Because Rachel Jeantel, 19, was the last person to speak to 17-year-old Trayvon Martin before he was killed by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012, Zimmerman’s defense team has relied heavily on her testimony in an attempt to paint Martin as the aggressor motivated by race — instead of the other way around.
Sharing the details of that last phone call with pompous and condescending defense attorney, Don West, Jeantel claimed that Martin said a “creepy a** cracker” was following him. When it became apparent that Zimmerman was not stopping in his pursuit of the unarmed teen, Jeantel alleges that Martin then said, “The ni**a still following me.”
Of course, the defense paid little attention to alleged casual use of the word “ni**a,” but “cracker” has turned into the word heard around the conservative, racist troll world –also known as Fox News (and friends).
Clearly, if Martin referred to Zimmerman as a “creepy ass cracker,” then it was the slain teen who was profiling Zimmerman, right?
And that false equivalency has led to conversations on the etymology of “cracker,” and why it could never carry the baggage of the word “ni**er.”
Building on work by historian Jelani Cobb, Gene Demby of NPR’s Code Switch, delves into the murky history of the word “cracker,” and why it could never be viewed in the same context as “ni**er.”
“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 involved 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.)
“In official documents, the governor of Florida said, ‘We don’t know what to do with these crackers — we tell them to settle this area and they don’t; we tell them not to settle this area and they do,” Ste. Claire said. “They lived off the land. They were rogues.”
By the early 1800s, those immigrants to the South started to refer to themselves that way as a badge of honor and a term of endearment. (I’m pretty sure this process of reappropriating a disparaging term sounds familiar to a lot of y’all.)
The crackers had their distinctive time-intensive cuisine — swamp cabbage, hoppin’ john, corn pone — and favored . There were baseball teams called the Crackers. According to Ste. Claire, we’ve even had a cracker president.
“Jimmy Carter is a cracker,” Ste. Claire said. “He’s an Oglethorpe, from Celtic-English cracker stock. I don’t know if he knows, but I think Jimmy Carter would proudly call himself one.
Read more at NPR.org.