If you have been following U.S. news reports, then you already know that Congressman Doug Lamborn accidentally put his foot in his mouth when he used the expression “tar baby” in reference to President Obama. Immediately after the congressman used the expression, he was accused of racism. Yet, the congressman did not intentionally say anything racist.
The Wikipedia entry “tar baby” states the following:
In modern usage according to Random House, “tar baby” refers to any “sticky situation” that is only aggravated by additional contact.
So, originally the expression “tar baby” simply referred to something very sticky, which is why Congressman Lamborn used the expression.
That is why U.S. Senator John Kerry used the expression “tar baby” during a 2008 TV interview. He said the following:
I think John [McCain] is trying to throw that big tar baby out there. You want to lose, you don’t want to win. Of course Barack Obama wants America to be successful.
In short, neither politician used the expression “tar baby” in reference to race, because race has nothing to do with the lesson of the Tar Baby story.
If you were to read the actual Tar Baby story, then you would discover that race is irrelevant to the story. In the story tar is used to make the baby because tar is very sticky, not because it is black. The tar baby could be white as long as it is sticky enough to catch a rabbit.
One of Senator Kerry’s supporters understood this fact when he posted the following image on his blog:
People who accuse Congressman Lamborn of racism need to read the actual Tar Baby story in order to have a correct understanding of the story.
So, why don’t they read the story? Why did they immediately accuse Congressman Lamborn (but not Senator Kerry) of racism?
Here is the likely reason why.
During the early part of the 20th Century, a maker of bar soap decided to link the expression “tar baby” to African-Americans. Below is a photo of the soap that the soap maker sold:
What that soap maker did was wrong, but it made a lasting impression on people, and it added to the emotional scars of African-Americans.
That immoral use of the expression “tar baby” ended a long time ago, but elderly African-Americans have long memories, and they bear the emotional scars that past acts of racism left them with.
Is it fair that a modern-day congressman is being punished for the wrongdoing of someone who lived a century ago? No, of course not, but life isn’t fair. It is common for the wrongdoing of one person to negatively affect people for several generations. This fact is expressed in a statement that was first recorded several millenia ago:
The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.*
Now, should Congressman Lamborn be forgiven for his unintentional error?
If you are a Christian, then the answer to that question is, “Of course he should be forgiven.” In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus says the following:
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
If the teachings of Jesus are being taught in churches, then the people attending those churches should be willing to forgive Congressman Lamborn.
Meanwhile, it would be best for people not to use the expression “tar baby” unless they are discussing the story from which the expression came. Otherwise, they will end up in a sticky situation.
*Quote from Numbers 14:18.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.