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

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Posted at 9:40 PM, Jul 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-18 10:16:01-04

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.