Cracker (pejorative)

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"A pair of Georgia crackers" as depicted by James Wells Champney from The great South by Edward King, 1873

Cracker, sometimes white cracker or cracka, is a derogatory term for white people,[1] especially poor rural whites in the Southern United States. In reference to a native of Florida or Georgia, however, it is sometimes used in a neutral or positive context or self-descriptively with pride (see Florida cracker and Georgia cracker).[2]


The etymology of the term "cracker" is uncertain.[3]

One theory holds that slave foremen in the antebellum South used bullwhips to punish African slaves, with such use of the whip being described as "cracking the whip." The white foremen who cracked these whips thus became known as "crackers."[4][5][6] Contemporary sources suggest, however, that it was not slaves but pack animals over which the whips were "cracked."[7][8]

"The whips used by some of these people are called 'crackers', from their having a piece of buckskin at the end. Hence the people who cracked the whips came to be thus named."[8]

Another whip-derived theory traces this term from the Middle English cnac, craic, or crak, which originally meant the sound of a cracking whip but came to refer to "loud conversation, bragging talk".[9] In Elizabethan times this could refer to "entertaining conversation" (one may be said to "crack" a joke) and cracker could be used to describe loud braggarts; this term and the Gaelic spelling craic are still in use in Ireland, Scotland and Northern England. It is documented in Shakespeare's King John (1595): "What cracker is this same that deafs our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath?"[10][11] This usage is illustrated in a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth which reads:

"I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode."[3]

A "cracker cowboy" with his Florida Cracker Horse and dog by Frederick Remington, 1895

An alternative theory holds that the term comes from the common diet of poor whites. The 1911 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica supposes that the term derives from the cracked kernels of corn which formed the staple food of this class of people,[12] but the Oxford English Dictionary ("cracker", definition 4) says a derivation from "corn-cracker" is doubtful.

Another alternative is that the term is derived from "soda cracker," which is a white unleavened bread product made with baking soda, such as Saltines. Hence, the phrase "white soda cracker" is a derogatory term for white people.


Frederick Law Olmsted, a prominent landscape architect from Connecticut, visited the South as a journalist in the 1850s and wrote that "some crackers owned a good many Negroes, and were by no means so poor as their appearance indicated."[13]

In On the Origin of Species Charles Darwin quotes a Professor Wyman as saying, "one of the 'crackers' (i.e. Virginia squatters) added, 'we select the black members of a litter for raising, as they alone have a good chance of living.'"

"Cracker" has also been used as a proud or jocular self-description. With the huge influx of new residents from the North, "cracker" is used informally by some white residents of Florida and Georgia ("Florida cracker" or "Georgia cracker") to indicate that their family has lived there for many generations. However, the term "white cracker" is seldom used self-referentially and remains an offensive racial slur used to demean Caucasians.[14]

In 1947, the student body of Florida State University voted on the name of their athletic symbol. From a list of more than 100 choices, Seminoles was selected. The other finalists, in order of finish, were Statesmen, Rebels, Tarpons, Fighting Warriors, and Crackers.[15][16]

Georgia Cracker label depicting a boy with peaches

Crackin' Good Snacks (a division of Winn-Dixie, a Southern grocery chain) has sold crackers similar to Ritz crackers under the name "Georgia Crackers". They sometimes were packaged in a red tin with a picture of The Crescent, an antebellum plantation house in Valdosta, Georgia.

Before the Milwaukee Braves baseball team moved to Atlanta, Georgia, the Atlanta minor league baseball team was known as the "Atlanta Crackers". The team existed under this name from 1901 until 1965. They were members of the Southern Association from their inception until 1961, and members of the International League from 1961 until they were moved to Richmond, Virginia in 1965. However, it is suggested[who?] the name was derived from players "cracking" the baseball bat and this origin makes sense when considering the Atlanta Negro League Baseball team was known as the "Atlanta Black Crackers".

The Florida Cracker Trail is a route which cuts across southern Florida, following the historic trail of the old cattle drives. In this context, the term refers to the cracking of the whips used by the Florida drovers.

Singer-songwriter Randy Newman, on his socio-politically themed album Good Old Boys (1974) uses the term "cracker" on the song "Kingfish" ("I'm a cracker, You one too, Gonna take good care of you"). The song's subject is Huey Long, populist Governor and then Senator for Louisiana (1928–1935). The term is also used in "Louisiana 1927" from the same album, where the line "Ain't it a shame what the river has done to this poor cracker's land" is attributed to President Coolidge.

In the 1972 film, Deliverance, Burt Reynolds' character Lewis Medlock refers to the backwoods Appalachians as "crackers."

In his speech "The Ballot or the Bullet", Malcolm X used the term "cracker" in reference to white people in a pejorative context.[17] In one passage, he remarked, "It's time for you and me to stop sitting in this country, letting some cracker senators, Northern crackers and Southern crackers, sit there in Washington, D.C., and come to a conclusion in their mind that you and I are supposed to have civil rights. There's no white man going to tell me anything about my rights."[17]

On November 29, 1993, in a speech given at Kean College in New Jersey, Nation of Islam spokesman Khallid Abdul Muhammad called Pope John Paul II "a no good cracker".[18]

In 2008, former President Bill Clinton used the term "cracker" on Larry King Live to describe white voters he was attempting to win over for Barack Obama: "You know, they think that because of who I am and where my politic[al] base has traditionally been, they may want me to go sort of hustle up what Lawton Chiles used to call the 'cracker vote' there."[19]

Rapper Snoop Dogg boasts he, “...make money off crackers;” in the song "Go to Church” by Ice Cube produced by Lil Jon. In the video, directed by Marcus Raboy, the slur is not censored.

Rapper and actor Ice Cube says the word cracker three times in a song about killing white people called “Enemy.” The following is one example of his use of the racial slur, “Sent me a subpoena because I kill more crackers than Bosnia Herzegovina.”

On June 27, 2013, in the trial of George Zimmerman, concerning the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the term "cracker" was mentioned in courtroom testimony. A witness under examination testified that Martin said (on the phone) to her that a "creepy ass cracker is following me" minutes before the altercation between Martin and Zimmerman occurred. Zimmerman's attorney then asked the black witness if that was an offensive term, to which the witness responded "no". That testimony and response brought about both media and public debate about the use of the word "cracker". A CNN report referenced the regional nature of the term, noting that cracker is regarded as a "sharp racial insult that resonates with white southerners even if white northerners don't get it."[20] MSNBC hosts went on to say that Rachel Jeantel was just speaking "Black English".

After claiming to hear "Something, something cracker", "I should f------g kill that mother f-----", and claiming to see the barrel of a shotgun, Michael Dunn shot and killed Jordan Davis after an argument escalated over loud music coming from the his car.[21][22][23][24]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Cracker Definition from the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary
  2. ^ Ste. Claire, Dana (2006). Cracker: Cracker Culture in Florida History. University Press of Florida. 
  3. ^ a b "Cracker". Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  4. ^ Smitherman, Dr. Geneva (2000), Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner, Houghton Mifflin Books , 100.
  5. ^ Herbst, Philip H (1997), The Color of Words: An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Ethnic Bias in the United States, Intercultural Press , 6z1.
  6. ^ Major, Clarence (1994). Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang. Puffin Books. ISBN 0-14-051306-X. 
  7. ^ Buckingham, James S (1842), The slave states of America, Fisher, Son, & Co. , 210.
  8. ^ a b Thornton, Richard H (1912). An American Glossary. JB Lippincott. , 218-219.
  9. ^ Dolan, T. P. (2006). A Dictionary of Hiberno-English. Gill & MacMillan. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-7171-4039-8
  10. ^ * Shakespeare, William (2008) [1989]. Braunmuller, A. R., ed. The life and death of King John. Oxford World's Classics. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-953714-3. 
  11. ^ Wedgwood, Hensleigh (1878). A dictionary of English etymology. Macmillan & Co. 
  12. ^ "Cracker". Encyclopædia britannica. 1911 Encyclopedia. 2006-08-25 [1911]. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  13. ^ Olmsted, Frederick Law (1856). Our Slave States. Dix & Edwards. p. 454. 
  14. ^ "Project 21 Release: Black Network Suggests Apology from Rainbow Coalition After Official Calls NASCAR Fans "Cracker" and "Redneck"". 2003-07-09. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  15. ^ "FSU Adopts Seminoles as the Nickname for Athletic Teams". Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  16. ^ "". Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  17. ^ a b "The Ballot or the Bullet". Retrieved 25 March 2012.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  18. ^
  19. ^ Smith, Ben (2008-09-24). "Bill Clinton: Will respect Jewish holidays, then 'hustle up ... cracker vote' in Florida – Ben Smith". Politico.Com. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  20. ^ Foreman, Tom. "'Cracker' conveys history of bigotry that still resonates", CNN, 2 July 2013, accessed 30 July 2013.
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^

Further reading

  • Brown, Roger Lyle. Ghost Dancing on the Cracker Circuit: The Culture Festivals in the American South (1997)
  • Burke, Karanja. "Cracker"
  • Croom, Adam M. "Slurs." Language Sciences 33 (May 2011): 343–358.
  • Cassidy, Frederic G. Dictionary of American Regional English. Harvard University Press, Vol. I, 1985: 825–26
  • De Graffenried, Clare. "The Georgia Cracker in the Cotton Mills." Century 41 (February 1891): 483–98.
  • Keen, George Gillett and Williams, Sarah Pamela. Cracker Times and Pioneer Lives: The Florida Reminiscences of George Gillett Keen and Sarah Pamela Williams edited by James M Denham and Canter Brown Jr. U of South Carolina Press 2000
  • McWhiney, Grady. Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988).
  • McWhiney, Grady. Confederate Crackers and Cavaliers. (Abilene, Tex.: McWhiney Foundation Press, c. 2002. Pp. 312. ISBN 1-893114-27-9, collected essays)
  • Major, Clarence (1994). Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang. Puffin Books.
  • Otoo, John Solomon. "Cracker: The History of a Southeastern Ethnic, Economic, and Racial Epithet," Names' 35 (1987): 28–39.
  • Osley, Frank L. Plain Folk of the Old South (1949)
  • Presley, Delma E. "The Crackers of Georgia," Georgia Historical Quarterly 60 (summer 1976): 102–16.

External links[edit]