Monday, July 31, 2006


Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is embroiled in a minor flap over his use of a "racial epithet."

The word? "Tar Baby."

In his first major political trip out of the state since a ceiling collapse in a Big Dig tunnel killed a Boston woman on July 10, Romney told 200 people at a Republican lunch Saturday about the political risks of his efforts to oversee the project.

"The best thing for me to do politically is stay away from the Big Dig -- just get as far away from that tar baby as I possibly can," he said in answer to a question from the audience.

Romney was subsequently criticized for using the term, which some said was a derogatory term for blacks.

This reminds me of past tempests in teapots, like the Washington, D.C., mayoral aide who temporarily lost his job for using the term "niggardly." It reveals more about the critic than the original speaker.

For me, the phrase refers back to the B'rer Rabbit story described in the link, a story I read (and a movie I saw) when I was growing up. Now, one could criticize the whole B'rer Rabbit canon as being racially condescending -- the book I read growing up was written in a painful emulation of semi-literate slavespeak. But the "tar baby" aspect itself has nothing to do with race.

Like conspiracy theorists, overeager Bush critics and other boys who cry wolf, people who are hypervigilant for signs of racism undermine their own credibility. They risk a collective shrug of the nation's shoulders when actual racist words and actions occur. We should combat true racism where it occurs; but brouhahas like this only make the critics look foolish.

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Blogger Dyre42 said...

True and also the word quagmire is currently deployed elsewhere.

8/01/2006 12:28 AM  

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