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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ridiculous trumped-up charge of racism

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre has been subjected to a barrage of demands that he apologize for having used the term “tar baby” in the House of Commons. This man faces a ridiculous trumped-up charge of racism, not because of what he said, but because he is a Conservative MP.

When the opposition deliberately misconstrues an innocently used term like “tar baby” and cries racism, it cheapens the very nature of true racism—not at all a socially responsible thing to do and hardly fair to those who suffer true racism.

The term “tar baby” comes from the old Br’er Rabbit (Brother Rabbit) stories of the Southern United States by Joel Chandler Harris—a part of the Uncle Remus folklore collection. Similar stories were told to me in Jamaica by an African-Jamaican nanny. In Jamaica, the central character, Br’er Rabbit, is often “Anansi,” the legendary trickster of Jamaican folklore.

At no time is there even a hint that—in the Tar Baby story—the Tar Baby term refers to an African-American or black Jamaican. Here’s a version of the old folktale.

One of Br’er Rabbit’s main adversaries, Br’er Fox, makes up a lump of tar and puts clothing on it. When Br’er Rabbit comes along he addresses what he thinks is a “tar baby” amiably, but receives no response. Br’er Rabbit becomes offended by what he perceives as Tar Baby’s lack of manners, punches it, and becomes stuck.

Now that Br’er Rabbit is stuck, Fox ponders how to dispose of him.

The helpless, but cunning, Br’er Rabbit pleads, “Please don't throw me in the briar patch,” prompting Fox to do exactly that. As rabbits are at home in thickets, the resourceful Br’er Rabbit escapes.

In Jamaican versions, wherever “Br’er Rabbit” is mentioned, substitute “Anansi.”

A simple, beautiful fable with a moral, folks. That’s all.

Only with the most powerful of microscopes and with a mind full of wishful thinking and malevolency is anyone likely to find a racist theme in these Br’er Rabbit or Anansi stories.

This is more mean-spiritedness from opposition benches than this country deserves.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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10 comments — This is a moderated blog and comments will appear when approved. Please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, and please do not post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable.

  1. The new leader of the LPC has not brought ' a different way of doing things' to parliament, as promised.

    There has been a serious lack of maturity on the Liberal benches since Paul Martin was run out of the LPC.

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  2. The problem is, in Canadian politics, the truth is a totally irrelevant factor. The media is spinning it in their normal Liberal way and most Canadians will never listen to the actual comment nor hear it in context. That has always been a Liberal strength - lie and express fake outrage; they even hauled Marlene Jennings out to emphasize the "racist" elements of their charges. Too bad we didn't have a press that would call them on their lies - hey, that's Canada for you.

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  3. -- "This man faces a ridiculous trumped-up charge of racism, not because of what he said, but because he is a Conservative MP."

    It certainly doesn't help that it is Poilievre, who has said seemingly racist things against aboriginals in the past. He's my MP and it's embarrassing.

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  4. Please consult the Oxford dictionary. It means "black or Maori."

    It's a racial epithet. Find something better to defend.

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  5. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
    Goodale is a perpetual whiner and is the Liberals designated badger. It is his role to make the Conservatives look bad in any way possible. Unwilling to debate issues, for which Goodale and the rest have no real answers, ad hominem attacks and character assassination are the preferred tactics.
    Usually they are quite effective too, easily skewing the hearts and minds of the pliable public.
    However, this time it may blow up in his face as the nail he tries to hammer turns out to be his own thumb.

    ReplyDelete
  6. If one looks hard enough and is mean-spirited enough, James Bowie, one'll find all sorts of unseemly meanings for all sorts of terms.

    I use The New Oxford Dictionery of English, which contains 2,152 pages and is considered an authority on the meanings of English words. That reference defines "tar baby" on page 1,896 as: difficult problem which is only aggravated by attempts to solve it.

    That is the only definition listed. The same reference states that the origin of the term is as indicated in my blog post.

    I lived in a country with a population of people predominantly descended from black Africans. Never once did I hear "tar baby" used as a racial epithet—I guess you Libs move in less cultured circles. So please do not presume to lecture me on what I should or should not defend.

    "Beaver", "box" and "frame" are used by some to mean vagina—should we apologize every time we use those terms too?

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  7. If you use them in a context that perjoratively refers to women then, yes, absolutely.

    I often agree with you on a lot of things, Russ, but this time I disagree.

    The context in which Poilievre used the phrase "tar baby" speaks for itself. I don't honestly believe that Poilievre is a racist, but he isn't being accused of racism because he's a Conservative MP, he's being accused of being a racist because he made comments with racist undertones.

    I rather believe that Poilievre wasn't smart enough to recognize an admittedly cute metaphor as a bad idea. I don't consider him a racist, but I seriously question his judgement.

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  8. Again, the Con double-standard..sigh.

    You know, all PP has to do is apologize. What would be so hard about that?

    He could explain the context of his use of the phrase, but say if it did offend, I'm sorry, it was not my intention.

    Bingo, bango - done.

    Watching the past history of BT's overreacting, you looking a little silly here.

    PP's playing a game here - diversionary tactics to get the media off Chalk River, economy, etc.

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  9. Let's hope this silly issue is dead next week.

    ReplyDelete

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