Last week in the Trayvon Martin trial one of the more explosive moments came when Rachel Jeantel uttered the words “Creepy Ass Cracka” (translation…Cracker) in her account of Trayvon’s description of his soon-to-be murderer. When Rachel recounted this epithet, the courtroom went dead silent while the social media channels exploded with chatter. Pundits, both on and offline, grabbed a hold of this moment and rode it until the proverbial wheels fell off, most failing to see the significance of this statement and even fewer exploring the historical accuracy of Trayvon’s haunting description.
It would be a mistake for those of us who are engaged in social justice movements to allow the argument to be merely reduced to nigger vs. cracker. Indeed, Don Lemon of CNN did a brief informal poll where he asked both Blacks and Whites on the streets of New York about which term was more offensive. Not surprisingly, all who were asked which term they felt was more offensive universally responded that it was the “n-word.” The comparative “study,” has value in hinting at the depth of the historic meaning of the n-word, the connection between societal oppression and the power of racial epithets, and challenges people to think critically about the word’s usage. However, this sort of reactionary reporting stops short of critically analyzing the use of epithets towards Whites and how the term “cracker” in particular might be used as a commentary on White supremacy, functioning as a sort of reclamation of power for Blacks.
The use of the term “cracker” in relation to Whites was born out of the experience of enslaved people within the system of chattel slavery, and used particularly towards plantation overseers. The overseer was an employee of the slave owner, whose business it was to monitor and manage field slaves. The overseer was armed with a whip loaded with lead at the tip, the 9mm of its day. In his role, the overseer would administer “justice” with the “crack” of his loaded lead whip. Thus, he became known to enslaved people as the “cracker”.
So let’s be clear here. The overseer was not the owner. He wasn’t rich. He wasn’t the owner of slaves himself. He was a lowly worker. The paradox here is mind blowing; the cracker and the slave had more common interests than either had with the slave owner yet those in power were able to successfully pit them against each other in order to maintain their monopoly on power. Racism is an important tool of choice by the ruling elite both then and now.
In short, overseers (or crackers) were mere pawns in the hands of the rich slave-owning class who were the real architects of the social and economic systems that were built for their own benefit. In order to create buy-in, the owning class offered the lowly cracker something that was really of no intrinsic value – Whiteness. Sure, crackers would have to work long days for little pay. Sure, his labor was exploited by those who wouldn’t have lasted a hot Mississippi minute in direct contact with the hundreds of chattel that the cracker was attempting to control, but by-golly at least his cracker status made him a human being with certain “inalienable rights.”
And a true cracker George Zimmerman takes this identity and runs with it. Crackers are not simply exploited workers. No…they relish in the racial distinctions, taking every opportunity to flex their racial muscles. Like Zimmerman, a cracker will give his very life (or take Trayvon’s) in order to demonstrate his allegiance to the system that he so desperately wants to be a part of. And if he cracks his whip loudly enough, if he straightens out enough slaves, and kills enough Trayvon’s…the system will, in turn, reward him.
George Zimmerman is a cracker in the truest sense…a self-appointed neighborhood overseer. And George is a creepy ass cracker, not by happenstance, but by conscious choice, as made clear by his unbridled eagerness to safeguard his mortgaged neighborhood (read: elite owned) from the ominous, hoodie-wearing, slang-talking boogeyman or “nigger.” Creepy ass cracker…truer words have never been spoken.