Thursday, July 24, 2008

Poor John Kerry

I've visited my usual array of websites today, and many of them had a clip of John Kerry using a racist slur; I know of it primarily as such, and I'm sure others do as well. It was the word "tar baby". And I felt sick and uncomfortable and didn't watch the clip because I felt like I didn't need to see it to get its full effect. Guess what? I did. So here's the clip:

Because John Kerry wasn't using it as a racist epitaph. He was using it in its original context, and was referring to a situation rather than a person. Which is something I probably should have anticipated anyway, given that it was John Kerry and not someone whose political ideals were more in line with George Wallace. I mainly know "tar baby" through its rather unwholesome associations, but I remember the stories about Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox and Uncle Remus; I've actually seen Song of the South. John Kerry used the term correctly, though its usage has become mainstreamed as something not so benign for quite a while now. So I don't really get the big fuss. To me, this is kind of like using the word "bitch" at a dog show: "That is a lovely bitch". I get up in arms about the term normally, because its mainstream use is nowhere near nice and it is derogatory. But there are some situations where it is a perfectly acceptable word, and dog shows are one of those places. And so is a description of a political mire as a "tar baby". I don't know; maybe that's just my white showing.


Renee said...

I don't know; maybe that's just my white showing.
You called it. The problem is that though he used the term in a "dictionary sense", it still has very racial connotations and for that reason alone he should refrain from using. There is just no reason to use this word when there are so many options...I find it telling that it came up in a conversation in which he was discussing a black man...but of course there is no racial link right?

petpluto said...

While I think you make a good point, one of the reasons I posted this is because I read through a lot of the comments on Feministing and discovered that although the first thing that came to MY mind was in fact the racial connotations, that for many many others, the "dictionary sense" is still their frame of reference. So while the outrage about John Kerry is something I completely understand -because that was my frame of reference too- , I also think that there's another side to it. And that a lot of the comments on Feministing are more articulate on that particular aspect of it than I could ever hope to be.

As for the black man aspect of it, I'm not going to touch that with a 10-foot pole. I make no claims to know how John Kerry's mind works and maybe there was a sort of word association thing happening; in any case, the incident becomes even more charged because of that than it would have been otherwise -thought it certainly would have been a controversy no matter what.