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JLeslie's avatar

What's this about Michele Bachmann using the term tar baby?

Asked by JLeslie (47974 points ) April 23rd, 2012

Here is an article which talks about Bachmann and other politicans who have said it. The first time I remember hearing the expression was here on fluther talking about a candy.

Do you think she used it innocently, or to rile up racists in her party? I think no matter what it shows the expression is used in her circles. It may not be racist at all in their intention, but the expression has at least gone through a time in history where it was considered derogatory and still is by most.

As many of you know, I find it very interesting the differences in language among the Christian right and the rest of the country. I don’t think this is exactly the same, because previously I was talking about how Christians define certain words like submissive and cult. Tar baby I would not put in the same category, but it is only used by a certain group of people, or certain regions in the country maybe? I don’t know.

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18 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

@laureth I’ve never heard of that term, but I had heard Bush’s speeches had a lot of code words not understood by the general public, interesting. It seems to me tar baby is so blatantly unnacceptable that it isn’t a dog whistle? It is almost the opposite, because it sounds racist to most people. But, it may carry two meanings as you point out. Again, Iam not familar with the term. Thanks for the link.

zenvelo's avatar

Actually, a tar baby was not originally a racist term, although it came out of the Uncle Remus stories, which were published during Reconstruction, and told in dialect. They were fables to provide guidance and amusement.

They weren’t consider racist until the mid 20th century, because of setting of the storytelling was of the “happy ex slave” uncle and the demeaning dialect.

The ‘tar baby” is something you don’t want to touch lest you get stuck. Now-a-days in politics, one is more likely to say “the third rail”.

As for Michelle Bachmann, I figure she uses offensive terms to provoke people, and then to attempt at responding with “you’re just being politically correct.”

JLeslie's avatar

@zenvelo Was that her response? I didn’t see that. It doesn’t matter if it started as a nonracist term, now it is pretty much accepted it is. And, since we have ablack President the Republican right wing seems to hate, and the base of the party dwells heavily in the south, it seems she should be more careful. But, she has said so many dumb things that honestly, I think she doesn’t know what she is saying sometimes, how it will be interpretedby many.or, maybe she is stupid like fox, I don’t know.

CWOTUS's avatar

I disagree that it is “pretty much accepted” as a racial slur. I know that some people think that way, the same way that some people get upset at use of the word “niggardly” – out of ignorance and hair-trigger high dudgeon – but that doesn’t mean that the term is normally considered a pejorative one.

filmfann's avatar

Do you think she is using this outdated term without thinking about it’s offensiveness to some races?
Nigga, please…

GoldieAV16's avatar

Even if she was using it as a metaphor for “sticky situation,” it was a poor metaphor. The President is waving his sticky situation in the air?

I think she should have said “false flag” or “red herring,” to more accurately describe that the President was waving a distraction (if that’s what she meant).

It makes no sense to wave a tar baby. The entire moral of that story is that the tar baby is inanimate – which is what makes it such a trap.

This is the only indication, to me, that perhaps it is dog whistle politics. Or else just a bad metaphor. I say we give her the benefit of the doubt, since she says enough truly appallingly idiotic things that we don’t have to search for more.

I thought this Romney gaffe – if you could call it a gaffe, was far more telling and incriminating, but I’ve not really heard much about it at all.

CWOTUS's avatar

I promised myself that I wasn’t going to read the article, and I almost succeeded…

@GoldieAV16 is correct that it’s a silly choice of metaphor.

We might say instead that the President is waving sour grapes in the air, since “high fuel prices” had been an implicit (maybe at times explicit) goal of this Administration, the thought being that this would help to goad us into conservation. In an election year, of course, no Administration is that suicidal.

blueiiznh's avatar

Nothing racial was meant by it and you should not stir the pot either about it.

JLeslie's avatar

Whether she meant something racial or not, you have to be in certain corners of the country to be clueless that it won’t come off as a slur to other people. Much like when I moved to MI and heard people say “Jew it down” to get a good price. But, she travels all over the country, so if anything it looks pretty ignorant. Other examples to me are the insistence the confederate flag is not racist, I do believe for some people they are not racist, but like the flag for its representation of the south, they are proud to be southerners, and also for representing those, maybe their relatives, who fought in the war. But, too bad, that flag is scary shit to a bunch of people.

JLeslie's avatar

@GoldieAV16 How does Romney’s compare? He was trying to say something he thought was hip for the group he was with, it’s just awkward. Like when Romney talked about grits in the south, or whatever he said recently. Tar Baby isn’t hip in the black community.

GoldieAV16's avatar

>Tar Baby isn’t hip in the black community.

Was Bachmann speaking to the black community? (I don’t know who her audience was.)

I have no idea what Romney was thinking. My guess is that he wasn’t thinking, at all.

JLeslie's avatar

@GoldieAV16 Actually, I don’t know who she was speaking to. It looks like she knew she was being filmed, and it was not just accidently caught on tape? Not sure. Good question.

CWOTUS's avatar

No, @JLeslie, it’s not “cluelessness” that makes people unaware that the “tar baby” metaphor is a slur to some people; it’s cluelessness that makes anyone believe it’s a real slur – ever.

I’ll agree with you that her language is “off”, her use of metaphor is hazy and there are all sorts of other problems in her delivery, not to mention much of the message itself. And I will agree with you that people in some parts of the country use wording and phrasing that would be quite shocking in other places (I lived in Michigan for awhile as an outsider, and I do recall the various off-putting verb usages of “jew” as you mention). But ‘tar baby’ ain’t it.

@laureth I especially enjoyed learning about “dog whistle” politics. That’s my new thing learned for the day – and it’s not even noon yet! Oh, what a happy day.

JLeslie's avatar

@CWOTUS Well, I saw the packaging of the tar baby and nigger baby candies, and right away it looks racist to me. I’m not saying everyone who used the term or who uses the term is racist, but clueless, I still stick with that description.

In MI when I called the jew it down expression to someone’s attention who used it in front of me, they were clueless too. I believe that person had no idea it was short for Jewish and that Jews are stereotyped as stingy. Bachmann has no excuse to be so clueless really, except she is so in her own world, she doesn’t care or listen to what others around her think and say.

Jeruba's avatar

I’m with @CWOTUS. The tar baby in Harris’s story is a figure made out of tar, and it is the subject of a trckster tale in the venerable tradition of fables with animal characters—in this case, a rabbit and a wolf. The essence of the trap is that the more the rabbit keeps hitting the tar baby, the worse he gets stuck. I have found this to be a useful lesson all my life.

You can read a version of it here.

I’m no defender of Bachmann or of ignorance in general, but the fact that ignorance is an evil in the world does not mean that every ignorant person is guilty of evil motive.

gorillapaws's avatar

I’ve definitely heard tar-baby used in the context of a racial slur here in VA. E.g. [said in ignorant redneck drawl] “Look at all them tar babies floatin’ in the pool! There’s ‘nuff affro grease to fry a turkey!”

Sad. People should know better.

CWOTUS's avatar

Okay, @gorillapaws, yes. That’s clearly meant as a racial slur… and it’s ignorant / stupid on so many levels, too.

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