he Tar-Baby is a doll made of tar and turpentine used to entrap Br'er Rabbit in the second of the Uncle Remus stories. The more that Br'er Rabbit fights the Tar-Baby, the more entangled he becomes. In modern usage, "tar baby" refers to any "sticky situation" that is only aggravated by additional contact. The only way to solve such a situation is by separation.
In one tale, Br'er Fox constructs a doll out of a lump of tar and dresses it with some clothes. When Br'er Rabbit comes along he addresses the tar "baby" amiably, but receives no response. Br'er Rabbit becomes offended by what he perceives as the Tar Baby's lack of manners, punches it, and in doing so becomes stuck. The more Br'er Rabbit punches and kicks the tar "baby" out of rage, the worse he gets stuck. Now that Br'er Rabbit is stuck, Br'er Fox ponders how to dispose of him. The helpless, but cunning, Br'er Rabbit pleads, "but do please, Brer Fox, don't fling me in dat brier-patch," prompting Fox to do exactly that. As rabbits are at home in thickets, the resourceful Br'er Rabbit escapes. Using the phrases "but do please, Brer Fox, don't fling me in dat brier-patch" and "tar baby" to refer to the idea of "a problem that gets worse the more one struggles against it" became part of the wider culture of the United States in the mid-20th century. The story was originally published in Harper's Weekly by Robert Roosevelt; years later Joel Chandler Harris wrote of the tar baby in his Uncle Remus stories. A similar tale from African folklore in Ghana has the trickster Anansi in the role of Br'er Rabbit.
Although the term's provenance arose in African folklore (e.g., the gum doll Anansi created to trap Mmoatia, the dwarf), some Americans now consider "tar baby" to have negative connotations revolving around negative images of African-Americans. In recent years, several politicians who have publicly used the term have encountered some controversy, mocking, and censure from African-American civil rights leaders, members of the popular daily media, and other politicians.
Walt Disney Studios released Song of the South, which contains the Tar-Baby story, in 1946. The film was never released on VHS in North America due to issues relating to race. The ride Splash Mountain, which is in four of the Walt Disney theme parks, is based on the stories by Uncle Remus. However, instead of the Tar-Baby, Br'er rabbit is captured in a beehive. The changes may have been made to avoid similar racial controversies that prevented Song of the South from being released on home video.
The Tar Baby was featured as one of the guests in House of Mouse.
Tar Baby also appears in the Toontown countryside in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.