Group apologizes for using racially insensitive term to describe Utah’s air quality issues

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

SALT LAKE CITY -- A racially insensitive headline on the Economic Development Corporation of Utah website raised concern with the NAACP, and the post has since been removed and an apology was issued.

In their July 9 newsletter, EDC Utah referred to the Salt Lake Valley’s air quality problem as: "the ultimate tar baby."

After Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake chapter of the NAACP, got wind of the newsletter, she immediately called the non-profit group to voice her concern.

“Some people may think that it’s not anything negative with the term, but we do, the NAACP sees that it is and it does carry negative connotations,” she said.

The term is used by some to describe a complicated situation that becomes worse as you try to solve it and was popularized in the “Uncle Remus” stories about Br’er Rabbit in American folklore. When the rabbit becomes stuck to a "tar baby" (tar molded to resemble a human child), he reacts by trying to wrestle himself free but only becomes more stuck as he struggles.

Williams said the organization was unaware of the racist connotations of the term, which some consider disparaging to people of color.

“The folks that called were very apologetic and did take down the email as well as the site with their newsletter,” Williams said.

EDC Utah released a written statement, which reads in part, "We are deeply sorry that our newsletter article caused offense. We were unaware of the phrase’s racial connotations. It was unfortunate that the newsletter went out, but as soon as we became aware of the mistake, we immediately took measures to correct it."

Williams said there are no hard feelings and hopes people are more aware of the words they use.

10 comments

  • ObiRich

    People in this country have just become overly sensitive. I might understand the offense if someone used that term in regards to the riots in Ferguson or Maryland, but come on. What will be the next thing that they take offense to, calling a lump of coal “black?”

  • CorneliusIce

    What’s up, this weekend is nice designed for me, for the reason that this occasion i am reading this enormous educational piece of writing here at my home.

  • Shawn

    Thank goodness this type of logic led to the ban of the Uncle Remus tales. Hopefully my children won’t be constrained by the tenants of critical thought to avoid making situations worse. We should all charge headlong into a ‘tar baby’ kicking and punching. Good riddance to all cautionary tales. When can we get rid of those horrible fables of Aesop? Tortoises and hares, foxes and grapes? Really, we all know what they really represent…

  • Sarah

    An article in The New Republic argued that people are “unaware that some consider it to have a second meaning as a slur” and it “is an obscure slur, not even known to be so by a substantial proportion of the population.” It continued that, “those who feel that tar baby‍‍ ’​‍s status as a slur is patently obvious are judging from the fact that it sounds like a racial slur”. In other countries, the phrase continues to refer to problems worsened by intervention.

    • bob

      If you’re unaware that some people consider it a slur then it can’t be a slur. Hate speech is in the mind of the speaker, not the listener. ANYONE can take ANYTHING as a “slur” if they choose. That’s not my problem.

    • bob

      By the way, that’s what it means in OUR culture, too, and how it’s interpreted by anyone in our culture who has any education.

      That was how it played out LITERALLY in the Uncle Remus story.

      You have to search to find people stupid enough to think it’s “racial”, but the NAACP is obviously a good place to start your search.

  • bob

    The “Tar Baby” has no racist connotations except in the feeble minds of idiots who think that stories about talking rabbits are “racist.” He was made of TAR. Tar is black.

    Charcoal is black. Are we burning African Americans in effigy when we light the grill?

Comments are closed.