Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Tarbaby, Tarbaby, Tarbaby

If Germany can take back their nationalism and the English their flag; I can take back my Tarbaby.

I object to some people's ignorant knee-jerk ability to find things objectionable. Someone losing their job for using the perfectly good word "niggardly" is one thing - having a Yankee apologize for using a "Tarbaby" reference is just silly.
Governor Mitt Romney yesterday apologized for using the expression ``tar baby" -- a phrase some consider a racial epithet -- among comments he made at a political gathering in Iowa over the weekend.

``The governor was describing a sticky situation," said Eric Fehrnstrom, the governor's spokesman. ``He was unaware that some people find the term objectionable, and he's sorry if anyone was offended."
Oh for Pete's sake. Some find the American Flag offensive.

First: ed'u'ma'cate yourself. What is a Tarbaby?

Second: have respect for other cultures you are ignorant about.

Often, people can tell you a lot about themselves by what they get all touchy about. Just because you don't take the effort to find out what the story and background is about doesn't give you the right to smear my Tarbaby.

Good gracious, you even have me on the same side of the tracks as Toni Morrison.
In 1981, author Toni Morrison published a novel titled ``Tar Baby," and she has compared the expression to other racial epithets. She says it's a term that white people used to refer to black children, especially black girls.

Reached at her home near Princeton University, where she teaches, Morrison called the expression ``antiquated" and one that's ``attractive to some people, when they begin to search for hints of racism."

She described it as a ``forbidden word" that she sought to restore to its original meaning, one that illuminated an old African tale about the connection between a master and slave.

``How it became a racial epithet, I don't know," she said. ``It was my attempt to rescue the phrase from its low meaning. I wanted to annihilate the connotation and return the meaning to its origins. Apparently, I haven't succeeded."

She added: ``I suppose it should be avoided because it could be offensive to some people."
Toni, lead from the front. Let's take back Uncle Remus.

As a Southerner, Uncle Remus's stories are a foundation of my culture. They belong to both Black and White Southerners, and any color of the rainbow Southerner you want. They are an important part of our past, and like Mark Twain's stories, they have a very progressive message if you take the effort to actually study them. If a Yankee like Romney wants to try to talk like a Southerner, that is fine with me. Wicked good!

This is what the stories are about.
On one narrative level Uncle Remus appears to be telling only entertaining, harmless slapstick animal tales, drawn nostalgically from the pre–Civil War Old South plantation tradition, that typically highlight the stupidity of the physically stronger animals. In the introduction to his first volume of Uncle Remus tales, however, Harris acknowledges the allegorical significance of the stories he was retelling. Clearly, Brer Rabbit is the black slave's alter ego and trickster-hero, and the so-called stronger animals represent the white slave owners. On deeper rhetorical, symbolical, and archetypal levels, Uncle Remus's role is to
initiate his young white listener into the complex realities of adult life. Yet at the same time, Uncle Remus has been educating entire generations of readers—young and old, white, black, brown, red, and yellow—about the destructive power plays and status struggles among members of the animal kingdom, who clearly represent socially and ethnically different, jealous, contentious, and even openly warring members of the human race itself. The survival strategy that the tricky old shaman counsels, furthermore, is first and foremost to use one's "thinkin' masheen," which almost invariably proves to be a more powerful weapon than brute strength.

Uncle Remus is an accomplished role-player and trickster himself. While humorously and affectionately telling the little boy superficially entertaining tales, he is also narrating double-stories that explore, just below the surface, a violent, predatory world of interracial strife, interclass warfare, and assaults on the human spirit itself. As Uncle Remus once stops to explain, "with unusual emphasis," to the little white boy and to Remus's fellow black raconteurs, 'Tildy, Aunt Tempy, and Daddy Jack, "ef deze yer tales wuz des fun, fun, fun, en giggle, giggle, giggle, I let you know I'd a-done drapt um long ago."

Uncle Remus challenges all of his readers and listeners, in his time and our time, to read the complex book of life more compassionately and to find some kind of common ground and common humanity beyond slavery—and beyond terror and violence in any form.
..and not the unreconstructed views of the man who published them, not fully understanding the empowering story it actually was for the decendants of slaves. Once again, ignorance has turned facts on its head.

In my extended Southern family, I am known as "that liberal city boy." Yes, that is me. Growning up in the South and having many unreconstructed relatives, I have heard about every slur one could use - and I am here to tell you I have never heard any Black/African-American/Whatever person called "Tarbaby." I have heard others complain that it is used, but have never heard a White/Caucasion/European-American/Whatever person use it.

Tarbaby, Tarbaby, Tarbaby. There. Oh, and don't be niggardly with your reading. Read some Faulkner while you are at it.

Hat tip The Corner, also stuff at The Volokh Conspiracy and the need-of-clue American Agenda. I can't believe Toni Morrison and I are on the same side of anything. It would make an interesting lunch date........

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