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OUR VIEW: Is 'tar baby' racist? (poll, Br'er Rabbit video)

August 1, 2011
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If Colorado Springs didn’t already have a reputation for whitebread intolerance, our congressman said “tar baby” on Friday.

Nearly all definitions say it refers to a “sticky situation.” It originated with a doll made of tar and turpentine that entrapped Br’er Rabbit in the second Uncle Remus story. (see video clip)

“The more that Br’er Rabbit fights the Tar-Baby, the more entangled he becomes,” Wikipedia explains. Like some other definitions, the entry explains how the phrase has “negative connotations revolving around negative images of African-Americans.”

Lamborn used the phrase in direct connection with a black man — President Barack Obama — which exacerbates the outrage.

“I don’t even want to have to be associated with him. It’s like touching a tar-baby, and you get it — you know, you’re stuck, and you’re part of the problem now, and you can’t get away,” Lamborn said on the Caplis and Silverman show in Denver. What a gift to the “gotcha” media pack. (Hear the comment)

Lamborn, who has apologized to Obama, should certainly have known better than to use a phrase that needs to die. This will call into question his judgement and his attitude toward black people. At the same time, those who are terribly sensitive to racism in politics should put this in context. Former President Harry Truman paid to join the Ku Klux Klan. The late Sen. Robert Byrd was an enthusiastic recruiter for the Klan and rose to become Exalted Cyclops of his local chapter.

He was the only Senator to vote against both African American nominees to the Supreme Court, the liberal Thurgood Marshall and the conservative Clarence Thomas. He filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He repeated the n-word on “Fox News Sunday” in 2001. Yet he was among the more revered statesmen of the Democratic party until his death in 2010.

Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black was a Klansman, and President Woodrow Wilson had a horrific record on race.

But that's history. Racism in the political sphere today has become so insulting that it makes "tar-baby" seem benign. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews expressed his affection for Obama after hearing an eloquent speech in 2010. Matthews was astonished that a black man could be so smart.

You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour,” Matthews said. Sick.

In 2008, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid was so taken by Obama’s fine qualities that he described Obama as a “light-skinned African American with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Is he racist or insane?

As a senator in 2007, Vice President Joseph Biden spoke to the New York Observer about Obama: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

(Vote in poll to the right. Must vote to see results. Thanks!)

So, Biden believes no other “mainstream” black people speak with intelligence? He believes they aren’t smart or clean? That is considerably more outrageous than borrowing a phrase from an old storybook that promotes outdated racial stereotypes.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor expressed a racial slur in 2001: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

City Councilman Tim Leigh expressed a racially insensitive remark in a meeting with The Gazette’s editorial board shortly after his election. He said Colorado Springs needs a new image, “which cannot be that of a middle-aged, fat white guy.” He sat near one who took offense.

Nationally syndicated liberal cartoonist Ted Rall drew a racist cartoon in 2004 that called Condoleezza Rice the “beard” of George W. Bush and also called her the n-word.

In August 2010, MSNBC reported on a man who peacefully protested a pro-Obama health care rally in Phoenix. He was lawfully armed with two rifles. Anchor Contessa Brewer said: “I mean, here you have a man of color in the presidency and white people showing up with guns strapped to their waists, or to their legs.” Commentators went on and on about anger over a black man in the white house, hate groups popping up and their fears that a racist would kill Obama.

They didn't mention this: The man with the guns was black. MSNBC exploited him, to stir racial tensions, by cropping their footage so tightly that viewers could not see the man’s skin. It was a race-based lie. In MSNBC’s world, one who disobeys a prescribed agenda for black men might as well be white. So much for the black man's intellectual freedom.

Let us all stop saying “tar-baby,” for sure. For using this phrase, Lamborn will pay. He is mired in a controversy that will get worse as he fights against it. But let’s keep perspective. Relative to the racial hatred and insensitivity that permeates political rhetoric of the past and present, this should be far from a major-league scandal.

Friend editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen on Facebook

Is this children's film racist? Answer in comments section. Thanks!

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