Saturday, March 17, 2007

Just say "tar baby" and you are stuck to one

Has political correctness run amok? Well, sure. Some people have taken a fundamentally positive idea - the golden rule? - and turned it into a monster. Got to watch every word you say, dumb down your language and take all the spice out of it, and God forbid you should tell a joke. All the same, I try to be sensitive to what other people may not want to hear or see. I don't have a right to inflict what I think is funny or clever on anyone who doesn't want to be the inflictee.

That said, a pet peeve today, in another case of the phrase "tar baby" being pointed to as some kind of racial slur. This time it's John McCain who used the term. The topic was parental rights in custody cases. There was no racial connotation to his remarks. Not long ago, Mitt Romney and Tony Snow got chastised for using this term.

It is well described here that the "tar baby" in the Uncle Remus stories was not racially weighted at all. Since the Remus stories were of and from the black culture, it's not illogical that a model of a baby made from tar would resemble a black baby, which would not be a surprising sight for Brer Rabbit to see along the trail. It works for the story. If this was a story from white folklore, maybe it would have been a marshmallow baby - you attack it and you get stuck to it being the key function here. If that had been the case, would we then consider the term "marshmallow baby" to be a slur on whites?

There is plenty of genuine, intended racial stereotyping in the world. It perturbs me when people force racial insult connotations onto words that don't deserve them. McCain is, of course, forced to apologize all over the place for he has used a PC forbidden term - even though people are forbidding it for the wrong reasons.


Bryce said...

I don't know if they still have the name, but back when I wrote about sports in parts of SoCal, Compton High School's nickname was the Tar Babes, or "Tar Babies." That wasn't odd because there was the famous La Brea Tar Pits not far away, and tar pits were common in the region. By then, though, I noticed that Compton had grown to be a mostly black city in terms of racial balance, especially from a high school sports team makeup. In the eary 70s I was wondering how long the nickname would last. No one seemed to voice any concern or interest about it. They may still be the Tar Babes.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Compton in the '50s and 60's. I guess no one bothered to research this before writing or commenting. Many years ago, both the high school and the college were known as the Tarters from the Mongolian warriors. Since the high school was the younger crowd they became known as the Tar Babies...Tar Babes. Nothing to do with Remus or Brier Rabbit..