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Friday, October 07, 2005


Yes, that's right: I got called "cracker" on the subway platform this morning. Two and a half years I've been living in Historically Black Neighborhood, and although I'm sure there are people who have thought negative things about me before, simply based on the fact that I'm a young white woman, no one's said a word. Generally, if I get any kind of comment, it's along the lines of, "hey there Snowflake--lookin' good!" Even the Nation of Islam dudes just look right through me.

So yeah. I was minding my own business, walking briskly down the subway platform as a train was pulling in, trying to get to the car that would deposit me nearest the appropriate staircase at the train station, and as I walked past this 40ish woman, she spat, "Cracker!" And I did the whole, "huh? me?" thing, turning around as she turned back to face stonily forward, but sneaking a look at me out of the corner of her eye, and. . . I burst out laughing. We wound up in the same subway car, and I was just grinning for most of the ride, which I'm sure completely pissed her off.

Unless I accidentally trod on her foot and somehow didn't notice it, I didn't do anything to this woman (and she didn't seem visibly crazy or Tourrettic)--but, who knows. Maybe her rent has doubled because the neighborhood is gentrifying, or her son married a white woman, or the other white woman on the platform DID step on her foot. It could have been anything.

The point is, I started wondering why the whole thing struck me as so funny, and I think it comes down to that word. It just. . . doesn't mean anything to me. I've never been called a cracker, I've never been worried about being thought a cracker, and therefore it has no force. It's a symptom, I suppose, of white priviledge: you can't call me by a negative stereotype, because I haven't lived in a world where those stereotypes have been thrown in my face, and so I can't possibly take you seriously when you say such a thing. I would have had the same reaction if she had called me a Dago or a Pollack--my family's so removed from the ethnic ghetto, and frankly from ethnic identification, that it's just not a relevant epithet. But if I were black, or hispanic, or Asian, or Muslim, and she had spat out a suitable slur--well, I'm sure I would have felt very differently.

(Indeed, the only epithet that I could come up with that might have bothered me, even briefly, would have been something like "uppity bitch"; gender-based comments can get at me in ways that race and ethnicity can't.)

link | posted by La Lecturess at 1:29 PM |


Anonymous Anonymous commented at 4:42 PM~  

what exactly does a cracker mean? never heard the word.

Blogger Cheeky Prof commented at 5:04 PM~  

You know, no one has ever called me that, either, but I thought about it and have to agree that it wouldn't offend me. Like you, I'd probably laugh!

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 8:29 PM~  

Clare: it's a derogatory term for a white person, used today mainly by blacks. More specifically, though, it suggests a poor, uneducated, rural southern white person (more typically male). It's definitely not as derogatory as the N-word, but it connotes worthlessness and ignorance in more or less the same way.

Blogger Dr. Virago commented at 2:39 PM~  

You know what would've been ever funnier? *Honky*.

Cracker still gets some play in the south (by whites as well as blacks since it's as much about class as race) but "honky" makes me think of huge afros and bell bottoms.

Blogger Stewgad commented at 3:37 PM~  

I think it is interesting that white skin privilege insulates so effectively against race-based derogatory comments that they CAN lack meaning. It is also really interesting to me that a gender stereotype would have hurt you, but that a racial insult didn't seem to carry the same weight. I imagine it is because as white folk, racial identites are protected -- whiteness is powerful. But as women, gender has power over us.

And, isn't it fascinating that there isn't an N-word equivalent for whites that carries the same hatred and violence across communities? I know the historical reasons for it, but still it is interesting.

While Craka-Ass-Craka is one of my favorite phrases from Chris Rock, it is never fun when you're insulted for no good reason.

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