PARKER: 'Cracker' lacks evil history of the N-word

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- The trial of George Zimmerman, accused of fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, inevitably and quickly devolved into a contest of who is more racist -- the victim or the accused?

The question was inevitable because the prosecution is basing its case largely on the suggestion that Zimmerman profiled the 17-year-old black kid, allegedly deciding he was a potential threat by virtue of his race.

This assumption was somewhat complicated Thursday during testimony by 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel, a friend of Martin's who was talking to him by cellphone shortly before he was shot. Sidebar: Poor Jeantel. Whether she is a credible witness will be determined by the jury, but the rest of us really ought to cut the girl some slack. She is young, obviously playing on alien turf and having a tough-enough time on the witness stand without further commentary. She may, indeed, be the best argument yet for keeping cameras out of the courtroom, but that is another discussion.

Jeantel's contribution to the race discussion included a quote she attributed to Martin when he told her a "creepy-ass cracker" was watching him. No doubt Zimmerman did seem creepy. He was following Martin after all, who, as far as anyone knows with certainty, was merely walking home from a convenience store. Does Martin's use of "cracker" mean he was a racist and, therefore, may have instigated the struggle that, according to the defense, compelled Zimmerman to shoot Martin in self-defense?

Jeantel told defense attorney Don "Knock-Knock" West that, no, she doesn't consider "cracker" a racist term. Apparently, most whites don't either. In street interviews aired Thursday, CNN found that whites are not as offended by the term "cracker" as they are by the N-word.

For the record, there's no evidence that Zimmerman ever used the N-word. He is captured on tape saying "(expletive) punks" and "These (expletive), they always get away." Is he talking about blacks? Teens wearing hoods? Burglars, some number of whom recently had been targeting his neighborhood? Only conjecture produces a strictly racist interpretation.

So what about "cracker?" Is it ever or always an insult? And what might we infer by Martin's use of it to describe his pursuer?

Merriam-Webster defines cracker as: usually disparaging: a poor usually Southern white; capitalized: a native or resident of Florida or Georgia -- used as a nickname.

But the best explanation of crackers can be found in "The Cracker Kitchen," a cookbook and story collection by novelist and proud cracker Janis Owens. It is a both a cultural defense and literary critique of the poor, white folks whence Owens (and most of us Scots-Irish) came -- an unfrilly valentine pressed between recipes for fried frog legs and baked armadillo. The daughter of a fire-breathing Pentecostal preacher, Owens traces "cracker" to William Shakespeare's "The Life and Death of King John:" "What cracker is this same that deafe our eares with this abundance of superfluous breath?"

Now there's an invective worth memorizing for future hurling.

Native-born to Florida's panhandle, aka Alabama's Riviera, Owens has embraced her crackerhood and uses the term endearingly, just as blacks often use the N-word, recovered from racist whites, to refer to one another. Similarly, Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" includes a chapter celebrating the C-word, effectively stealing it back from those who use it to denigrate women. Reclaiming ownership of an offensive word is a revolutionary act that strips the term of its power to wound. Call it linguistic disarmament.

For those needing a refresher course, here are just a few reasons why cracker doesn't compare to the N-word. Cracker has never been used routinely along with efforts to:

-- Deny a white person a seat at the lunch counter.

-- Systematically deny whites the right to vote.

-- Deny a white person a seat near the front of a bus.

-- Crack the skulls of peaceful white protesters marching for equality.

-- Blow up a church and kill four little white girls.

Need more? Didn't think so.

Cracker may be a pejorative in some circles. It may even be used to insult a white person. But it clearly lacks the grievous, historical freight of the other.

Martin's use of the term "cracker" doesn't make him a racist any more than Zimmerman's resentment of "punks" necessarily makes him a murderous racial profiler. These words, and the case built upon them, ultimately may prove little more than an abundance of superfluous breath.

Email nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker at kathleenparker@washpost.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/kathleenparker.


Ashley 2 years, 3 months ago

Hate is Hate. This writer seems to have the super-human ability to see inside someone's heart?? If you hate someone like Martin hated White people then there are no shades of grey.


Say_that_again 2 years, 3 months ago

Oh, that's funny! You declare that it requires a super-human ability to see inside someone's heart and then declare you have that ability when it comes to Martin! Don't you realize how (bleep) that sounds? Maybe you should look into your own heart for making such an assumption.


FordGalaxy 2 years, 3 months ago

Saying 'creepy @$$ cracker' is not racist when applied to George Zimmerman brings up an interesting point. Consider that Zimmerman was touted by the mainstream media as a "white Hispanic." He has a white parent and an Hispanic parent. He doesn't exactly look white. So apply that "creepy @$$ cracker line to another prominent American with a white parent and a minority parent: Barack Obama. Would you consider it racist to call Barack Obama a "creepy @$$ cracker?"


BufordGuy 2 years, 3 months ago

So what is the time limit that a so-called "racist" term has to be used in order to legally be considered a "racist" term and legally used to charge a "hate" crime?? Perhaps Cracker doesn't offend white people because most are not so sensitive and looking for a way to benefit from "racism"???


Reason 2 years, 3 months ago

For some, the term might be considered a badge of honor.


SuwaneeResident 2 years, 3 months ago

It must have been a "badge of honor" at one time as the Atlanta minor league team, that preceded the Braves, was known as the Crackers.


kevin 2 years, 3 months ago

Blacks use the word all the time! Go figure!


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