Tony Snow doesn't even last one day...
May 16, 2006 7:12 PM   Subscribe

 
I am speechless. It blew my mind.
posted by SweetJesus at 7:13 PM on May 16, 2006


Well, he's obviously just retarded about its connotation to most people.

When I hear "tar baby," I honestly think first about the Br'er Rabbit story where he tries to talk to a baby made out of tar but it won't talk, so he punches it, and when his hand is stuck and it won't let go, he punches it again, then kicks it etc, until he's caught and whoever made the tar baby has him by the ears.

That said, when someone says it on national television, I first am reminded of the story, then immediately think, "Wow, I can't believe he just basically dropped an anachronistic N-bomb up there.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:17 PM on May 16, 2006


"

and I'm not defending him, if my calling him retarded could be construed as such.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:18 PM on May 16, 2006


blackleotardfront, doesn't the racial slur also originate from that same story? i mean, i don't think he's using it as a slur, but it seems awfully insensitive to have used it either way. most people wipe it from their common usage, for the simple reason that even innocently used it can still offend.
posted by shmegegge at 7:22 PM on May 16, 2006


Kind of reminds me of the "niggardly" flap, which was utterly insane and unfair to the person who said the word. Then again, if the guy's full-time job is to represent me and what I do on a daily basis with as few hiccups as possible, I'd fire him.
posted by bardic at 7:25 PM on May 16, 2006


I'll tell you, that is not the first thing that popped in to my head... The first thing was "Wah, did he just say 'I don't want to hug the tar baby? He did! He just said he didn't want to hug a 'tar baby' at a press conference! That's insane."

I love the press corps laughing loudly when he says it.
posted by SweetJesus at 7:26 PM on May 16, 2006


Maybe Tony Snow was just feeling a little too gay at the time. I bet he's smoking a fag right now thinking about how get out of this one....

sorry, couldn't resist...
posted by underdog at 7:26 PM on May 16, 2006


ok... sorry... but gotta drop this in...

heck of a job Snowie

off to a great start, he looks better than Scottie but, pretty nice fumble on the opening play
posted by edgeways at 7:28 PM on May 16, 2006


Is this going to be a reprise of the story from a few years back where the use of the word "niggardly" resulted in someone being fired or resigning after allegations of racism, despite the fact that "niggardly" has nothing in common with the racial epithet aside from an unfortunately auditory similarity?

I am being perfectly honest when I say that I've never heard of "tar baby" being used in a racially derogatory manner (and I thought I've heard them all). I have, however, heard it used many times in the rather innocent context Tony Snow seems to be employing.
posted by Pontius Pilate at 7:28 PM on May 16, 2006


Apparently when the Bush administration goes off the rails, it doesn't just derail a little bit, it jumps the track, goes through a forest, across a river, then a major highway, through the bottom of a lake, up back onto land, through a small peaceful subdivision, where a crossing guard dodges out of way just in time. Then it just keeps on going.
posted by drezdn at 7:29 PM on May 16, 2006 [2 favorites]


do you believe he meant to disprespect black folk, or are you saying that the metaphore of the tar baby should be completely dropped from our culture?
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 7:29 PM on May 16, 2006


On much-too-late preview, bardic beat me to it.
posted by Pontius Pilate at 7:29 PM on May 16, 2006


Obviously, he was making a reference to the story. However, he also ought to know it's a racial slur, and part of being the public face of any organization is being smart enough not to say anything that could be construed as offensive.
posted by EarBucket at 7:30 PM on May 16, 2006


I've heard it in the derogatory manner, and as said upthread, probably an innocent goof, but.. hell this is the person hired to be the smooth face of the administration, la Metatron so to speak.
posted by edgeways at 7:32 PM on May 16, 2006


(Did anyone catch the question about his yellow wristband, which I assume was a live-strong (TM) thingie? Because that was, well, some pretty ridiculous treacle for a press secretary to engage in.)
posted by bardic at 7:32 PM on May 16, 2006


When did this become an offensive term?
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:34 PM on May 16, 2006


wrist band = softball for the new guy
posted by edgeways at 7:34 PM on May 16, 2006


do you believe he meant to disrespect black folk, or are you saying that the metaphor of the tar baby should be completely dropped from our culture?

I'm not suggesting racism in any way. I just find it utterly hilarious that a guy who is being paid to communicate with the public on behalf of the administration would use a loaded phrase like "hug the tar baby" when he didn't have to. That's humor to me.
posted by SweetJesus at 7:35 PM on May 16, 2006


Hidelines from the future:

SNOW: "ME SO SOLLY ABOUT TAR BABY"
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:35 PM on May 16, 2006


I honestly had no idea Tar Baby was a racial slur - -and I use the term quite often, or rather have in the past, as a reference to the Uncle Remus mythos. It's a great proverb, apparently ruined? I doubt Snow was insulting blacks, but rather was grasping for a metaphor, hardly worth the outrage, it seems.
posted by undule at 7:35 PM on May 16, 2006


Can you provide some evidence that tar baby is a racial slur, EarBucket? Pontius Pilate may be on to something with the comparison to the "niggardly" flap.
posted by Justinian at 7:35 PM on May 16, 2006


After Scott McClellan's act, this guy seems to simply talk WAY to much for his own good... he is bound to get into trouble.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:36 PM on May 16, 2006



Can you provide some evidence that tar baby is a racial slur, EarBucket?


Are you kidding me?

posted by SweetJesus at 7:37 PM on May 16, 2006


I live in the US South. I have heard the term "tar baby" used to derogatorily refer to black people. I can't say that I have heard it often, as people seem to generally prefer to use "nigger" when they can.
posted by flarbuse at 7:39 PM on May 16, 2006


The issue of Tony's racism seems, to be, to be quite a nigger in the woodpile.
posted by ColdChef at 7:41 PM on May 16, 2006


I have to admit, I didn't know that the phrase tar baby was considered a racial slur. But maybe that's one reason (among many) I'm not the White House press secretary.

That being said, dumping Scott McClellan was probably the first good decision this president's made (never mind the bad decision of appointing him in the first place). Nothing like a bumbling, incoherent spokesperson for a bumbling, incoherent administration.
posted by bcveen at 7:42 PM on May 16, 2006


"Tar baby" is most definitely a racial epithet. I don't believe Snow intended to use it as such, but it was stupid and offensive to use such a phrase, especially seeing as how he's meant to be the public face of the administration.

Even when we look at him most charitably, he should have fucking known better. Looking at him more realistically, I'd say that he'd probably just laugh off the kerfuffle, which, combined with using the phrase in the first place, ranks, to me, at any rate, as a firing offense.

Putting myself in Bush's shoes, I'd like my spokesmen to use as few racial slurs as possible when representing me, even somewhat unintentionally, or if those slurs do come out, a certain amount of contrition would be nice.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:43 PM on May 16, 2006


underdog, don't you mean sucking on a fag? I felt confidant on the racism of the Condeleeza/watermelon issue, but now I'm sceptical. I mean, I know it would is racist to call a black child a tar baby, but is the word racist on it's own? Doesn't it just mean 'intractable problem'? Or is it just like 'niggardly' where you don't say it because you don't want to be misunderstood by the people around you--the implication is that your audience doesn't know the difference (which is pretty condescending, and if your audience is black, itself racist, if you ask me.)
posted by tula at 7:43 PM on May 16, 2006


Can you provide some evidence that tar baby is a racial slur, EarBucket? Pontius Pilate may be on to something with the comparison to the "niggardly" flap.

Here's a start.

Also, here, if you don't mind scrolling down.
posted by EarBucket at 7:44 PM on May 16, 2006


I honestly had no idea Tar Baby was a racial slur - -and I use the term quite often, or rather have in the past, as a reference to the Uncle Remus mythos

Ditto.

And not only that, nitpicking on this is sortof like blowing up at Scott McClellan for being cagey about the Cheney event. Of all the things to call him on...

Not to mention it plays straight into the stereotype Right-wing demagogues love to build of anybody left of McCain: ubersensitive PC grammar-marms.
posted by namespan at 7:45 PM on May 16, 2006


after actually watching the movie, i don't think he meant it the wrong way, he's just a moron. He's also a total condescending douche. "let me remind you.... its a war on terror" "al qaeda doesn't believe in transparency" HOLY MORAL RELATIVISM BATMAN!

I love how 5 seconds after "polls show people love our program" he says "you cannot run run a nation on poll numbers". At least with Scott you got the feeling that deep deep down, he hated himself for what he was doing. This asshole is basking in it.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 7:46 PM on May 16, 2006


I always thought it meant a sticky situation... Something best just to leave alone and not even mess with.

It's all about the usage, people. If you walk up to someone and call them a tar baby, yeah, that's probably not ok.

I have no intentions in a career in politics, though, so I'll try not to be niggardly in my future, proper usage of the term.
posted by BeerFilter at 7:48 PM on May 16, 2006


I have a feeling he wants to get thrown in that briar patch.
posted by ColdChef at 7:49 PM on May 16, 2006


What a ridiculous tempest in a teapot. People would be upset if you referred to African Americans as "monkeys", in fact, when Howard Cosell did just that, it caused him a great deal of PR difficulty. But there's no reason you can't say the word "monkey" to this day, even if you're not referring to simians, but just saying "monkey around" or "monkey business". The phrase isn't inherently racist, only when you apply it to mean African American.

Okay, now sub out "tar baby" for "monkey", and the situation is identical. Snow isn't being racist, he's using a phrase that can be (and has been) imbued with negative connotation when applied to black people (which he isn't doing).

Jesus, people, I know we all hate the fake President here, but let's not get in an uproar over every little thing his administration does. There are serious crimes going on in this white house (ooo! I said "white!" I must be racist!!!).
posted by jonson at 7:49 PM on May 16, 2006


I come from a racist small town in Ohio (former home of a KKK grand wizard) and I assure you, Tarbaby is still one of the preferred racial slurs among the locals. I'd say it was probably the 3rd most popular slur behind "porch monkey" and the default "nigger".

I can't associate it with anything other then racism, but then again I wouldn't be surprised to find it's more popular among country racists then city racists, so anyone raised outside of hicks-ville may have a very different understanding of the phrase.
posted by Jezztek at 7:56 PM on May 16, 2006


I think most people here are not overreacting.. people have uniformly said he seems not to have meant it in the negative manner...
It was a bad choice of words... and the press secretary is paid to choose words wisely, i think that is the issue being talked about.
I'm not reading much "uproar", perhaps my internet intention device is broken.
posted by edgeways at 7:59 PM on May 16, 2006


I heard he also said that Bush ate crackers with his lunch. I'm outraged. And stuff.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:03 PM on May 16, 2006


Yeah, but your examples show people using 'tar baby' as a dismissive label applied to insult a black child. It doesn't mean the phrase is inherently racist. It's like somebody saying they were 'jewed out of the money'. That's a slur, because it takes the word 'jew' and gives it a negative meaning. It doesn't mean then that using the word 'jew' is somehow a slur on it's own. Maybe 'tar baby' is one of those things, like watermelon, that is just so charged that it has to be left to die out till everyone forgets the meaning of the slur. Any African Americans out there to give us the official A-A Position?

On preview, what jonson said.
posted by tula at 8:04 PM on May 16, 2006


"al qaeda doesn't believe in transparency"

Now that's worth picking on. Right, Tony. See, we have some standards, and many of those are what make (or used to make) us the good guys. If you're gonna start playing "but Osama does it too!", then we may as well hang up the country right now.
posted by namespan at 8:05 PM on May 16, 2006


It's like somebody saying they were 'jewed out of the money'.

Oh man, I can't wait until he uses that one - lots of fiduciary discussions go down during press conferences, you know. This guy is going to be even funnier than Ari.
posted by SweetJesus at 8:08 PM on May 16, 2006


It sounds like evrybody here knos the phrase from the Bre'r rabbit scene in Song of the South and there's a reason the Bre'r Rabbit scene is removed from all copies of Song of the South. Because if you watch it, it's a really really creepy scene. The rabbit gets stuck in tar and starts hitting the tar until it somehow forms a face. Kind of odd in general.

...but if you watch it backwards it looks like he beats a black child into a pile of tar.
posted by destro at 8:11 PM on May 16, 2006


sorry i went back and watched it again...my memory is failing methat scene is comepltely different from how i remembered it
posted by destro at 8:18 PM on May 16, 2006


What he meant to say was "greaseball dago baby". It was a mistake in his notes.
posted by StarForce5 at 8:25 PM on May 16, 2006


The 'tarbaby' comment was on purpose, right? Just to get the media to talk about something beside, well, important issues?
posted by porpoise at 8:26 PM on May 16, 2006


I think tar baby is one of those epithets that people like to use because it's ambiguous. Like we had a softball match between a school with mostly white players and a school with a lot (but still not mostly) black players and when the heavyset black pitcher made her way to the mound people called out "Aunt Jemima!" And some people made an issue of it ("we can't come to this town anymore and feel safe"), but then it turned out that her name was Jemma and, well, her friends called her Aunt Jemima.

Or "yard apes" for kids. I actually learned that from a black friend who used it to talk about her own kids. I, of course ... never could. Well, she'd know, but other people wouldn't.

Snow shoulda known better. Actually, he seems smart enough not to be using it generically, but to be able perhaps to recite the original fable, and put it into the discussion that way, which would make it a touch more palatable. Anyway, this isn't so much a "flap" or anything as just a flag of how the Snow Era will be goin' down.
posted by dhartung at 8:30 PM on May 16, 2006


Was I the only one who noticed, when Snow began addressing Helen Thomas' questions, he said, "Let's try to segregate the stories here."?
posted by fandango_matt at 8:44 PM on May 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think this is an excellent start for Snow and look forward to many more.

Hell, the Daily show writers are just giddy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:46 PM on May 16, 2006


You know, these sorts of things could be completely avoided if people didn't try to make themselves sound all smart (or down to earth, as the case may be) by including all sorts of allusions in their speech. Honestly. How about just, "That is an issue I do not want to talk about because it is too complicated."
posted by ddf at 8:52 PM on May 16, 2006


Proof that Barbara Bush's reading campaign is a success.
posted by Peter H at 8:57 PM on May 16, 2006


Does anyone else get the feeling that Snow is going to relish the bold face lies he'll tell the American people in the next 2-3 years?

This is going to be the crowning achivement in his warped career. He's a natural.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:58 PM on May 16, 2006


"That is an issue I do not want to talk about because it is too complicated."

He's saving that for questions about GWs impotence.
posted by Peter H at 9:02 PM on May 16, 2006


I am speechless. It blew my mind.

One hell of a snowjob, huh! (hee)
posted by Peter H at 9:05 PM on May 16, 2006


Okay I'll stop. So easy though! I love you Tony!
posted by Peter H at 9:06 PM on May 16, 2006


When did this become an offensive term?

Everything offends at least one person, and therefore we should just all stop with the talking thing. But when we expect the freedom to say whatever the hell we want while also expecting the freedom from being offended, the two freedom quanta collide, releasing a cascade of bullshit particles and tearing a hole in the Bush-Cheney Continuum, a hole from which no good will can escape.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:10 PM on May 16, 2006


Anyone else get the idea that use of these words is very regional? I'm familiar with the Br'er rabbit mythos, but I have never heard the words "tar baby" used as anything other than a racial epithet outside of the reading of that story. I think it's fairly common in a number of midwestern states, at the least.

Likewise, I had absolutely never heard the phrased "jewed out of [money]" until college. A friend of mine from around Kansas City said it and at first my jaw dropped, then I punched him because I was absolutely amazed that I was in front of a racist and had no idea. It was probably an overreaction, but what the fuck? Jewed of out money? That's the most obvious racial epithet ever, or so I thought. I've heard of people being "gypped" my whole life and didn't think anything of it until I was in high school, though. Not so many gypsies in the middle of the US.

Think before you speak, guys.
posted by mikeh at 9:17 PM on May 16, 2006


I prefer 'asphalt fetus' myself when explaining diffcult situations.
posted by alteredcarbon at 9:18 PM on May 16, 2006


stavros, I think that's an oversimplication. Unless you want me to say I was chinked out of my money when cheap electronics fail. Just because one region has accepted a term as common currency doesn't mean it'll fly in the face of a nation. Someone who's doing public relations for someone like the president should figure out how to whitewash (whoops, is that a racial thing?) in the public eye. Newscasters certainly try to, hence the generic regional accents and monotone.
posted by mikeh at 9:20 PM on May 16, 2006


I prefer 'asphalt fetus' myself when explaining diffcult situations.

(laughs) I often say Albino Fart.
posted by Peter H at 9:20 PM on May 16, 2006


I read it in a book once, I am certain.
posted by Peter H at 9:21 PM on May 16, 2006


Well, I'd never heard of it. It could be an honest mistake.

A boss of mine once said something about someone being "off the reservation" and then was like "hmm, is that a racist phrase"?

And to me, obviously it was, you know I hear it so rarely but the meaning is obvious. An Indian off his Indian reservation, especially offensive to Indians because reservations are like prisons, sort of.

But obviously for older people the phrase is just one of many they'd heard all their lives and never thought of.
posted by delmoi at 9:21 PM on May 16, 2006


I was just going to post mikeh's first paragraph verbatim. Has anyone actually heard the phrase "tar baby" used as a non-racially-loaded metaphor in standard conversation but not as a racial slur?
posted by aaronetc at 9:21 PM on May 16, 2006


It's got nothing to do with Albinos or farting, it's actually a fable.
posted by Peter H at 9:21 PM on May 16, 2006


Likewise, I had absolutely never heard the phrased "jewed out of [money]" until college. A friend of mine from around Kansas City said it and at first my jaw dropped, then I punched him because I was absolutely amazed that I was in front of a racist and had no idea. It was probably an overreaction, but what the fuck? Jewed of out money? That's the most obvious racial epithet ever, or so I thought. I've heard of people being "gypped" my whole life and didn't think anything of it until I was in high school, though. Not so many gypsies in the middle of the US.

The same with me, I'd never thought much about "gyped" but the first time I heard the word "jewed" I was totally stunned.
posted by delmoi at 9:23 PM on May 16, 2006


Any African Americans out there to give us the official A-A Position?

I'm not sure, I'll go over my notes from the last meeting.
posted by delmoi at 9:27 PM on May 16, 2006 [2 favorites]


I've never heard the term "tar baby" not have a racist conotation. I didn't even know it had a usage that wasn't a negative way to say black until this thread.

Granted, I did grow up in small town North Carolina....
posted by thecjm at 9:30 PM on May 16, 2006


at first my jaw dropped, then I punched him

...but the first time I heard the word "jewed" I was totally stunned.

me too, although, not stunned to the point that I would punch someone I thought of as a friend. I'd probably ask them why they used a racist phrase, or request that they don't do it again, etc.
posted by jonson at 9:31 PM on May 16, 2006


Eh, by this point I'm completely nonviolent but at the time I think it was a light slug to his gut. I wouldn't read too much into that, especially considering I was pretty much stick-shaped at the time. Probably about as emphatic as a loud gasp.
posted by mikeh at 9:34 PM on May 16, 2006


I was just going to post mikeh's first paragraph verbatim. Has anyone actually heard the phrase "tar baby" used as a non-racially-loaded metaphor in standard conversation but not as a racial slur?

Yes. But then, I can't say I ever thought that "off the reservation" was a racist term, either. (A cursory Googling indicates that I'm not alone; indeed, many left-wing sites show up on the first page using this term casually.)

And if some of you really think that using a term the origins of which are entirely innocuous which might once have been used with a racist connotation in an entirely different context unrelated to race is at all analogous to "jewed out of his money," which makes specific, denigrating reference to a race and to negative stereotypes relating to that race, well, hmmm.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:35 PM on May 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


Just watched the video. As an aside, he does come across as a lot more 'human' then the robotic denial machine that was what's his name.
posted by delmoi at 9:43 PM on May 16, 2006


mikeh wrote "It was probably an overreaction, but what the fuck? Jewed of out money? That's the most obvious racial epithet ever, or so I thought."

As IshmaelGraves mentions above, let's leave the Jews out of this. Snow didn't say "black" baby, and I can't imagine any place where the phrase "Jewed" is not offensive to Jews, whereas "tar baby" obviously has uses that can at least be debated, given all the confusion.

thecjm wrote "I've never heard the term 'tar baby' not have a racist conotation. I didn't even know it had a usage that wasn't a negative way to say black until this thread. "

It's hard to think of my memory of the phrase before the issue came up today, since it's not something I'd normally be contemplating, but it's certainly in my "derogatory/offensive phrases" memory near "porch monkey" -- I'd likely react with the same amount of confusion if I heard either phrase uttered.
posted by VulcanMike at 9:51 PM on May 16, 2006


Ross Perot used the "tar baby" metaphor in a televised debate and I don't remember it being a big deal. But then, maybe he was so inherently controversial that no remark he made could become a scandal in itself.

Likewise, I had absolutely never heard the phrased "jewed out of [money]" until college. A friend of mine from around Kansas City said it...

interestingly, I'm a Jew from Kansas City, and I never heard this used in KC per se, but did hear it used once in college not far away, and then once when a fellow Kansan was actually teaching English slang to some foreign friends of ours. I'm a pretty bold person, but in both cases I had such an overwhelming feeling of 'I can't believe that this is actually a situation in which I'm dealing with someone who is saying that without any degree of irony' that I didn't say anything. In both situations, I got to know the guys quite well, and they stopped using that word pretty quickly, so someone else must have said something.

All that said, someone who says that they don't want to hug the tar baby of commitment is not implicitly being racist. Say you don't want to impale yourself on the menorah of commitment if you prefer; I don't give a fuck.

Here's another one...a ladyfriend of Irish descent commented on my use of the word 'paddywagon' (to describe paddywagons), noting that 'paddy' is a reference to a common Irish name. Although whether 'paddy' is a reference to the cop driving the machine, or the person contained within, we didn't establish for sure.
posted by bingo at 9:53 PM on May 16, 2006


People around here use "jewed" all the time. I didn't know it was even offensive until my late teens. Almost anytime I hear anybody talking about a garage sale, they refer to someone trying to get an item cheaper "she jewed him down to ten" or some such. General ignorance more than racism, I doubt if half of the people here could show you Isreal on a map or know the origin of the phrase/word.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 9:57 PM on May 16, 2006


Isreal. Heh, I CAN spell, I just can not type.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 9:57 PM on May 16, 2006


Tony Snow is of the age to have seen the Richard Pryor "Word Association" skit on SNL back in the 70's. He should know that "Tarbaby" can cause a stir.

http://snltranscripts.jt.org/75/75ginterview.phtml
posted by sciatica at 9:57 PM on May 16, 2006




girl tars and boy tars make love and have tar babies.
but two boy tars who are in love cannot adopt their own tar baby.
also, no one should be allowed to abort tar babies.
Tar babies are citizens just like you and me.
you cant make tar tar sauce from tar babies.
although you may be able to use a tar baby to make a sticky bomb.
well, maybe not.
posted by obeygiant at 10:09 PM on May 16, 2006




Here's another one...a ladyfriend of Irish descent commented on my use of the word 'paddywagon' (to describe paddywagons), noting that 'paddy' is a reference to a common Irish name. Although whether 'paddy' is a reference to the cop driving the machine, or the person contained within, we didn't establish for sure.
posted by bingo at 9:53 PM PST


I know what you mean. You know the saying, "Call a spade a spade?" I was floored when I was told that that was racist. I always thought that it had something to do with playing cards.
posted by leftcoastbob at 10:19 PM on May 16, 2006


YouTube version.
posted by lunarboy at 10:21 PM on May 16, 2006


stavros, I think that's an oversimplication.

Yes, but was it an amusing oversimplification? 'cause that's kinda what I was aiming for.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:35 PM on May 16, 2006


George BushTony Snow doesn't care about Black people.
posted by mkultra at 10:40 PM on May 16, 2006


(Did anyone catch the question about his yellow wristband, which I assume was a live-strong (TM) thingie? Because that was, well, some pretty ridiculous treacle for a press secretary to engage in.)

Well he is at one year survivorship of a pretty aggressive colon cancer.
posted by karmaville at 10:43 PM on May 16, 2006


"Call a spade a spade?" I was floored when I was told that that was racist.
No and Paddywagon.
posted by tellurian at 10:49 PM on May 16, 2006


tellurian beat me to it on "call a spade a spade," but I thought I'd share this quotation from the OED. This guy would never cut it today:
1647 TRAPP Marrow Gd. Authors in Comm. Ep. 641 Gods people shall not spare to call a spade a spade, a niggard a niggard.
posted by stopgap at 10:53 PM on May 16, 2006


I seem to recall Bill Clinton apologizing to Wales for using the word "welsh" to mean "get out of paying." Which seems pretty oblivious of him, seeing as Hillary is of Welsh descent.

"Tar baby" seems uneccesarily thoughtless, and "I didn't know it was a racial epithet" isn't much of an excuse. It is, and someone is a public position should be aware of the fact. It's not, in that way, like niggardly, which is totally unrelated to the similar-sounding epithet.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:02 PM on May 16, 2006


Leftcoastbob, apparently the Greeks said "to call a fig a fig" and to them it might have been obscene, not racist. You can't win.
posted by QuietDesperation at 11:04 PM on May 16, 2006


damn, you people are easily distracted.
posted by dvdgee at 11:07 PM on May 16, 2006


After that recent deal where nobody knew about the whole racial thing about watermelon, I'm not surprised people don't recognize this.
posted by First Post at 11:27 PM on May 16, 2006


I'm with dvdgee on this.

Did no one hear the context of this?

Damn, CBS older reporter lady (I shamefully cannot remember your name), give him hell!
posted by thebrokedown at 11:35 PM on May 16, 2006


I thought one "welches" out of an agreement. Turns out there's no such word!

I suggest we use "jawed down the seller," "welched out on the bet," and let "tar baby" die its natural death (it might always be a racist epiphet down south; I doubt this next generation of kids north of Dixie will ever hear the Br'er Rabbit story.)

sorry i went back and watched it again...my memory is failing me that scene is completely different from how i remembered it

I distinctly remember the version you remember. I wonder if it was a Bugs Bunny cartoon?
posted by five fresh fish at 11:59 PM on May 16, 2006


welching out on a bet is also called "sour grapes." :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 12:09 AM on May 17, 2006


Ok, in my informal poll of all the people in my house (4) it was unanimously agreed that "tar baby" as a racial epithet is a commonly known fact. Granted, we are racial slur afficionados to some degree (all obsenity really) so we're likely to be more up on this sort of thing than a lot of people. But c'mon...tar baby? It's pretty self explainatory. Also, being involved in the Uncle Remus mythos is a case for the term's racism, not against it.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:12 AM on May 17, 2006


damn, you people are easily distracted.

couldn't have said it better myself.
posted by anjamu at 12:21 AM on May 17, 2006


I'm actually kind of curious about the history of the Press Secretary position now-- I'd imagine Andrew Jackson was probably one of the first presidents to have one, if only because he actively encouraged building relationships with newspapermen, although the offical title probably came later. (First official WHPS (WAHIPS?) was under FDR, apparently.)

Joe Lockhart (under Clinton) is the first one I have conscious memories of, and he was pretty masterful at the spin-game as I seem to recall, but also playing the dumb rube when confronted with annoying facts and truths. Ari Fleischer struck me as much more competent than McClellan, but talk about a thankless job. To damn him with faint praise, Snow might be too smart (and too blow-dried) for this. PR is all about misdirection, Rep or Dem, and while no doubt most WHPS's are true believers, there's something to be said for having someone who doesn't become the story himself or herself. There was no danger of that happening with Lockhard, Fleishcer, or McClellan.

/preview: Ah-hah, forgot about batshitinsane Pierre Salinger. So much for going quietly into that good night.
posted by bardic at 12:23 AM on May 17, 2006


Why would it be a case for the racism of the term considering that the stories were told by black people of the antebellum South?

As for whether someone should know. If you've never run into the racist use of a phrase with a non-racist usage, where exactly do you go to learn this? Is there a Racism for Mouthpieces class you can take?

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest tarbaby wasn't a phrase that came up often but to the best of my recollection it wasn't until recently that I heard it used to mean anything other than a sticky problem.
posted by obfusciatrist at 12:27 AM on May 17, 2006


JekPorkins, thank you.

"Jewed" is negative? Funny, I always thought this was rather flattering to Jewish folks (I'm serious). It is not at all the same as being "gyped".
posted by Goofyy at 12:28 AM on May 17, 2006


I think we can all agree that it was an honest mistake.

A really dumb honest mistake.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:28 AM on May 17, 2006


Ladies and gentleman

Yesterday i said the phrase "tar baby" and I want to apologize for that. I grew up in a household and community that taught acceptance for all races and classes, that these all were equal and undivided, and tolerance for these were, ultimately, the most important in deciding my, and my fellow americans, fate . My upbringing in my white middle class life does not excuse me, or preclude me, from saying inappropriate or derogatory statements. When I said "tar baby" there was no racist intention,I was referring to an old fable, but the fact that it can be construed as racist to even one person lets me know I should never say it again.

If I had grown up in an environment which preached hate, perhaps I would've known the effect this statement has on African Americans, but instead I've lived my life separating myself from any sort of a discriminating acts, and have never known the severity of saying something so weighted. I apologize for using an inappropriate metaphor and promise to you that in the future I will be more conscious of my actions. If I offended you in any way, I'm sorry. I will use this experience to learn about tolerance, moreso than I ever have, and will be commited to being fair to all races, just as I've always had. Again, I'm sorry.
posted by bigdave at 12:29 AM on May 17, 2006


....to many commas?
posted by bigdave at 12:29 AM on May 17, 2006


*too

gotta stop drinking.
posted by bigdave at 12:30 AM on May 17, 2006


Waitaminnit, "welcher" is a word! (Noun 1. welcher - someone who swindles you by not repaying a debt or wager) Sure, it's a variant spelling of "welsher", but still...

I wonder, was it changed to avoid the racist connotation, or is it an example of some congruent morphology? Anyone?
posted by Aquaman at 12:35 AM on May 17, 2006


This is more about people looking for an excuse to say "oh my gosh, he's either racist or incompetent" rather than any substantive complaint. It's kind of like people looking at a knot of wood and seeing the Virgin Mary. Entertaining, but ultimately pointless.

Why do people care about this? The press secretary's job is by definition to bullshit people so that the higher ups don't have to. Nothing he says is important, and to act like it is is to give him power that he shouldn't have. It's what the Administration does that is important, not some idiotic usage of a stupid idiom by a moronic tool.
posted by moonbiter at 12:36 AM on May 17, 2006


"Jewed" is negative? Funny, I always thought this was rather flattering to Jewish folks (I'm serious).

It's related to the whole usury thing...to profit from money-lending is not a sin in Judaism, and this plus Jews living basically a separate existence from non-Jews led to a precedent of Jews as money-lenders, and that developed into stereotypes about money-grubbing, penny-pinching, etc. which is where Shylock comes from (see also: shyster).

The general connotation with "jewed" is that Jews are the frame of reference for how to financially screw someone. Like many other stereotypes, it did not emerge out of thin air, but neither is it fair to a lot of people to whom it doesn't apply.
posted by bingo at 12:49 AM on May 17, 2006


I was just going to post mikeh's first paragraph verbatim. Has anyone actually heard the phrase "tar baby" used as a non-racially-loaded metaphor in standard conversation but not as a racial slur?

I have.

This is a non-story. When you consider who he's talking for, using a phrase that might be construed by some as racist is the least of his sins.

Tar baby is a potent metaphor, and it's always confused me that it's considered a racist slur (and I grew up in the South!). Correct me if I'm missing something, but is there anything in the original story that implies racism, other than the black color of tar? It's from African folklore, for crissakes! Yes, "tarbaby" is used as a slur sometimes, but so is "coon," which is also a perfectly acceptable slang term for a racoon.

Just because something has been appopriated by bigots doesn't mean we have to give it up to them.

Viewed in context, he's not saying anything bigoted, so what is the deal? Don't we have enough material to slam the administration with, without getting our panties in a bunch over something like this?
posted by brundlefly at 2:23 AM on May 17, 2006


Snow is the frigging White House' main line of communication to the press. If Tony Snow can not - on his first official occaision to speak to the press - communicate without using terms like Tar Baby then that tells me that he is so deeply immersed into the secret codes of "communicating with the President's loyal voting base" that he really thought using the term would go over well (in some sectors. Minutemen. Dominionists. Chehey's office.)

It's a rare term. And an offensive one. And somewhat obscure. And that is how Republicans communicate. They divide the population into us and them. If you are offended by archaic racist terminology, then you are a part of Them. It shows us that fifty years of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States has made no deep mental impression on the minds of the Republicans.
posted by zaelic at 2:25 AM on May 17, 2006


Oops. I left the Neo-Confederates out of my list. Sorry. Now I don't get to sit on Trent Lott's porch....

"Here's the unmentionable secret: Racism isn't that big a deal any more. No sensible person supports it. Nobody of importance preaches it. It's rapidly becoming an ugly memory."
-- Tony Snow, on an October 2003 edition of Fox News Sunday (via Orcinus)
posted by zaelic at 2:34 AM on May 17, 2006


zaelic, just as it was politically stupid for someone to use the word "niggardly," I think this was a stupid move on Snow's part. But do you really think that he slipped "tar baby" into his response to a completely unracial question as a code word? Really?

"I'll use this phrase randomly during this press briefing as a wink and a nod to the Klansman base!"

You can accuse this administration of racism all you want, and I'll back you up (hell, they let my home town drown because it was mostly black), but this is conspiracy theory BS, and it's counter-productive.
posted by brundlefly at 2:45 AM on May 17, 2006


The comment certainly took the discussion away from the issue at hand. Deflected? Obfuscated? Derailed? You are all discussing some emotional issue, while we are all merrily being spied on by (y)our(?) government, Big Brother. Oh well, I knew this Press Secretary was chosen for a reason: his adept ability to manipulate the media.
posted by GreyFoxVT at 3:11 AM on May 17, 2006


"Jewed" is negative? Funny, I always thought this was rather flattering to Jewish folks (I'm serious). It is not at all the same as being "gyped".
posted by Goofyy


Here in Boston, I grew up not realizing "gyped" was offensive or even referred to any ethnic group. Nobody says "Jewed," though, and when I hear it I find it mildly offensive.
posted by rxrfrx at 3:27 AM on May 17, 2006


Oh good, we're doing this all over again.
posted by NinjaTadpole at 3:46 AM on May 17, 2006


I seem to recall Bill Clinton apologizing to Wales for using the word "welsh" to mean "get out of paying."

He's lucky his spinners decided to go with a simple apology. First idea? Host a taffy pull.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 4:04 AM on May 17, 2006


Ok, in my informal poll of all the people in my house (4) it was unanimously agreed that "tar baby" as a racial epithet is a commonly known fact. Granted, we are racial slur afficionados to some degree

Case closed, Encyclopedia Brown.
posted by yerfatma at 4:55 AM on May 17, 2006


Geoge Will knows how to use "tar baby" twice in one sentence....

The president touched that tar baby, the United Nations, in November when he improvidently proposed the return of U.N. weapons inspectors, and he was not unstuck from the tar baby by Vice President Cheney's recent insistence that inspectors could provide only "false comfort."
posted by R. Mutt at 5:57 AM on May 17, 2006


How have some of you (and the POTUS mouthpiece) been so absolutely cloistered so as not to recognize this as anything other than a racial slur. Sure, at one point in American history, the term "tar baby" might not have registered as anything other than a quaint image from an african fable. In this day and age, however, this (and other such inflammatory terms) need to be removed from your professional vocabulary. Choose another, less racially-weighted metaphor with which to communicate.

If a 'Bigot's Handbook to Epithets and Inflammatory Hate-Rhetoric' is passed around the racist underworld, I'm certain that this term is on the first page.

It's use is absolutely inexcusable by the voice of the administration, and anything less than a full apology by Snow is a slap in the face to the African-American population.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 6:06 AM on May 17, 2006


"I didn't know it was a racial epithet" isn't much of an excuse. It is, and someone is a public position should be aware of the fact.

Yes, and that's so blindingly obvious I can't believe so many people are being so obtuse about it. Folks, the fact that Uncle Remus was based on stories black people told and the tar baby story isn't "inherently" racist is completely irrelevant. The word nigger isn't inherently racist either; it was originally simply the Latin word for 'black.' Anything that gets picked up by racists and used as an insult becomes a racist term; yeah, that's unfair, but (news flash) life is unfair, and this is hardly the worst aspect of life's unfairness. I'm sure we can find other stories and metaphors now that the tar baby is essentially unusable.

And really, "I never heard of this" is not the same thing as "this doesn't exist" or "this isn't important." Observe and learn, as my ex-wife used to say.
posted by languagehat at 6:07 AM on May 17, 2006


Brundlefly: Point 75% taken. However, Snow isn't really a journalist, he's a highly trained propagandist. Bush and his staff use encoded language to address their base all the time, and eventually enough usage makes it legitimate (see immigration....) I don't think Snow was tipping his hat to the Klan, but as a trained Fox broadcaster he is very aware of language. My guess is that having heard the fat bastids in the white house use similar inconsiderate terms in private conversation since he was appointed gave him the notion that this is how the powerful rulers of America are allowed to talk. He never made that kind of mistake on air at Fox, did he?

Going back to the Snow quote: "Here's the unmentionable secret: Racism isn't that big a deal any more" That is one of the most ignorant things I have heard uttered about American society in years. It's not a hypothetical conspiracy. Bush stealing the 2000 Florida elections was the hypothesis, and New Orleans is the proof.
posted by zaelic at 6:24 AM on May 17, 2006


God, this phrase is such a tarbaby for liberals. Wait until Sharpton hears about it and the tent with three rings goes up.
Best to leave this alone and go back to hammering Snow for wiretaps et al.
posted by klangklangston at 6:27 AM on May 17, 2006


"I thought one "welches" out of an agreement."

Only if you're a little elfin creature that makes grape juice.
posted by MikeMc at 6:29 AM on May 17, 2006


But do you really think that he slipped 'tar baby' into his response to a completely unracial question as a code word?

I suppose that's about as likely as President Bush slipping the Dred Scott case into his response to a completely postbellum question as a code word during the second 2004 debate. Or as likely as President Bush slipping fundamentalist code into his speeches.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:30 AM on May 17, 2006


Interesting - I've only ever heard 'tar baby' in the context of 'a touch of the tar brush', so obviously thought it was an outright racist slur. Between this and the strange cancer weeping schtick, Snow's certainly proving to be a master of misdirection - I know all about the crying and the tar baby, but nothing about what was being discussed at the press conferences.

Oh, and when it comes to calling spades spades - not a racial slur, by any stretch of the imagination, of course - we must bow to Oscar:

Cecily: When I see a spade I call it a spade.

Gwendolen: I am glad to say I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different.
posted by jack_mo at 6:46 AM on May 17, 2006


Oddly enough, I was unfamiliar with any meaning other than being a racial epithet for the term 'tar baby'—homogenous, small-town, suburban whitey would best describe my formative years. Needless to say, I nearly crapped my pants until I started reading the comments in this thread.

This new-to-me meaning is a great metaphor though. I wish I could use it without invoking all of the negative feelings and associations.
posted by Fezboy! at 6:47 AM on May 17, 2006


"The same with me, I'd never thought much about "gyped" but the first time I heard the word "jewed" I was totally stunned."

According to family lore, my grandfather once asked a salesman at a men's clothing store if it would be possible to "jew him down" on the price of a suit, and , as these things tend to happen, the salesman was Jewish and highly offended, refusing to continue assisting my grandfather - and another salesman had to finish the transaction.

Knowing my grandfather, he was unaware of the etymology, so I can only imagine how confused he must have been until the other salesman explained it to him.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:11 AM on May 17, 2006


It's really telling that the first reply to this post, the first of a hunnertsomething to cast a stone at Snow, reads

Well, he's obviously just retarded about its connotation to most people.

And no one here seems offended by that. How enlightened of all of you.
posted by veronica sawyer at 7:12 AM on May 17, 2006


I can't imagine any place where the phrase "Jewed" is not offensive to Jews

"When I got married, it was the happiest day of my life. I was positively jewed with delight."

you know, just tryin' to see the bright side.
posted by shmegegge at 7:25 AM on May 17, 2006


Hmmmm.

Now I wonder how many times I've been misunderstood when I've used the metaphor of "kicking the tar baby." I guess now I have to go shopping for an alternate metaphor. that expresses the concept.

Metaphors be with you....
posted by pax digita at 7:28 AM on May 17, 2006


It's not what he doesn't say or how he doesn't say it, it's what he does say with how he doesn't. It would have been far less interesting to hear McClellan automate his way through a stock "it would not be appropriate for me to comment on such matters of national security at this time," but at least there would have been no crack in the facade... Snow basically admitted on national television through the "tar baby" metaphor that the situation is now completely out of hand and the administration wishes it could wash its hands of the whole affair, but realizes it can't.

But if you must tip your hand, by all means do so so outrangeously that nobody notices.
posted by Vetinari at 7:28 AM on May 17, 2006


And no one here seems offended by that. How enlightened of all of you.

Amen to that.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:36 AM on May 17, 2006


Tarbaby is still one of the preferred racial slurs among the locals.

I can see why. There is the long standing 'get stuck worse the more you fight' that one can claim you were using. Snow's use of tar baby for me is not about race but about how "I'm not going to talk about this because I might just say something really, really dumb"

I'd swear during Gulf War I (the good war) more than one official called going to Baghdad and ousting Sadaam 'a tar baby'

google on tar baby and gulf war

Another example of a dual-use word would be gay. Happy or homosexual-slur? "Gay" supports the idea of a 'good slur' has two meanings.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:38 AM on May 17, 2006


Another example of a dual-use word would be gay. Happy or homosexual-slur? "Gay" supports the idea of a 'good slur' has two meanings

Yep, I wish "queer" would become more widely accepted and non-perjorative. "Gay" in its original usage was a terrific word -- "I'm feeling really gay today, bouncing back from exam week" just sounds...ummm....queer?

And, to solve my own problem above, I think I'll just start dropping references to the La Brea Tar Pits to avoid Mr. Snow's predicament.
posted by pax digita at 7:48 AM on May 17, 2006


Up he-yah in Minnesota, I've never heard "Tar Baby" used as a racial slur. It's always been used as a sticky, impossible to extricate yourself from situation.

I've used it myself.
posted by unixrat at 8:04 AM on May 17, 2006


The tar (or gum) baby appears in the original African myths where the trickster figure is the god Anansi, as opposoed to Br'er Rabbit.

These myths are ancient, and presumably, deriving from Africa where all the black-skinned people's at, is not meant as a racially derogatory term.

The whole hoo-ha appears to be yet another case of some rather unpleasant people (I guess Southern racists) mis-appropriating an innofensive term/symbol for their own derogatory purposes, a debasement which is then compounded by politically correct morons and/or victim-culture black people, who deem that a word/symbol can only mean one thing, and that that thing should be whatever gives most justification to their victimhood/self-righteous (and self-serving) crusade for the rights of whatever minority is deemed in need of their protection.

The tar baby metaphor is a great one, and is worth protecting, as is our language in genral, from both racists and the politically correct.
posted by Blue Stone at 8:04 AM on May 17, 2006


I think I'll just start dropping references to the La Brea Tar Pits to avoid Mr. Snow's predicament.

You know, in English, you just said "the the tar tar pits"?

That's right: "la brea" means "the tar."
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:07 AM on May 17, 2006


Is racism the chink in Tony Snow's armor?
posted by Floydd at 8:39 AM on May 17, 2006


Bingo: the Amer. Heritage lists "shyster" not as a racial slur, but a derviation of the German for "defecator." In any case, it's too vital a synonym for "lawyer" to be abandoned.
posted by QuietDesperation at 8:42 AM on May 17, 2006


Astro Zombie writes "That's right: 'la brea' means 'the tar.'"

But nobody says, "I'm going to La Brea Pits." The website doesn't even say that.
posted by mullacc at 8:43 AM on May 17, 2006


I don't want to be the first one to chuck the spear of blame, but if you monkey around on the porch of racism, you're going to be living on your uncle Tom's couch PDQ.
posted by squirrel at 8:48 AM on May 17, 2006


But nobody says, "I'm going to La Brea Pits."

I think AZ was making a funny rather than complaining. Alhambra means 'the red,' but that doesn't stop people from saying "the Alhambra," nor should it. You don't need to know other languages to use English properly.
posted by languagehat at 9:02 AM on May 17, 2006


you just said 'the the tar tar pits'
Like how The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is "the the angels angels."

posted by kirkaracha at 9:10 AM on May 17, 2006


All these responses and not one (not even my previous post) mentioning Snowjob's tangential relationship to Stormfront.org (I am NOT going to link to it).

Probably should've seen something like this coming.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 9:39 AM on May 17, 2006


you just said 'the the tar tar pits'

"ATM Machine"

posted by brundlefly at 10:10 AM on May 17, 2006


Did I read too fast or am I the first person to note the famous novel Tar Baby by Toni Morrison, the African-American Nobel prize winner for literature. I'm reasonably certain that if you asked her, she would say "tar baby" is unquestionably racist, and the phrase is charged enough to be unwise in any public context let alone a white house press conference.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 10:14 AM on May 17, 2006


NIC Card, PIN Number, tuna fish, et cetera.
posted by grubi at 10:31 AM on May 17, 2006


All these responses and not one (not even my previous post) mentioning Snowjob's tangential relationship to Stormfront.org (I am NOT going to link to it).

I don't see a relationship established at that link, tangential or otherwise. Care to enlighten me?
posted by pardonyou? at 10:34 AM on May 17, 2006


OK, before all you well-meaning (mostly) white people defend me to death, I'd like to return a bit of sanity to the discussion. I never heard the expression 'tarbaby' as anything other than a reference to the story and the idea of getting onesself into an impossible situation (e.g. Iraq might reasonably be termed a tarbaby for this administration).
I apologize to all the dogooders here for failing to live my life carrying an Enigma machine to try to decode all the possible insults and slurs that could be directed my way. I'm sorry I don't assume that people who dislike me do so for my skin color and not for my loud mouth or any number of other annoying personal traits. I am not a tool for the assuaging of your liberal guilt.
BTW, a spade is another word for a shovel, look it up.

PS No, I'm not a follower of Ward Connelly, I just think that economic deprivation, residential segregation, substandard education and infant mortality rates more suited to the third word are far more substantive issues.
posted by Octaviuz at 10:35 AM on May 17, 2006


Personally, I thought the John Gibson "Make more babies [so the Hispanics don't take over]" video is a lot worse.
posted by mzanatta at 10:46 AM on May 17, 2006


If you have a semitic heritage you can still say, "Don't Jew me" or a derivative?
posted by geoff. at 11:06 AM on May 17, 2006


@pardonyou?

The relationship in question:

I came across this article that Tony Snow wrote for the Detroit News back in 1999. This article was hosted, on all sites, Storm Front.

Just google "tony snow" +stormfront
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 11:12 AM on May 17, 2006


Long time lurker, first time poster (posting in a thread that's all but dead for maximum impact!). I'm not sure why this issue was the one that screwed $5 out of me to get a chance to put my 2 cents in. I think its that I find this whole game we play of marking words as taboo so deeply pointless. So "Tar Baby" gets added to the list of deeply-offensive-words-that-no-one-must-ever-say? What does that achieve other than to give racists a more effective club?

Anyway, I'm going to weigh in on the "I've never heard it used as a racist epithet" side. I've only ever heard it used (and used it myself) as an allusion to the Br'er Rabbit story. For what it's worth, I went and did a little bit of googling. Enter the term "tab baby" and you find a zillion links to Br'er Rabbit. That doesn't tell you much. So then I tried looking at uses of the term on Daily Kos and on Freerepublic. The term is used about twice as often on Daily Kos (700+ times to 300+ times). It seems to be used nearly always unselfconsciously as an allusion to the Br'er Rabbit story, and it is used variously as a way of characterizing Bush (a Tar Baby for the Republic party), Rove (ditto), and Iraq (a Tar Baby for Bush and for the US).

If "Tar Baby" is clearly, self-evidently, exclusively a racist slur, whose connection to the original (African) myth is long lost, don't you think that Daily Kos would be the last place for the term to pop up, and would be roundly condemned whenever it did? And if it were a "code word" for the racist right, don't you think that the Freepers would be trotting it out every day?

Maybe the Freepers log in to Daily Kos to keep the term alive...

(so I guess that's $5.02 I'm out.)
posted by yoink at 11:40 AM on May 17, 2006


The relationship in question:

I came across this article that Tony Snow wrote for the Detroit News back in 1999. This article was hosted, on all sites, Storm Front.

Just google "tony snow" +stormfront


Yeah, I read that. I just couldn't believe that was the evidence of the so-called "relationship." So Tony Snow, who was at the time an editorial page editor of The Detroit News, wrote a column for that paper. At some point the text of this column (which, again, was written for a major newspaper) was posted on an offensive website. This establishes a "relationship" between Tony Snow and stormtroopers.org?!? Are you fucking kidding me? If, say, the Workers World Party copied and pasted something you wrote here on their website, would that mean you had a "tangential relationship" with them?
posted by pardonyou? at 11:56 AM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


Anything that gets picked up by racists and used as an insult becomes a racist term

So what do we do? Why, we give the word to them out of fear of offending overly-sensitive people.

I can hardly wait until racists start using "dollar" or "thank you" or some other currently-innocuous term to mean something nasty. Then we'll have a grand ol' time!

Sheesuz.

Let's quit giving the racists the power to offend. Let us take back our words. Let us make racist terms obsolete.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:10 PM on May 17, 2006


Someone needs to write a book about these terms or something. There's money to be made, there. "Things One Must Never Say Because They Are Too Close To Racially Charged Terms / Meanings".

Those who think "tar baby" is completely toxic and must never be said by reasonable persons, can you please suggest another metaphor we might use for an intractable problem that is hard (or impossible) to extricate oneself from, and for which the attempts at extrication tend to worsen the problem?

The closest I can come is something involving quicksand (or tar pits), but it doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Add me to the list of those who never heard "tar baby" as a racial epithet.
posted by beth at 1:10 PM on May 17, 2006


Beth: How about quicksand, or morass, or swamp, or even Iraq.
posted by zaelic at 1:36 PM on May 17, 2006


Let's quit giving the racists the power to offend. Let us take back our words. Let us make racist terms obsolete.

A noble goal, with which I sympathize. But you know what? You don't have the power to "take back" words that offend other people; only they can do that. If someone calls you an asshole, you can choose not to be offended, but I can't "choose" that for you. Octaviuz, who is apparently black, has said he's not familiar with the use of tar baby as a racist epithet and is (understandably) not offended by it. Good for him! Unfortunately, that does not eliminate the experience of the many black people who are familiar with it and are offended by it. It's not really up to you or me or anyone at whom it isn't directed to claim it isn't offensive, or to claim that those who are offended are "choosing" (wantonly, wilfully, self-flagellatingly) to be offended. They're offended, period. If one or two people are offended by something, that's pretty much their problem, but a whole lot more people than that are offended by tar baby, regardless of what you or any of the other amazingly liberated and open-minded posters here might think, and the reason they're offended is that genuine racists use it as an insult, and our open-mindedness does not change that.

Again, if a black person chooses not to be offended, great. But a white person choosing to use the term anyway because he thinks the black person shouldn't be offended is just being a dick.
posted by languagehat at 1:42 PM on May 17, 2006


Anything that gets picked up by racists and used as an insult becomes a racist term

Are these the same people that smirk when someone says "homo sapien"? Because yeah, those are the people we should be deciding what is proper discourse.

I can't believe that people didn't know my grade 8 homeroom considered it an epithet.
posted by dreamsign at 1:45 PM on May 17, 2006


Oh and P.S., Earbucket, that story you linked about the woman who was referred to as a "Tar Baby" is not quite the clear cut case of a racist use of the term you might think. Although the commentator is trying to whip up outrage that she was referred to as a "tar baby," if you look at the actual reference you can see that it was being used in the Br'er Rabbit sense:

I would like to get out of the loop once you get update from Ms West. Now that you are back from TDY, I would really like to hand the IA tarbaby back to you!

The Information Assurance Officer (or IA) in question had charged her superiors with unfairly denying her a promotion. Cases like that are incredibly complicated and difficult. They are "Tar Babies"--i.e., if you get involved in them you just get more and more embroiled. Now, it so happens that the IA was also black. I'm sure if I were a black person in a dispute with my employer and my employer referred to my case as a "Tar Baby" I'd be sparing with the benefit of the doubt too. But given that this was an interoffice memo, given that the usage is perfectly clear (and that if it were intended as a derogatory term the phrasing would be rather off--"That Tar-Baby IA" would make more sense if it were meant as an insult), it seems perfectly plausible to believe that the author of the memo was entirely innocent of any ill intentions (other than wanting to be shot of an awkward case).

So we still don't have an actual citation of anybody using the term as an insult (a listing on a grab-all "dictionary of racial epithets" doesn't count, for obvious reasons). If it were all that common, shouldn't it be easier to find?
posted by yoink at 1:52 PM on May 17, 2006


So we still don't have an actual citation of anybody using the term as an insult (a listing on a grab-all "dictionary of racial epithets" doesn't count, for obvious reasons). If it were all that common, shouldn't it be easier to find?

I can offer you my anecdotal experience that it's used as a slur, along with several folks upthread. It's certainly not as common as a lot of other terms, which is why I said I'm sure it was an innocent slip. However, if you're a spokesman for any organization, you should be careful not to say things that could be misconstrued, particularly in an inflammatory, racial fashion.

I've had some small experience in that field (nothing as high-profile as Mr. Snow's job, obviously) and I certainly wouldn't have used words like "niggardly" or "queer" in that context, even though I think they're perfectly serviceable words in ordinary usage. You have to tread more carefully when you're in front of a microphone, let alone on national television.

Nobody's calling for Snow to be crucified (nobody reasonable, anyway). But it was a dumb thing to say, and there's going to be a certain amout of schadenfreude about it.
posted by EarBucket at 3:20 PM on May 17, 2006


It's just the liberal media bias at work.
(ducks)
posted by IronLizard at 3:44 PM on May 17, 2006


Oh, but I like my schadenfreude to be unalloyed with awkward feelings of "there but for the grace of God go I." One gets so many occasions to laugh at the discomfiture of those trying to defend the behaviour of the Bush administration--why manufacture a bogus one?

Do you really mean it when you say you would never use the words "queer" or "niggardly" in a public context? That sounds like the first few steps down a very slippery slope. It's hard to find a phrase that couldn't possibly be construed as offensive by somebody. Do we really want to force all public discourse to take place in a colorless neutral-speak? I imagine that almost everyone in this thread who has complained about "tar baby" has also, at some time, listened to contemporary political speechifying during a campaign and said "God damn it, why can't they just talk like real people?" Well, this is why.
posted by yoink at 3:50 PM on May 17, 2006


Do you really mean it when you say you would never use the words "queer" or "niggardly" in a public context?

Speaking publicly, as someone else's representative? Yeah. I'd say "strange" or "cheap." Or any of a half-dozen other synonyms that wouldn't risk offending a chunk of my audience. If, say, Rumsfeld or Cheney had said it, I don't think it would have quite the irony that it does coming from the guy who's been hired to be the slick, professional, very public face of the administration.
posted by EarBucket at 3:55 PM on May 17, 2006


It's not really up to you or me or anyone at whom it isn't directed to claim it isn't offensive, or to claim that those who are offended are "choosing" (wantonly, willfully, self-flagellatingly) to be offended.

I had not realized Snow's comments were directed to an black American. I thought he was addressing the press gallery. My bad.

Then again, is there not a distinction to be made between the use of "tar baby" to refer to a sticky situation, and "tar baby" as a derogatory term? Does context not have a role?

Of course, there's always the niggardly debacle, in which wholly ignorant people took great offense to the word only because they hadn't the foggiest idea what the word means.

It's time for the religious right to claim that words like "condom" and "sex" are offensive. With those two bothersome words removed from our language β€” because, gosh sakes, you are right: only a dick would use an offensive word! β€” they'll have no problem getting [word omitted] classes removed from the school curriculum.

Wait, I better rewrite that paragraph: there are people offended by the use of "gosh" (it's blasphemous!) and "dick" (mostly it's people named Bob that have trouble with it).

What the fuck, let's call this whole language thing off. We should all be communicating by grunting anyway.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:57 PM on May 17, 2006


And you know what? I am, as should be obvious by now, deeply offended by people who wish to ruin our language because they do not know what a word means or can not distinguish between contexts. If not-offending be the rule, then they'd best STFU lest they offend me.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:00 PM on May 17, 2006


five fresh fish writes "If not-offending be the rule" ...

It is if public relations is your job. That's one of many reasons they get paid.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:24 PM on May 17, 2006


(For what it's worth, this isn't nearly as horrifying as Senator Clinton's Gandhi crack.)
posted by EarBucket at 4:26 PM on May 17, 2006


Also, the hijinks continue.
posted by EarBucket at 4:28 PM on May 17, 2006


So I'm part Dutch. How are we feeling about Dutch Uncle, Dutch Oven, and going Dutch? Me, I don't think being assosiated with farting is such a good thing.

welching out on a bet is also called "sour grapes." :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 3:09 AM EST on May 17

So I guess in Canada it has a different meaning. Here in America, "welshing on a bet" means not paying up but "sour grapes" as per the Aesops Fable means pretending you don't want something because you can't get it.

I seem to recall Bill Clinton apologizing to Wales for using the word "welsh" to mean "get out of paying."

He's lucky his spinners decided to go with a simple apology. First idea? Host a taffy pull.

posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:04 AM EST on May 17
Ha! I was picturing a group of Welshmen standing around in a circle and pulling their puds. Maybe singing.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:38 PM on May 17, 2006


SLoG: I didn't know "sour grapes" had that connotation. When I've heard it used, it's been akin to "being upset 'cause you didn't get what you wanted." Which is why a welcher would have sour grapes: upset that he didn't win.

OTOH, I could be just pulling it from my ass. I was joking on the "Welches Grape Juice" versus "sour grapes" silliness.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:58 PM on May 17, 2006



So I'm part Dutch. How are we feeling about Dutch Uncle, Dutch Oven, and going Dutch?


Not to mention being "in Dutch" as synonymous with being in trouble.
posted by pax digita at 5:00 PM on May 17, 2006


Not to mention Dutch Wife.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 5:02 PM on May 17, 2006


Do you really mean it when you say you would never use the words "queer" or "niggardly" in a public context? That sounds like the first few steps down a very slippery slope.

Who the fuck uses "niggardly" outside of a discussion of words that might offend people, other then that one guy who offended people by saying it? I mean I've never heard it in common speech.
posted by delmoi at 5:07 PM on May 17, 2006


Of course, there's always the niggardly debacle, in which wholly ignorant people took great offense to the word only because they hadn't the foggiest idea what the word means.

That's ridiculous; they got offended because it sounds like a modification "nigger".
posted by delmoi at 5:10 PM on May 17, 2006


OMG Pink, those "Dutch" phrases in your link are crazy. Dutch stink wad? Ugh! Bring on the brain bleach.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:14 PM on May 17, 2006


I think the uproar over "niggardly" is pretty silly, but people only really use it these days if they're trying to pick a fight.
posted by EarBucket at 5:15 PM on May 17, 2006


I so do love "honky" and "cracker." But then, I grew up being called such, in both derogatory and affectionate ways, so maybe I'm the only one who finds them funny. Honky. Ha!

However, I'm deeply offended at the complete lack of Swedish-related offensive remarks. What, are Swedes not good enough to make fun of?
posted by fandango_matt at 5:15 PM on May 17, 2006


fandango_matt writes "What, are Swedes not good enough to make fun of?"

Swedes are right bastards. Nothing funny about them at all.

Not really. Swedes are alright with me. Belgians, on the other hand ...
posted by krinklyfig at 5:19 PM on May 17, 2006


And you know what? I am, as should be obvious by now, deeply offended by people who wish to ruin our language because they do not know what a word means or can not distinguish between contexts

Ruin? FFF: can you give me a single reference to the use of the word "niggardly" in the past 20 years not in the contenxt of it being an 'offensive' word?

It's not even English, originally.

Also, why should there be a rule that an offensive word inside another word takes away the offense. While the words that comprise an offensive statement like "Kill the jew pigs" isn't offensive if you rearrange the syllables to "Jews [don't] kill pigs"

On the other hand "fuckography" is still profane, you could never say it on TV, even if it was a valid word from another language.
posted by delmoi at 5:20 PM on May 17, 2006


Sure they are, fandango_matt. Haven't you ever heard of a judicial candidate being borked?
posted by EarBucket at 5:23 PM on May 17, 2006



posted by krinklyfig at 5:30 PM on May 17, 2006


posted by delmoi That's ridiculous; they got offended because it sounds like a modification "nigger".

That's because they don't know the meaning of the word.
posted by fandango_matt at 5:40 PM on May 17, 2006


Alright, it's late in the discussion and a person or two called me out on this so let me clarify. When I said "informal poll" that's exactly what I meant. I did not claim to have discovered that the entire American population ought to know what it means, but that four college undergrads studying history and anthropology did know what it meant, and we had known for some time. I'm not saying Tony Snow oughta be run out of town on a rail, nor am I saying that everyone here is a sheltered ignoramous for not knowing what I know. I'm just saying that the idea that Snow's statement could easily be taken the wrong way is certainly valid, and that there are people out there who do understand the term as racist. I'm one of them.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 5:46 PM on May 17, 2006


Don't call them crackers! Call them "thin, crisp wafers," lest you offend your (white) waiter whilst ordering soup!

Delmoi, it is completely irrelevent whether the word is in common usage. The dummies that flew off the handle didn't know what the word meant and assumed that it was meant to be offensive instead of cracking open a dictionary first.

We do not need to cater to illiterates. Let us use our words as they are meant to be used instead of letting bigots define them for us.

I'm just saying that the idea that Snow's statement could easily be taken the wrong way is certainly valid

Bullshit. In context it was abundantly clear that he was referring to the fable. To take offense you would have to both ignore the context and assume that he is so stupid as to sling racial slurs during a press conference.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:53 PM on May 17, 2006


To say that what he was saying was racist would require the belief that hugging African Americans is somehow equivalent to declassifying documents, which is, I think, too surreal to be offensive.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:54 PM on May 17, 2006


It is very interesting that he basically said that the Administration is enveloped in a mess of its own making. If ol' Br'er Bush hadn't punched the tar baby, if he'd had just an ounce more caution, if he'd just looked at what had offended him, he'd have been able to avoid the mess.

But, nope, he's-a-gonna fight that tar baby all the way.

Now if only we had some feathers and a pole...
posted by five fresh fish at 6:22 PM on May 17, 2006




Delmoi writes:

Who the fuck uses niggardly...

Well, no one does now, because a reaction that was purely based on ignorance sparked a political to-do that has now marked the word as racist. The language is impoverished when any word--be it in common use or not--gets locked into the "only bad people say this" box. The point is that this used to be a rarely used but perfectly servicable word. Now it's become a little code word that racists can use to taunt people with: "ha ha, I'm saying niggardly and you can't stop me because I'm getting away with a technicality." No racist ever thought of using the word until some hypersenstive idiot decided to give them that power by (falsely and absurdly) crying "racism."

It's not even English, originally.

Are you really suggesting that we purge all words which aren't "originally" English? Your realize, of course, that "originally" won't make the cut?

Also, why should there be a rule that an offensive word inside another word takes away the offense

Yes, this is why no one has ever seen the "Ha ha, you said blank" meme. No two words in the English language ever sound alike but have utterly unrelated meanings. Why, it would be poppycock to suggest otherwise. A man would have to assume the title of King of the Morans should he rehearse such a despicable claim.
posted by yoink at 7:18 PM on May 17, 2006


So we still don't have an actual citation of anybody using the term as an insult (a listing on a grab-all "dictionary of racial epithets" doesn't count, for obvious reasons). If it were all that common, shouldn't it be easier to find?

This book mentions the term "tar baby" and links it (and many other terms) to perceptions of intelligence. I don't have the book myself, but you can see the blurb here.
posted by naturesgreatestmiracle at 7:44 PM on May 17, 2006


The illiterate shall inherit the earth.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:51 PM on May 17, 2006


Or at least decimate its languages in their outrage.
posted by moonbiter at 2:20 AM on May 18, 2006


What, are Swedes not good enough to make fun of?

I guess you don't know any Norwegians. My mother's family always said "A Svede ain't nuttin but a Norvegan vit 'is brains knocked out."
posted by languagehat at 5:02 AM on May 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


I was just going to post mikeh's first paragraph verbatim. Has anyone actually heard the phrase "tar baby" used as a non-racially-loaded metaphor in standard conversation but not as a racial slur? -- aaronetc

Well, at the risk of mikeh' hitting me; yes. Yes, I have. I would venture to say that most literate people have heard and understood the term in the fashion that it was used. In fact, I've used it. It would never occur to me that it could be taken as a racially charged term, unless one were directing it *at* some one, rather that it being a reference to a sticky situation in which one might find it difficult to escape.

For instance, ironically enough: Snow using the term "tar baby" is in itself, quite a tar baby.
posted by dejah420 at 11:58 AM on May 18, 2006


"For instance, ironically enough: Snow using the term "tar baby" is in itself, quite a tar baby."

That's what I said! (upthread, even!)
posted by klangklangston at 1:10 PM on May 18, 2006


Ah...er. Damn. I guess now I have to turn myself into Oprah as the latest plagiarism statistic.

*hangs head*
posted by dejah420 at 9:10 PM on May 18, 2006


Don't call them crackers! Call them "thin, crisp wafers," lest you offend your (white) waiter whilst ordering soup!
I know this must offend someone out there. But damned if I know who.

On a side note, my boyfriend (who is South Asian) spent the first twenty years of his life in blissful ignorance of the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain. Recently, we ate there on a road trip at the behest of a relative. My boyfriend, who was the only person of color in the whole place, found the name of the place hysterical: "It's called Cracker Barrel! And only white people eat there!' He still brings it up.
posted by anjamu at 1:15 AM on May 20, 2006


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