The children’s story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby has been banned from many schools and libraries in recent years. If you’re wondering why this classic tale has come under fire, here’s a quick answer: The Tar Baby character has been criticized as promoting harmful racial stereotypes.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the history of the Brer Rabbit stories, analyze the issues around the Tar Baby character, and discuss the impact of banning controversial books.

In this roughly 3000 word article, we’ll provide context on the Brer Rabbit tales, explain the problematic elements of the Tar Baby story, outline the key arguments on both sides of the banning debate, and reflect on the implications of restricting access to literary works.

The Origins and History of the Brer Rabbit Stories

The Brer Rabbit stories have a rich and fascinating history that spans across cultures and centuries. These beloved tales have captivated audiences of all ages with their clever and mischievous protagonist, Brer Rabbit. Let’s delve into the origins and history of these iconic stories.

The African Folklore Roots

The Brer Rabbit stories find their origins in African folklore, particularly in the West African storytelling tradition. These tales were passed down through generations orally, featuring a cunning and quick-witted rabbit as the central character.

The rabbit was often portrayed as outsmarting larger and more powerful animals through his cleverness and resourcefulness.

Publication History in the 1800s

The Brer Rabbit stories gained wider recognition when they were collected and published by various authors in the 19th century. Joel Chandler Harris, an American journalist and author, played a significant role in popularizing these tales.

Harris adapted the stories for a wider audience, bringing Brer Rabbit and his adventures to the forefront of American literature.

One of the most well-known collections of Brer Rabbit stories is “Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings,” published by Harris in 1881. This collection introduced Brer Rabbit to a wider audience and became a sensation, captivating readers with its engaging storytelling and rich African American folklore.

Rise in Popularity in the 1900s

Throughout the 20th century, the popularity of the Brer Rabbit stories continued to grow. These tales became deeply ingrained in American culture, inspiring various adaptations in literature, theater, and film.

Brer Rabbit’s mischievous and cunning nature resonated with audiences, making him a beloved character in children’s literature.

One notable adaptation of the Brer Rabbit stories is Disney’s “Song of the South” released in 1946. This film brought the tales to life through animation and live-action, further cementing Brer Rabbit’s place in popular culture.

Enduring Legacy in American Children’s Literature

The Brer Rabbit stories have left a lasting impact on American children’s literature. These tales have not only entertained generations of readers but also provided valuable life lessons. Brer Rabbit’s cleverness and resourcefulness serve as a reminder of the power of wit and ingenuity, encouraging children to think creatively and overcome challenges.

However, it is important to acknowledge that the Brer Rabbit stories have faced criticism and controversy over the years. Some argue that the tales perpetuate racial stereotypes and reinforce negative portrayals of African Americans.

This has led to debates and discussions about the appropriateness of these stories in today’s society.

Despite the controversy, the Brer Rabbit stories continue to be cherished by many readers and serve as a testament to the enduring power of storytelling. They remind us of the diverse origins of our literary traditions and the importance of preserving and critically examining these narratives for future generations.

Examining the Tar Baby Story

Plot Summary of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby

Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby is a well-known story from African American folklore. The tale revolves around Brer Rabbit, a clever and mischievous rabbit who often outwits his adversaries. In this particular story, Brer Fox creates a trap for Brer Rabbit by fashioning a figure out of tar and placing it in the path where Brer Rabbit will pass.

When Brer Rabbit greets the Tar Baby and receives no response, he becomes frustrated and strikes the figure, causing himself to get stuck. Despite his predicament, Brer Rabbit uses his wit to escape from the trap and outsmart Brer Fox once again.

Tar Baby as a Racial Caricature

While the story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby has entertained generations of readers, it has also faced criticism for its racial implications. The character of the Tar Baby has been described as a racial caricature, perpetuating stereotypes and negative portrayals of African Americans.

The use of tar to depict a person of color has been seen as offensive and dehumanizing. Critics argue that the story reinforces harmful racial stereotypes and should be banned from children’s literature.

Use of African American Vernacular English

Another aspect of the story that has drawn controversy is the use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). The characters in the tale, including Brer Rabbit, speak in a dialect commonly associated with African American culture.

While some argue that this adds authenticity to the story and preserves cultural heritage, others believe that it perpetuates negative stereotypes and makes it difficult for children to understand the text.

The use of AAVE in Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby has sparked debate about the appropriateness of dialects in children’s literature.

The Tar Baby in Other Versions of the Tale

The story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby has been adapted and retold in various forms throughout history. In some versions, the character of the Tar Baby has been replaced with different objects or animals.

These adaptations aim to remove the racial undertones associated with the original story and make it more inclusive and accessible to a wider audience. However, the debate over the appropriateness of the tale and its various versions continues, with proponents of cultural preservation and those advocating for sensitivity and inclusivity both making valid arguments.

The Case for Banning Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby

Concerns About Racism and Stereotypes

One of the main reasons for the ban on Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby is the concern over racism and perpetuating harmful stereotypes. The story, which originates from African American folklore, features characters that are often seen as racial caricatures.

Critics argue that these portrayals reinforce negative stereotypes and contribute to the marginalization of minority groups.

Harmful Impact on Children of Color

The presence of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby in children’s literature has sparked concerns about the potential harm it may cause to children, particularly those from racial minority backgrounds. Studies have shown that exposure to negative stereotypes can have a detrimental impact on the self-esteem and identity development of children of color.

By banning this story, advocates aim to protect young readers from potentially damaging effects.

Arguments That It Promotes Racist Attitudes

Another reason for the ban is the belief that Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby perpetuate racist attitudes. Critics argue that the story normalizes and even celebrates racist behavior, as Brer Rabbit outwits the Tar Baby using cunning tricks.

They argue that this narrative reinforces the notion that racism is acceptable or even admirable, which can have long-lasting consequences on societal attitudes.

Calls to Shelve It From Libraries and Schools

Due to these concerns, there have been calls to remove Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby from libraries and schools. Advocates argue that promoting diversity and inclusivity in children’s literature is essential for fostering a more equitable and tolerant society.

They believe that by removing this story from educational settings, we can create a safer and more inclusive space for all children.

It is important to note that the decision to ban a book is not without controversy. While some argue for the preservation of literary classics, others emphasize the need to consider the potential harm caused by certain narratives.

Ultimately, the debate surrounding the banning of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby highlights the ongoing struggle to navigate cultural heritage, representation, and the impact of literature on society.

Arguments Against Banning the Book

Censorship Slippery Slope Risks

Banning books sets a dangerous precedent for censorship. When we start banning one book because of its controversial elements, where do we draw the line? By banning books, we limit intellectual freedom and hinder the ability of individuals to explore different perspectives and ideas.

It is important to promote open dialogue and critical thinking rather than resorting to censorship.

Erasure of African American Folklore

Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby is deeply rooted in African American folklore and has been passed down through generations. Banning the book not only erases this rich cultural heritage but also denies readers the opportunity to learn about and appreciate diverse narratives.

It is crucial to preserve and celebrate the contributions of different cultures and their stories.

Keep Book But Address Issues in Context

Instead of banning the book, a better approach would be to keep it in circulation while addressing the problematic elements within its pages. By providing proper context and facilitating discussions, we can help readers understand the historical and cultural significance of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby.

This allows for a more nuanced understanding of the story and its potential impact on readers.

Explain Problematic Elements to Children

Children are capable of understanding complex issues when presented in an age-appropriate manner. Rather than shielding them from potentially uncomfortable or controversial topics, we should seize the opportunity to educate them.

By explaining the problematic elements of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, we can foster critical thinking skills, empathy, and a greater appreciation for cultural diversity.

Reflecting on the Implications of Banning Books

Banning books is a contentious issue that has sparked numerous debates and discussions. While it is important to protect certain societal values, it is equally crucial to consider the implications of banning books.

This article aims to shed light on the various aspects associated with banning books, particularly focusing on the case of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby.

Loss of Cultural Touchstones

One of the significant implications of banning books is the loss of cultural touchstones. Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, an African American folk tale, holds a special place in literature and serves as a valuable cultural artifact.

By banning this book, we risk erasing an essential part of our collective history. It is important to acknowledge and celebrate diverse voices and perspectives in literature, as they contribute to a richer understanding of our society.

Negative Effects on Free Expression

Banning books also has a detrimental impact on free expression. It restricts the flow of ideas and limits the exposure to different viewpoints and experiences. Literature has always been a platform for exploring complex themes and challenging societal norms.

By banning books, we not only stifle creativity but also hinder the development of critical thinking skills. It is crucial to foster an environment where individuals are encouraged to engage with diverse ideas and form their own opinions.

Alternative Approaches Besides Banning

Instead of outright banning books, there are alternative approaches that can be adopted. One such approach is providing appropriate guidance and context. By offering readers background information and facilitating discussions around sensitive topics, we can navigate the complexities of literature without resorting to censorship.

Additionally, promoting age-appropriate reading lists and encouraging parental involvement can help address concerns while still allowing access to a wide range of literature.

Promoting Diverse Perspectives in Literature

A more constructive approach to addressing concerns about certain books is to promote greater diversity in literature. By actively seeking out and supporting authors from different backgrounds, we can ensure a wider representation of perspectives.

This not only enriches our understanding of the world but also provides readers with a broader range of choices. Encouraging the creation and publication of diverse literature is an effective way to address concerns without resorting to banning.


The debate over banning Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby raises complex questions about how to handle racist literary works from the past. While the Tar Baby character promotes hurtful stereotypes, removing books can also do harm by erasing cultural history.

Perhaps the best solution is to keep these classics available while providing greater context and contrasting perspectives. By discussing difficult elements openly, we can equip children to think critically without limiting their exposure to important folklore traditions.

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