, there is Italian-American and Latin American fried chicken, to name just a few that comprise our melting pot.

John T. makes pretty clear that African-Americans aren't the only people who love fried chicken or make a mess with it in their kitchens with grease-filled cast iron skillets.

If Sergio knew all of this history, he ignored it in favor of the perfect punch line.

John T. and Boo can bear witness to the fact that fried chicken is good for everybody, regardless of race or place of birth.

I might even have a second helping if Sergio ever invites me to his house for dinner. I hope Tiger loves fried chicken. I know I do.