So the most recent reason I was banhammered from the great and egalitarian platform known as Facebook is because I used the term “cracker” in regards to, well, the typical white person that fulfills that moniker. My brother sent me a text stating that he was banned for calling Twisted Tea the “Cracker Smacker” after the convenience store ordeal that went viral, and I simply posted a screenshot of that. While it was fine on my personal page, someone was very offended by it on The Bitchy Historian Facebook page, and reported me, thus relegating me to another sentence of 30 days.
Of course, being Floridian, we sort of corner the market on being crackers based on the Florida Cracker Trail and the legacy of our local frontier culture, and I admit we all probably throw the word around more than we probably should. Clearly, my fellow melanin-challenged folks are highly offended by the term.
So I did reading that y’all won’t do.
I admit I’m not a linguistics historian, but there’s some tidbits I discovered as to the origins of this term, and how it has evolved. The obvious and most commonly accepted answer is that it comes from “whip cracker”, as in slave driver, a pejorative for Southern whites. Seems simple and makes sense and we all certainly fucking deserve it, but after some digging, I found a bit more input on this jargon that I actually found really interesting, and will now hoist upon you all.
I stumbled upon an article from the Orlando Sentinel from 1998 that goes into the very early usage of the word “cracker” as a pejorative, before it became synonymous with Florida culture, and later, the ultimate insult for sensitive whites. The article describes “cracker” as being a term for “braggarts”, and includes that it may have been an ethnic slur for Scots-Irish settlers in the South. I decided to dig more into this.
Historian Ken Johnston, in his article titled, “From ‘Craic’ to ‘Cracker'”, definitely gives me the meat and potatoes I was looking for. He opens his essay by defining the concept of folk etymology, wherein the meaning of a word is lost and morphs over time to mean something else based on pervasive myths, this includes the Florida cowboy whip cracking, or the cracking of corn in Georgia. Neither of these are correct, and the word does go back centuries earlier. (God, I love this shit.)
Johnston argues that the term “cracker” finds its origin the Gaelic word, “craic”, which, as the Orlando Sentinel defined, could be braggart, but also mean spirited, fun-loving talk as well. I’ve heard the term craic before in regards to an Irish party, and I figure that the well loved English phrase of, “cracking up” in regards to hearty laughter has its roots here as well. Still, “cracker” itself is quite old, and Johnston provides a quote from Shakepeare’s King John to support this:
What Cracker is this same that deafs our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath?
People were being called “crackers” in regards to their braggadocious speech, in England, in the 16th Century. This pre-dates permanent English colonization of Virginia by a few decades. It would take another two centuries for it to be assigned as the pejorative for the Scots-Irish settlers in North America. But what about the legendary Florida Crackers? Johnston goes into that, too.
Before the cowboys, the Spanish Governor of la Florida laid down the law against these encroaching “crackers” by referring to them as “a species of white renegade.” Oof. (I’m of Spanish/Italian/Cracker ancestry, I may have laughed very hard when I read this.) But in short, it appears that it just became the “norm” to refer to individuals of the Scots-Irish ancestry that settled in the South as Crackers. The idea that it is attached to any form of “whip-cracking”, be it against slaves OR cattle, is, as the article began, folk etymology. There’s just no historical linguistic connection. Johnston does make a point to finish that it is first and foremost a derogatory term developed by the English against the Gaelic peoples of the Isles, which in itself is pretty nasty considering the oppression of the English against the Scottish and Irish through Early Modern history, but that seems like a great way to open a can of worms regarding the growing myth of Irish chattel slavery, of which, of course, is not fucking true.
But does that mean that the cowboys of Florida were a myth? No. There was, and still is, cattle ranching industry in the state, but it seems more of its own pioneer subculture, based on those Scots-Irish settlers, rather than having to do with the cracking of a whip.
I guess the bottom line is determining if this word is still as derogatory and offensive as it started out. Honestly, as a Floridian who ironically has that smidge Scots-Irish “Cracker” ancestry and is also a fast-taking problematic shitbird, I’ll own the hell out of it, much like the rest of Florida has. I can see why somebody from not-Florida or Georgia may get pissed, but honestly, the shoe still fits as an insult to your shit-talking behavior, you probably deserve it.
It does not, however, hold a candle to the damage caused by the n-word (no, I won’t even type it, let alone say it, my mom always threatened to launch us into space with her fist if we did) that we all know is derived from the Latin word for “black”. These historical crackers, prior to the Florida subculture, probably had pretty tough and marginalized lives under English and subsequent Spanish rule, hell, the Irish were mistreated for centuries, but as the article I linked above states, it was not even close to as bad as what enslaved Africans had to endure. So no, cracker is not, and should not, be seen as a racial slur equal to that of its counterpart, and it’s not even worth attempting devil’s advocacy arguments to try as such, so keep your Oppression Olympics to yourself, crackers.
Either way, sure, I’ll bite that it’s a pejorative. Do I think Facebook should label it hate speech and ban for it? I mean, it is historically a slur, so I guess I can’t argue too much, but hey, at least us Floridians took it back, right?
Either way, watch your C-words on Social Media.