Monday, July 07, 2003

Sticky subject

When we would stay overnight at my grandparent's house, my grandfather would always tell us a story before we went to bed. He had all the classics memorized just so and would do wonderful voices for all of the characters involved. The three little pigs had distinctive voices and the wolf growled through his words -- the same wolf, by the way, who a sweet-voiced, scarlet-clothed girl all the way to her grandmother's house.

Some of my favorite stories, though, were ones that I would eventually find too discomfiting to tell my own children: the stories of "Little Black Sambo" and Uncle Remus' "The Tar Baby." My grampa would do the voices of Sambo like a black child in a 1940s Merrie Melodies cartoon and, as a child lulled to sleep by his cherry-tobaccoed voice, how could I care? How would I even know to care? Though I knew African-American kids from my school and neighborhood in Wichita, there wasn't one black man who lived in my grandfather's town (and my future hometown) of St. John, Kansas (Pop. 1,100). When a black family did move to town, the father worked at my grandfather's welding shop. There was never a time when I felt that a couple of kid's stories detracted from my grandfather's kind and gentle nature.

But this isn't an essay about white liberal guilt. Times had changed and it wasn't too long after I felt I had outgrown bedtime stories that I had figured out that these stories, while admittedly tied to deeper cultural traditions, weren't stories that I could comfortably tell. Sambo was flat-out discarded, but I changed the tar baby to the "Honey Baby" for my boys so that I could still tell them the story. Like Democrats today who heed the advice of right wing columnists explaining how "Democrats must play to the center to win," it was important that my sons learn to distrust others' apparent fear of the "briar patch." They might also need to use their own "leporidaic" reverse psychology someday, too.

So, whether you are a person who comes down on the side of the fence that says the "Tar Baby" story is inherently racist and shouldn't be told or that it's a piece of an older, purer African oral tradition that Joel Chandler Harris appropriated and, therefore, should be celebrated, everyone must admit that the tar baby character is at least one that is racially charged.

Why, then, would a Texas Republican, in trying to make the point that redistricting has nothing to do with race, but is about the poor, rich, "disenfranchised" white suburban voters who are by being forced to live in a Democratic district, say this:

(House Redistricting Committee member Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock) said he's figured out when to shut up. One good time to do that, he has decided, is when the other side hangs the racist label on your side.

"It's a tar baby because, once you get into it, they just start lobbing grenades at you, and it becomes very vitriolic very quickly," he said. "It takes a lot of restraint because our voters in the suburbs have been disenfranchised for decades." (Italics Nitpicker's)

I can think of three reasons someone would say something so obvious stupid:
  • He's an idiot.
  • He's wink-winking at an "unreconstructed" constituency.
  • He wants blacks to get so angry about the comment that he can just shrug at them as if to say, "See, they just want to play the 'race card.'"

  • Either way, Texans, there are two alternatives: Mike Krusee is either stupid or scummy. You might want to give him a call and let him know you think so.


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