After watching this, I was blown away. How could any Congresswoman use such a blatantly racist term? So I did some research on the term. First up, Merriam-Webster online:
Main Entry: tar babyWhile also noting the Brer Rabbit story, wikipedia offers this on the usage of the term:
Etymology: from the tar baby that trapped Brer Rabbit in an Uncle Remus story by Joel Chandler Harris
Date: circa 1910
: something from which it is nearly impossible to extricate oneself (emphasis mine)
Although the term's provenance arose in African folklore, some Americans now consider "tar baby" to have negative connotations revolving around pejorative images of African-Americans. Specific reasons why the term developed negative racial aspects are difficult to identify. In recent years, several politicians who have publicly used the term have encountered some controversy, mocking, and censure from African-American civil rights leaders, members of the popular daily media, and other politicians. ...While Foxx clearly meant the Merriam-webster definition, this term is so racially loaded that no politician should ever use the term.
In an interview, Toni Morrison said the following of its use in her book, in an acting of reclaiming: "Tar Baby is also a name, like [the n-word] that white people call black children, black girls, as I recall…...." (emphasis mine)
A google search on the term, however, highlights that many other GOP leaders have used the term. For example, John McCain and Mitt Romney during the presidential primary:
In response to the question, Mr. McCain said that he was not going to take a position that it was proper “to declare divorces invalid because of someone who feels they weren’t treated fairly in court; we are getting into a tar-baby of enormous proportions and I don’t know how you get out of that.”Or former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis on Obama's illegal immigration stance:
When told after the event that the word was viewed by some as a racial epithet, Mr. McCain responded: “I hope that it’s not viewed that way.” A moment later, he apologized. “I don’t think I should have used that word and I was wrong to do it.”One of Mr. McCain’s rival, Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, apologized last year for using the word in referring to the troubled “Big Dig” highway project in Boston. (emphasis mine)
In a 20-page memo on GOP electoral woes, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) repeatedly misspells Barack Obama’s name – it’s one R, congressman, not two -- and then manages to use the racially charged term “tar baby” in a paragraph about Obama and immigration.Finally, Senator Corker also on the AIG bonuses:
“Remember,” Davis writes, “Hispanic voters are a swing group in this election and future elections. John McCain, being from a border state, may be out of sync with many Republicans but he has standing among Hispanics. Barrack Obama has not made the sale to Hispanic voters. Thus, this issue is a tar baby for anyone who touches it, with land mines everywhere.” (emphasis mine)
“It’s a tar baby,” said Corker (R-Tenn.), a senior member of the Banking Committee. “It’s not going to go away."If Corker and Foxx use the same term on the same legislation, chances are it was some type of GOP talking point. And while these articles were all on the front page of my google search, I am sure that I could tire of citing examples if I looked into the other pages. With the prevalence of the usage of the term by only one party, I think that it is a reasonable conclusion that this term is a dog whistle to certain (extreme) elements of the GOP party. And because the term is derogatory and pejorative in the public mindset, I cannot come to any other conclusion. I am willing to listen to other possibilities if you have any.