Reported by Liku Zelleke
Almost everyone was shocked when they found out former Governor Haley Barbour had used the phrase “tar babies”, to describe President Barack Obama’s policies, while talking on a conference call with the clients of his lobbying firm.
We say “almost everyone” because the chairman of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus has stood up to defend Barbour by claiming that he believes the comments were “simply partisan rhetoric” and not racist.
State Senator Kenny Wayne Jones said, “The truth of the matter is that any public policy considered controversial is a political tar baby. Religious freedom, for example, is a political tar baby for Mississippi because when you touch it you get stuck, and the more you struggle with it, the more entangled you get.”
“Therefore,” Jones added, “I do not condemn Gov. Barbour’s statements as racist, nor do I believe he intended for anyone else to view his comments as such.”
Barbour, on his part, has tried to apologize for the tongue-slip, by saying, “If someone takes offense, I regret it. But, again, neither the context nor the connotation was intended to offend.”
He then asked people to refer to the dictionary definition of “tar babies”: Often used to describe a sticky situation and from 19th century fiction, “Tar-Baby”, which depicts a doll made of tar and turpentine used to entangle Br’er Rabbit.
That may have been the original definition, but since then, according to Random House, the two words are known to have been used as a racial slur.
Peter Dreier, a political author, columnist and professor, wrote in Talking Points Memo saying, “It is time for a ‘Boycott Barbour’ movement. Customers and members of BGR’s clients should put pressure on those corporations, trade associations, cities and one labor union to fire BGR as their lobbyist.”
Drier added that this wasn’t the first time Barbour had been overheard making racist remarks. In fact, he recounted several incidents in which Barbour made offensive comments and then twisted their meanings “to avoid taking responsibility for his ugly remarks.”
But Jones still doesn’t agree and said, while that may have been the case, the latest remarks shouldn’t be seen as such.