My wife and I were shopping for groceries and as we walked past the Toll House and Saltines I heard a phrase from a television commercial pop in my head. “You can find us in the Cracker aisle!” I started chuckling to myself and said, “Hey, babe! Look at me! I’m in the Cracker aisle!” She chuckled as she called me a “mess” and then we continued shopping.
Now, I’m pretty sure my wife was thinking about our grocery budget and trying to get everything on our grocery list at that time; however, I was walking with my head in the clouds as I tried to figure out, “Why the hell are we called crackers, anyway?” I nearly ran in to a few older, slower moving people because I wasn’t really paying attention to anything else. So I asked my wife if she knew.
“What the hell are you taking about?” she said in an annoyed tone without looking up from her list.
“Cracker!” I said. “Where the hell did that term come from?”
Slowly she looked up from her grocery list, with eyes dark as onyx and said, “Seriously?” She then rolled her eyes and went back to her shopping. “Instead of trying to be so analytical, why don’t you go get the deli meats.”
Yeah, my wife thinks she is pretty smart. She figured she would send me on a task to help get my mind back on track and help her grocery shop. But what she didn’t figure was that I’d be standing on line at the deli and I’d have time to do a BING search for my answers. After a few slides of my finger across the screen of my smart phone, I found the answers I was looking for.
According to Jelani Cobb, a historian at the University of Connecticut and a contributor to The New Yorker,
“Cracker,” the old standby of Anglo insults was first noted in the mid-18th century, making it older than the United States itself. It was used to refer to poor whites, particularly those inhabiting the frontier regions of Maryland, Virginia and Georgia. It is suspected that it was a shortened version of “whip-cracker,” since the manual labor they did involve driving livestock with a whip (not to mention the other brutal arenas where those skills were employed.) Over the course of time it came to represent a person of lower caste or criminal disposition, (in some instances, was used in reference to bandits and other lawless folk.)
Wait – What??
When I first started thinking about the term, I thought it had to do with skin color resembling that of a saltine cracker. To me, that was funny! But after reading this, I was more insulted than anything else. I’m sure the word “cracker” doesn’t compare to other words I’ve been called. Twice in the past three years I’ve been referred to as a N**ger Lover by a white woman. It must have been four or five times I was referred to as a racist when I made public statements regarding my dislike for President Obama’s policy regarding the healthcare system. My wife has been called horrible names in her lifetime and then worse for being married to a white man. And I understand that other races have reason to be upset for being called things like Nips, Spics, Zipper Heads, Krauts, Jews and Flips… The list can go on and on and I’m not comparing my being called a Cracker to any of that. I just thought I would have been better off not ever knowing this new information. Now, instead of hearing a term of endearment from wife when she playfully refers to me as her “favorite Cracker“, I’m going to immediately imagine some lowly, lawless bandit who carries a whip.
“Number 46!” a woman from behind the deli counter called out. “Are you 46?”
I was snapped back to reality and I put away my smart phone as I placed an order for sliced roast beef, sliced cooked ham and some American cheese.
The woman smiled and replied, “We have some great soda crackers to compliment your cheese.”