Cracker, sometimes white cracker or "cracka", is a colloquial term among white people, used especially for poor rural whites in the Southern United States. It is also at times used indiscriminately and pejoratively against any person of white background. However, it is sometimes used in a neutral or positive context or self-descriptively with pride in reference to a native of Florida or Georgia (see Florida cracker and Georgia cracker).
A 1783 pejorative use of "crackers" specifies men who "are descended from convicts that were transported from Great Britain to Virginia at different times, and inherit so much profligacy from their ancestors, that they are the most abandoned set of men on earth". Benjamin Franklin, in his memoirs (1790), referred to "a race of runnagates and crackers, equally wild and savage as the Indians" who inhabit the "desert[ed] woods and mountains".
The term could have also derived 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". 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?" 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."
The compound corn-cracker was used of poor white farmers (by 1808), especially of Georgians, but also extended to residents of northern Florida, from the cracked kernels of corn which formed the staple food of this class of people. This possibility is cited in the 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, but the Oxford English Dictionary ("cracker", definition 4) says a derivation of the 18th-century simplex cracker from the 19th-century compound corn-cracker is doubtful.
It has been suggested that white slave foremen in the antebellum South were called "crackers" owing to their practice of "cracking the whip" to drive and punish slaves. Whips were also cracked over pack animals, so "cracker" may have referred to whip cracking more generally.
"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."
Positive and neutral usage
"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 a slur used to demean Caucasians.
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."
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 [of pigs] for raising, as they alone have a good chance of living."
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.
Before the Milwaukee Braves baseball team moved to Atlanta, 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".
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 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."
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.
In his 1964 speech "The Ballot or the Bullet", Malcolm X used the term "cracker" in reference to white people in a pejorative context. 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."
In 2012, Michael Dunn shot and killed Jordan Davis in an argument over loud music coming from a car. Dunn claimed he had heard "Something, something cracker", "I should fucking kill that mother fucker", and saw the barrel of a shotgun.
On June 27, 2013, in the trial of George Zimmerman, concerning the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a witness under examination (Rachel Jeantel) 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 her if "creepy ass cracker" was an offensive term, to which she 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".
- Jimmy Crack Corn
- List of ethnic slurs
- Poor White
- Social class in the United States
- Cracker Definition from the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary
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