I once had a little black cat named Minority, and if
I ever have another I'll call her Tar-Baby. Just because I can.
Because she's black. I could call her Licorice, or Eclipse, or Midnight.
But now I am definitely going with Tar-Baby, hoping to offend as many
idiots as I can.
The tar-baby story is part of our American literature, part of our
One of the reasons, I'm sure, that many people my age were never
racists, is that we loved Uncle Remus, whose stories were in the Sunday
funnies during our childhood. Three of them are contained in the
"Favorite Classics" volume of The Golden Treasure Chest, which I bought
for my son and am saving for my grandkids, so that they don't grow up
ignorant like the people who are attacking Governor Romney this week for
his use of the tar-baby analogy in a speech about getting stuck in the
Big Dig morass.
"The wonderful Tar-baby Story from Uncle Remus, His Songs and his
Sayings," by Joel Chandler Harris. Short version:
"One day after Brer Rabbit had fooled him so many times, Brer Fox got
him some tar, and then he mixed it with some turpentine an' fixed up a
contraption that he called a Tar-baby. Pretty soon Brer Rabbit come
prancin' down the road lippety-clippity, clippety-lippety, just as sassy
as a jaybird, until he spied the Tar-baby settin' there and said 'Mornin!'
"The Tar-baby ain't sayin' nothin', an' Brer Fox, he lay low. Brer
Rabbit trying to get Tar-baby to say howdy-do ... til finally Brer
Rabbit drew back and hit Tar-baby right smack on the side of the head
... his big mistake. He couldn't pull loose, the tar held him tight. So
he kicked it, then he butted it with his head ... and was soon stuck
In years of hearing this story from my parents, and reading it to my
son, it never crossed my mind that the Tar-baby was a racist image
created by bigots. And it wasn't. It was created by black slaves, whose
stories Joel Chandler Harris preserved.
Yes, there was a hidden message: According to his biography, Harris
wanted to teach his white readers both the wonderful rhythm of the black
dialect and the magic of the stories, which show how the slaves made fun
of their white masters, represented by Brer Fox and Brer Bear, who were
always outsmarted by Brer Rabbit. It may have been a "racist" message -
but it was the opposite of what some really dumb white racists thought
when they did, in fact, start using "tar-baby" as a racial insult.
Brer Rabbit, in this story, gets free by begging Brer Fox to do anything
he wants to him - "hang me, drown me, skin me;" just "don't fling me in
that briar patch." After the inevitable toss, Brer Rabbit skips away
hollering, "I was bred and born in a briar patch, Brer Fox." The dumb
white master had been foiled again.
Just to confuse the issue, I'll tell you about the time Senate President
Bill Bulger referred to Alan Dershowitz and my friend, Harvey
Silverglate, who were hounding him about a real estate deal, as "sly."
Alan called the Jerry Williams Show when I was a guest, complaining
about the anti-Semitic slur. Puzzled, I pointed out that the word "sly"
usually refers to a fox, like the villainous fox in "Pinocchio."
Yes, Alan insisted, and "the fox and bear in that story are Jews!"
I was lost. So, Gepetto of course must be Catholic, and the Blue Fairy
... Must we go there?
Gee, and all my life I thought the point of the story was: Don't ever
lie, or your nose will grow, and you will turn into a donkey.
Ah, wait, a donkey! Symbol of the Democratic Party. So the moral of the
story must be: Democrats lie!
I think I'm getting the hang of this. I'll have to revisit another of my
favorite childhood stories, "Little Black Sambo," also an alleged racial
slur, except that Sambo wasn't African because he tricked the tigers,
and there are no tigers in Africa. So he must have been a dark-skinned
boy from India, who was very clever, and therefore a role model. Or are
we making fun of tigers, who represent "people of stripes"?
Governor Romney, apologize. Never mind what for, just do it.
I definitely plan to support Mitt Romney for president, but I have to
tell you, if some candidate comes from out of nowhere and calls everyone
who is stuck fast in political correctness a tar-baby, I may follow him
Meanwhile, Peter Rabbit was a communist, stealing from the rich to give
to Flopsy and Mopsy, code names for welfare mothers, code words for
black. Don't even think of referencing Aesop's fables, which have foxes,
donkeys or asses, and rabbits all over the place.
Come fly to Neverland with me and the guy in the green tights who hangs
out with Indians and picks on the handicapped pirate. I may be all grown
up, but I'm going back to where a story is a story and life is fun.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.