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Barbour says 'tar babies' quote not meant to offend

Haley Barbour

Haley Barbour

JACKSON — Former Gov. Haley Barbour acknowledges he used the term “tar babies” to describe President Barack Obama’s policies, but says “neither the context nor the connotation was intended to offend.”

The website Politico first reported Barbour made the remark during a Nov. 6 conference call with clients of the Washington lobbying firm he founded, BGR.

In a statement sent to The Associated Press yesterday, Barbour said that during a question-and-answer session on the call, someone asked if Democrats will run from or embrace Obama’s policies and record in 2016. He said that’s when he used the term to describe a difficult situation.

“I replied that once candidates embraced the President’s policies and record they will be stuck with them — no matter how unpopular they are. Hence the literary reference,” Barbour said. “If someone takes offense, I regret it.”

In the “Uncle Remus” stories by late 19th and early 20th century author Joel Chandler Harris, the tar baby is a doll smeared with tar to trap Br’er Rabbit. However, the term is widely seen as a slur about black people.

Barbour said he used the term as it is defined in the Oxford American Dictionary: “a difficult problem, that’s only aggravated by attempts to solve it.”

Mississippi state Sen. John Horhn of Jackson, who is black, called Barbour’s use of the phrase “racially insensitive and in poor taste.”

Another black Democratic lawmaker, state Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones of Canton, criticized Barbour but said he didn’t see the former governor’s use of the phrase as racist.

“There have been people who used the term tar baby as a subtle way to belittle African-Americans. But in this instance, Gov. Barbour’s statement was simply partisan rhetoric that any politically astute person is entitled to use,” Jones said. “Gov. Barbour could have chosen more politically acceptable words to describe my president’s policies, but that’s not the Haley I know.”

Barbour was governor from 2004 to 2008. He was chairman of the Republican National Committee in the mid-1990s and is a frequent guest on TV political talk shows, known for his thick Delta drawl and his unconventional turns of phrase.



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About Megan Wright


  1. This pig is typical of Southern politicians, its shameful. We know EXACTLY what he meant and are offended.

  2. Although he may try to explain away the context in which it was received.
    It would seem that the region he is from that he would be a little more sensitive and be aware of the context that it going to be taken in! We all need to hesitate when it might offend others!
    So much politicking seems to be a way to take an opponents comments out of context!
    I give Barbour the benefit of doubt! He regrets the comment.
    But it seems only fair to acknowledge that in Iowa, Joni Earnst campaign took Bruce Braleys comments about a farmer, who has never studied law could be chairman of the judiciary committee if republicans gain control of the senate! This is a true statement and there was no disrespect for farmers at all! Turn that around and if Earnst had said that if Braley is elected, you could have a lawyer on the agriculture committee! Would that be disrespecting all lawyers? I don’t think so!
    Who else beside me is damn sick and tired of the gotcha politics and childish antics by all sides.
    So Barbour apologized, lets move on! Braley apologized but didn’t need to but he took the high road and still got burned by it. He spoke the truth!

  3. How can anyone who actually knows the priceless work of Joel Chandler Harris take the reference to a “tar baby” as racist? That view is just superficial. At their heart, Uncle Remus tales are morality plays, folk wisdom, lessons to live by, wrapped in charming, accurate, carefully-studied historical dialect. Harris was not writing parody, he was documenting valuable language patterns while recording folk wisdom.

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