Denver Post Readers Reply to ‘Tar Baby’ Op-Ed

Today the Denver Post published several replies to my ‘tar baby’ op-ed.Here I briefly reply to the letters critical of my piece.

First, though, I point out that the Post piece is very short — around 500 words — and it draws on thousands of words I’ve written on the matter. So I want to summarize my previous work:

Lamborn’s “Tar Baby” Saga Continues
I briefly reply to the Associated Press’s assertion that Congressman Doug Lamborn used the term “tar baby” to refer to President Obama. He did not. I also briefly reply to Wayne Laugesen and Patricia Calhoun, arguing that “neither of those writers pays sufficient attention to the fact that the tar baby story arises fundamentally from African folklore. Any racist use of the term manifests ignorance of that tradition.”

Yes, Let’s Do Throw Lamborn In the Briar Patch
I point out the irony of a MoveOn protester a) invoking the same African folklore, and b) calling to throw Lamborn “in the briar patch,” which in the story actually saves the rabbit.

More on the African Roots of the Tar Baby Motif
I offer even more evidence that the “tar baby” story came from African folklore.

MoveOn Smears Lamborn for Invoking African Tar Baby Folklore
This is my longest piece on the matter in which I offer extensive evidence for the African roots of the “tar baby” story and reply to David Sirota’s hypocritical smears against Lamborn.

Lamborn Strikes the “Tar Baby” Tar Baby
In my first piece on the matter, I do two main things. First, I firmly establish that the term “tar baby” comes from African folklore, and I show that it has been commonly used in the culture to refer to a sticky situation. I offer specific examples of left-leaning writers from theDenver PostWestword, and Salon using the term — all without receiving so much as a breath of criticism.

So let’s turn to the Denver Post letters.

Sherry Steele finds value in my historical perspective, but she thinks I fall into “blame it on the left or blame it on the right.” But she misses my point, which is that the shrill left’s smear campaigns against Lamborn are precisely that, which is why those critics neglect to slam left-leaners for using the same term. My point precisely is that we should debate substantive issues, not smear the opposition.

(Some people seem to mistakenly think that I am a conservative or a Lamborn supporter generally. I am neither.)

Dennis Hansen claims that my “ranting” is “narrow-minded and illogical” — without offering a single argument to that effect.

Kenneth Valero first suggests that Lamborn used the term tar baby “against” Obama, but that’s false. In his original statement, Lamborn uses the term to refer to getting “stuck” in “the problem.” Those who continue to ignore that context are simply being willfully dishonest.

At least Valero recognizes that “tar baby,” in fact, derives from African folklore, though he says it has fallen into “corruption.” My response to this is what it was in the op-ed: “Surely we ought not let ignorant racists push us to obliterate cultural knowledge of important African folklore.” Letting racists steal the term “tar baby” is letting the racists win, something I refuse to do.

Doug Sovern claims I ignore “the usage of the term in the U.S.” But I have provided many references to U.S. usages of the term to refer to a sticky situation.

Sovern notes that some with the Tea Party have unfairly attacked Obama. But he misses my point, which is that the left is picking out Lamborn to smear over a make-believe offense, while ignoring many other actual insults.

(And, for the record, I have criticized those who likened Obama to a Nazi, saying, “Obama is obviously not a Nazi, so tagging him with a swastika is wrong.”)

Sovern claims “context is everything,” yet he ignores the context of Lamborn’s original remark.

Sovern also claims “the Nazis were conservatives,” which is ridiculous. The very term is an abbreviation of the National Socialist German Workers’ party.

Brandon Reich-Sweet grants, “Yes, ‘tar baby’ does come from a legitimate African folk tale. However, the term has been used as a slur against black people.” I discuss that very fact in my op-ed, yet I return to the point that we ought not let racists steal a perfectly legitimate term.

Ken Lambdin claims, despite all the evidence, that “Lamborn’s comment was racist.” Some people are just determined to see Republican office holders as racist, because that’s a lot easier than debating them on the issues. Dehumanizing the opposition, as the left is attempting to dehumanize Lamborn, is the strategy of cowards.

In addition to these criticisms, Gary Reed and Lou Schroeder offer supportive comments of my piece.

My case holds. Using the term “tar baby” to refer to a sticky situation is perfectly legitimate. That is how Lamborn used the term, and that is how I resolve to continue using it.


Dean Barnett commented on August 14, 2011 at 2:42 PM:
Gee, Ari, if there was any reason to think Lamborn knew any of this when he said it, you should have added that to the mix. But since he apologized, in writing, I’m guessing he didn’t know this, which would make him the sort of thoughtless person who really shouldn’t represent Coloradans

Ari Armstrong commented on August 14, 2011 at 2:56 PM:
Dean, As is obvious from Lamborn’s initial comments, he did know that the standard meaning of “tar baby” is a sticky situation. He used the word “stuck.” Whether he knew anything else about the folklore tradition is quite irrelevant. But, somehow, Dean, I doubt very seriously that Lamborn’s “tar baby” comment is the origin of your dislike for Lamborn. Instead, the left is seizing upon this innocuous term to smear somebody they already wanted to smear. On the political level, this is fundamentally about the left (groundlessly) smearing Republicans as racists heading into the 2012 elections. -Ari