Social Question

bookish1's avatar

What would you think if you saw a license plate that said "Tar Baby"?

Asked by bookish1 (13069 points ) August 10th, 2012

It’s true… I just saw this yesterday, a vanity plate that says “Tar Baby.”

And yet more proof that this is an ahistorical society…

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

54 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

My first thought was “Is this a North Carolina license plate?” And then I wonder how ignorant the person is who ordered it.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@bookish1 It would make me sad.

CWOTUS's avatar

Nothing at all. It’s not a racist term unless it’s pretty clearly intended to be.

Doesn’t anyone read the Uncle Remus stories any more? Or do people just jump on terms that “seem to be” racist (such as the perfectly non-racist word “niggardly”) and assume the worst?

Trillian's avatar

Meh. I have enough on my plate without looking for shit to get bothered about. I’d roll my eyes and then forget about it.

josie's avatar

I have heard the expression used often enough to describe a problem that keeps getting worse every time you try to solve it. From the Uncle Remus tale as mentioned. Why not end this madness and simply give us a list of words and phrases that we are permitted to say, and nothing more.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m with @zenvelo. Tarheels you know. And, @Trillian. Athough, I would probably go a little farther in my prejudice and think idiot southerner. If it was a northern plate, I would think that’s surprising. Although, I think it was Romney who used it a while back right? A northerner.

@CWOTUS Many people perceive it as racist, And, it isn’t some little movement of people just starting to push the idea that the term is no longer PC, it’s pretty widely known it sounds bad.

Blackberry's avatar

“Uh, that’s strange….”

The other day I saw a plate that said “OMG FUUU”. Lol.

CWOTUS's avatar

It’s not racist, @JLeslie. Just because ignorant people want to think that it is, and then get on a high horse when they don’t even know why, then that’s their problem, not the plate holder’s.

Obviously, if a state DMV issued the plate, then it’s not perceived as racist there, because those places are generally hyper-sensitive to “bad words”.

Sunny2's avatar

I would think the person was insensitive to racial issues. However, it may have some personal reference to the person who has the license. Perhaps he ‘named’ his car that or it’s his own nickname. Who knows?

Aethelflaed's avatar

@CWOTUS It’s not racist if someone uses it in a really racist way? Huh?

bluiii's avatar

Maybe he works for an asphalt company?

JLeslie's avatar

@CWOTUS In some dictionaries the second definition is it is a racist slur. I just looked up the wikipedia, Disney saw fit not to release their VHS with the reference, and their rides at the theme parks have been adjusted. I have mixed feelings about that. I generally am not for changing literature, but I guess a Disney movey can take dramatic license. It isn’t like studying a great piece of literature in a classroom environment. Literal meaning is not the only thing to be considered when it comes to these sorts of things. We need to consider how it is used, how it sounds, and how the group who might be offended feels. IMO. I know the PC thing gets out of hand, so I am not one to be angry or offended, but I am one to stand up for those who are offended and educate the speaker they might be doing or saying something insensitive. They may have no idea it bothers people, an innocent remark.

JLeslie's avatar

@CWOTUS I don’t understand why some Native Americans are offended by schools having mascots that are Indians or the school using the name redskins or alike, but they are. I figure we need to respect that.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

The question really is, “Why is the term ‘Tar Baby’ considered a racist remark?” It didn’t start out that way. The term is used in many other countries with the same definition of being a sticky situation better left untouched. When and why did it become a racial slur in the US? What if the license plate owner is a Tar Heel? What if they consider themselves to be a mess that is best avoided? Why assume that the intent is a racial slur?

elbanditoroso's avatar

I’d be thinking that someone at the State Department of Motor Vehicles is probably looking at some disciplinary action.

wilma's avatar

Like @bluiii , my first thought was someone who works on a road crew laying asphalt. I know a gal that does this and she is often called “Tarbaby”.
I also thought of the Tar Heels and that it might reference them.
Why do so many people always see something that might not be there?
Where I live “tar baby” has nothing to do with people of a darker color.

Mama_Cakes's avatar

I’m guessing that it has to do with the Tarheels.

Trillian's avatar

“They may have no idea it bothers people, an innocent remark.”
People who choose to be offended by an innocent remark can fuck off.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Does it only matter what the intent is? Or, does it also matter how people perceive it, if it hurts some people, or makes them nervous.

thorninmud's avatar

If I were a racist, I certainly wouldn’t pay $95 to have a reference to the group I dislike emblazoned on my car. So I wouldn’t assume that the driver is racist. I would think it more likely that the driver knew the term from another context (it is a common nickname for UNC fans) and had no idea that some might find the term offensive.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@JLeslie I think that the Intent vs. Effect can be a fine line when it comes to any type of discrimination. One time, I had to address a situation with a direct report, a trainer, who used the term “jew a customer down on rate” in a classroom setting. Two of the participants called me to report it. In the discussion with the trainer, she had no clue that it was a slur towards Jewish people. It was just a term that she had always heard used by her family. In this case, there is no other use for the term. It is indeed a slur, and there is a reason why it is. It plays on an old stereotype of negotiating a price.

With the term ‘Tar Baby’, there doesn’t seem to be a reason why. That is all that I am asking…why is it considered a slur? Maybe it is…I just haven’t been able to find an answer to this question.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer I guess maybe it is a slur because it is a not nice way of saying black baby, or dark baby. I’m really not sure, but it conjures up an image of a very dark baby, and so I would guess not using the appropriate accepted terms for a black baby, or African American baby seems/feels like a slur. Again, just my guess, maybe there is a more specific reason. I’m thinking decribing the color of their skin as tar is not a nice descriptive term. Probably like using spade black, I assume maybe that offends some people, I don’t even know for sure. I grew up with that term being used for very dark black people. I don’t think of it as derogatory, but it would not surprise me if some do. I wonder if black people are offended when the term is used and what they think about it? Or, if it is just white people calling racist?

Possibly also because it was a popular term back when black people were slaves or at minimum not treated equally and it was sanctioned by the federal government. So, no matter what it meant, a lot of times old terms used in the old days have been better left in the past. Maybe like how Jews typically don’t use Wagner’s wedding march at their weddings.

wundayatta's avatar

A tar baby is also a mythological trickster creature. A tar baby is a hero.

Words can mean many things and they can mean one thing and the opposite at the same time. What really bothers me is that people rush to judge—so certain they know what is meant, and they never stopped to talk to the person who is making the speech.

Now I think it is fair to decide that someone truly means one thing even if they say they mean the opposite. But all the tut-tutting about speech and being dismayed and whatnot makes me glad this person has such a license plate. I don’t support racist attitudes at all, but I support free speech more than some kind of suppression of unacceptable views.

And frankly, this isn’t a statement that bothers me all that much. I don’t think it is necessarily racist at all. It could be. It could be mildly racist. It could be majorly racist. It could be not racist at all. Honestly, I don’t really care.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, the color of tar is black, and there are many Black babies on Earth. My question is, why does this term make it un-PC unless it has been used in a derogatory fashion? I just have never heard it used that way.

hug_of_war's avatar

I am black. I would think nothing of it.

wilma's avatar

I have never heard it used in a derogatory way. Who decided that it was derogatory?
Why do people go around trying to make something out of nothing? I think there are real issues that are problems for people, without going around looking for some new thing to say you are offended about.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Again, I think it is imagery. Really I don’t know for sure. Tar is sticky and people don’t want to get it on them. If I say my skin is as white as a sheet, or if I say it is snow white, the imagery is different.

Thinking about what @wilma wrote, I don’t know if anyone has ever actually used the term tar baby in a derogatory way purposefully. But, that goes back to intent. I see where you are going with jew it down picking up on jews having a stereotype of being stingy with money so the term means more, but since racists just hate black people for being black, it sort of relates. There are people who get angry when someone describes a black man as a black man, instead of just saying, the man.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@JLeslie Not all racists hate black people for being black. Racism isn’t limited to one race. It also doesn’t mean that one statement or stance makes that person a racist.

zenvelo's avatar

The problem with the term is that people used it, and others interpreted it, as a racial slur because it sounds like one, not that it actually is.

Envision a racist calling a black child a “tar baby” thinking himself clever and demeaning. He intended to mean it derogatorily, even though he is ignorant as to its true meaning.

Now consider an ignorant over reacting politically correct liberal hearing John Kerry properly describe talk about altering Social Security as being a “political tar baby”. The ignorant PC Liberal mistakenly accuses Kerry of being racist.

Both are wrong, but the term sounds inappropriate. And because it does sound that way, it now carries that connotation.

This is how language evolves.

athenasgriffin's avatar

I would say the person who chose that as a licence plate is stupid, but not particularly a racist.

The reason I say that is because the person has to know that some people would take that in a racially crude way, and should have chosen a different licence plate to avoid this.The fact that they still chose to make it a licence plate shows that they did not care about the opinions of other people, and frankly deserve whatever they get. (Irate mini-van moms and all.) It is cruel even if it is not a racist term, because some people might feel that it is, and this person should know that.

Trillian's avatar

@athenasgriffin I refuse to live my life trying to pander to stupid people. Fuck em.

wilma's avatar

@athenasgriffin “I would say the person who chose that as a licence plate is stupid, but not particularly a racist.

The reason I say that is because the person has to know that some people would take that in a racially crude way,”

Why does the person have to know that? The thought of a darker skinned baby or person never entered my mind. We don’t all live in the same place or culture. Not all people think in the same way about things.

Linda_Owl's avatar

Well, the image that comes to my mind is straight out of the Uncle Remus stories that I used to enjoy reading when I was a kid. As a matter of fact, the very last Arabian horse that I had (purchased as a 5 month old colt) was coal black – he was registered with a very fancy name (which I never called him by), I nick-named him “Tar Baby” & I loved him. He was extremely intelligent & eager to learn, & the first time he was shown as a yearling, he took Reserve Grand Champion in halter & conformation.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I wouldn’t think anything of it. I’ve never heard “tar baby” used in a derogatory way, and I live in the freaking South.

DominicX's avatar

For the record, I have only heard “tar baby” used as a racial slur. I’ve never heard anyone say it against someone, but the only context I’ve seen it in was racist. Guess it’s a regional thing. When it comes to dialects in linguistics, the universal excuse and answer is always “must be a regional thing.” And it really is often true.

athenasgriffin's avatar

@wilma Why would you put a word on your car if you didn’t have a relationship with that word? And how can you have a word that you like so much and not have heard it a great many times, probably in a racist way a few times. I’ve never heard the phrase used in person, but I’ve seen it on the web before, and I googled it eventually.

@Trillian Haha, I probably pander a little too much. I always feel responsible for other people’s feelings, so I try not to give them negative ones.

Mr_Paradox's avatar

I would feel like this video at 0:10.

wilma's avatar

@athenasgriffin ”@wilma Why would you put a word on your car if you didn’t have a relationship with that word? And how can you have a word that you like so much and not have heard it a great many times, probably in a racist way a few times. ”
Like I said in my first post, I have heard it used, by a woman who paves roads for a living. She is known to her friends as “Tar Baby”. I have also heard it used in the way it was originally used, “a sticky situation that just gets stickier.
I also said that I have never heard it used in a racist way. Just because you think about something a certain way, doesn’t mean that everyone does.

bookish1's avatar

I am well aware that people’s location and historicity affect how they perceive things. This is why I posed the question. I saw this with a friend of mine and he told me his dad used to refer to black people as “tar babies.” And I was wondering how other people would view such a vanity plate.

Ponderer983's avatar

I’ve never heard the term “tar baby” so I would think that the person’s name was Tara and they shortened it for the license plate.

wundayatta's avatar

Damn. If we let other people’s understanding and possible offense at the words we use as a reason not to say something, then we’d damn near have perfect silence in the human world of communication. That’s just plain absurd. It is all right to offend others.

When I was a boy, my mom always taught me to say, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Words will never hurt anyone, unless you let them. It’s the individual’s choice. And it is not possible to keep offense out of the world. We can’t make the world all nice for everyone. It simply isn’t possible. I don’t think we should even try.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer I never thought one statement or thought makes someone a racist. I also know that people can be racist against other than black people. But, for this Q we are talking about black people, and my response to you was regarding people who are ra ist towards balck people. Racist to me mean disliking a group just because they exist, and assigning everyone in that group the same qualities, not treating them as individuals. Even if someone makes a blatantly racist statement, I don’t off the bat condemn them to being racist, because as @wundayatta pointed out, we need to ask questions and further analyze the intent the person had when they said it, allow them to explain why they said and what they really mean.

@wundayatta But, I assume you agree that some words and phrases are offensive? Hell, I am not worried about being offended personally, I worry about being hated or getting hurt. Someone has neo nazi on their plate, and I am wondering if they have guns and do I have to worry about them finding out I am Jewish.

wundayatta's avatar

Words can absolutely be offensive. So what? Are we supposed to make offensive speech illegal somehow? That would be a pathetic society to me. And it does happen, especially in schools. It bothers me.

JLeslie's avatar

@wundayatta Illegal? No. I am not trying to limit speech. Although, I am kind of in the grey area with things out in public like a sign a business puts up, or even maybe a license plate. I’m not sure about the plate. People can’t write FUCK YOU as a vanity pate, states won’t approve it. Do I think they should approve it? I think I come down on the side of no, but might be argued into changing my mind. I wouldn’t like if a store front had a display that was very offensive out for anyone walking by on the street. Inside the store is fine. But, actually censor these things, I am always a little unsure what to think. There is a line I think. 100% open speech we don’t really condone do we? Freedom of speech to me has more to do with the freedom to be contrary to those in power, to educate, to report, state out opinions.

As for schools, I assume you mean not allowing books that use derogatory terms or changing the words. I am against changing them or eliminating them also.

Trillian's avatar

Whatever. if you leave your house at any point during the day, cahnces are that you’re going to see or hear something that bothers or fofends you. If you turn on the radio, or tv, if you log onto the internet, if y ou pick up a piece of written media like a newspaper of magazine, chances are goot that you will find something that offends.
GET OVER YOURSELF AND DEAL WITH IT!

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

For anyone interested, here is an article about the term Tar Baby.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer That article makes sense to me. I do think sometimes certain lingo and certain knowledge and stories are used in certain groups. I can’t say this was true of the term baby, because I don’t know. There was a book, I wish I could remember the title, that spokento how Bush wove into his speaches Christian references that went over a lot of us liberal, leaning athiests heads. I don’t know if that was purposeful to be like some secret code, or if that is just how he talks, because he is a Christian, or if that is all overblown, but I think liberals do kind of watch for these things, a little paranoid about it. Remember the Arlington Mayor who said we should go back to only giving land owners the vote? That talks to his southern base. I think most northerners have to go back in their heads to jr high to remember what that even means, because they have not thought about it since taking the test in school back then.

woodcutter's avatar

We are never going to get past this “race thing” in the US as long as there are those who refuse to let it happen. keep pickin’ that scab boy.

Pandora's avatar

I thought the same as @zenvelo.
Tar state baby would be too long for a plate.
Or if the car was black, then I would think they are saying the car is their baby and its black.
I use to have a car that I called ma’s baby.

JLeslie's avatar

Was it a NC plate?

@woodcutter Sometimes I wonder if ignoring it is better. As long as no one is literally being physically hurt or held back. I used to think we need to discuss race to fix it. Now I wonder if we should have less discussion, wait for the racists to drop dead, and hope for the best.

ucme's avatar

Do they work for highway maintenance?

phaedryx's avatar

I’ve never heard the term used as a racial slur. I didn’t realize it could mean anything other than a problem that is easy to get into but hard to get out of until a few years ago (when a politician used it and the media jumped all over him) or one of the lamest mutants ever.

I guess it’s a regional thing?

DominicX's avatar

@phaedryx Honestly, this thread was kind of an eye-opener for me. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard that “tar baby” meant something besides a racist term for a black child. Interesting how that works :)

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