Gene Denby provides an historical report in the column “The Secret History Of The Word 'Cracker',” for the NPR blog Code Switch, on the genesis and shifting use of the term ‘cracker.’ The article traces the term to the context of “creepy ass cracker,” as used by a witness referring to the murderous George Zimmerman, killer of Trayvon Martin, in the 2013 trial from when the word appears in the Shakespeare play King John, 425 years or so earlier in the 1590s.
What craker is this same that deafs our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath? [Shakespeare]
"It's a beautiful quote, but it was a character trait that was used to describe a group of Celtic immigrants — Scots-Irish people who came to the Americas who were running from political circumstances in the old world," Ste. Claire said. Those Scots-Irish folks started settling the Carolinas, and later moved deeper South and into Florida and Georgia.
My maternal great-grandfather, John Frederick MacRae (b. 1893, d. 1951), was a descendant of the North Carolina Scots-Irish crackers. He fell in love with and married my great grand-mamma Laura (b. 1897, d. 1964), who had a similar ethnic background. They were fair skinned people by heritages which include Scots-Irish, Lumbee natives, and Africans. In my modern DNA tests, the European origins are identified as United Kingdom (the Scots-Irish), Italy, Poland, and Spain. Because of this heritage and by his light skin, John Frederick was nicknamed “Cracker” and by custom people referred to him by this familiar term. I hardly recall anyone using his given name when they talked about him; they called him “Cracker MacRae.”
Laura and Cracker lived cross-culturally. They were ‘mulatto’ ‘cracker’ ‘Negroes’ of mixed ethnicity to use the racist terminology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They could often "pass," referring to the notion of light skinned people being given a “pass” to participate in the activities of alpha-male European (e.g., “white”) dominated societies which either excluded or tightly defined subservient roles for women and people with darker skin. Cracker was light skinned and a male so he had a little more privilege and could do things and go places forbidden to darker skinned folks. We would call it “passing for white,” as was the custom of using skin tone to discriminate and blatantly extend or deny opportunities to people, during this era of American history.
Cracker’s privilege extended to his securing work as a letter carrier - a mailman - making him one of the prominent ‘Negroes’ in the community by his profession and government salary. The family attended the Chestnut Street Presbyterian church, a congregation of well-to-do ‘Negroes.’ The church is even located at the corner of Chestnut and MacRae streets in Wilmington, NC.
Cracker and Laura, in some real yet fictional sense, could be considered my "white" grandparents, even though they were, passing exceptions considered, anything but. My mother, in the racist, sexist environment of her youthful and young adult times, was a light-skinned babe. Being open and sympathetic to black radical and feminist ideologies, nonetheless, she often mocked the whole racist ‘passing’ construct, even as her skin color and sheer beauty elevated her status in the relative social pecking order. By these views, and through witnessing the craziness, even in my own family, of people assigning status and pre-judging folks because of their physical traits, I came to consider the concept of social stratification, especially as based on racial categorization with its attendant prejudicial, discriminatory practices, as absolutely ludicrous.
My grandparents did not need anyone to grant them a “pass.” If people had been of the light, they would have seen my grandparents for who they were, as they were, at the most fundamental level of being - Divine, spiritual, miraculous manifestations of life. That is the valid natural, spiritual view. The racial crap beyond this is man-made, of the human imagination, divorced from nature, separated from spiritual truth, and in defiance of actual experience and observed reality. The blind eyes of ignorance are so easily manipulated and turned.
My grandparents were, sadly, born into a society and in times when people were misguided by the horrible hate of fictional racism. It was a society of largely uneducated, ignorant, mindless, and brainwashed people mired in and oppressed by beliefs rooted in falsehoods. The notions of race have shifted a bit in the last century - today it’s ‘Black’ or ‘African-American’ instead of ‘Negro.’ Overall, though, it is something to note that racist thinking (e.g., the belief in race as something more than the made-up cultural construct it has always been) may be even more ingrained in the society of the 2000s which remains characterized by the overwhelming indoctrination, institutionalization, and culturally mainstreamed, believed-in and practiced notions of racist ideology.
In his day, John Frederick was not ‘black,’ he was a ‘cracker’ and he was a ‘Negro.’ Today, however, perhaps a few people might consider that he was mixed-race but most of them would probably say that he was a ‘black’ man. This illustrates that cultural constructs such as ‘race,’ being defined by humans, shift as the cultures and times change. If you are a person who self-identifies as a member of some racial group, your race, and the way you practice racism by relating to racist categorizations, is subject to change depending on the times.
My birth certificate, issued by the State of North Carolina, attempts to define me using racist ideology and thus my 'Race,' on this official, government issued document, is listed as 'Negro.' This is an example of institutional racism where the mechanisms and resources of the state, in this case in a so-called United States dominated (yet divided) by racist people and the mindless acceptance of racist ideology by a vast majority of citizens (e.g., every person who self-identifies as a race, consciously or unconsciously), are used to perpetuate the false constructs of 'race.' It will, unfortunately, take a lawsuit to have this racist label removed from my official documentation. I'll let you know how that turns out.
In the meantime, even as society incessantly tries to define me using racist terminology and racial categorization, I adamantly reject identifying as a 'race': I am not your 'Negro,' not your 'Black' man, not your 'African-American,' not 'White,' not 'Hispanic,' nor any other 'race,' and most certainly not 'Mixed-Race.' I am (like most people in the United States) a human being with ancestors from across the globe, including Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas (specifically, at least as determined by a DNA test utilizing the most advanced knowledge and technologies currently employed in human genetics). I am all of that, but I am not participating in your racism. Unlike most people in the United States, therefore, I do not identify with the racist categorization and cultures of race that dominate the institutions and the mindsets of people in racist societies.
If you look at my face and see a race, I suggest that you have been brainwashed; maybe you are ignorant (in which case, corrective educational opportunities are provided below); or perhaps you are deliberately being racist; either way, your mindset is out of place. #IAmNotARace.
We learn and some of us grow. Now you know, it is the Cracker in me that helps to show how stupid racism is and why I go to reject racist ideology, especially the labels and classifications into racial groups that society hoists upon me. I reject "race" to embrace my full heritage, seen in my face, the stew of genes in my DNA, and traced across the globe: African, European, Asian, and indigenous American. The Cracker in me is a part of all of that... and we are all so much more.
Race and Racism (definitions and examples)
What is Racial Domination (primer; by Matthew Desmond and Mustafa Emirbayer, University of Wisconsin—Madison; Harvard University)
Race Is Real…But Not in the Way Many People Think Busting the myth of biological race
The Cultural Construction of Race (American Studies 101, California State University, Fullerton)
The Roots of Racism What makes racism possible?
How Should Racism Be Defined? An anthropological definition of racism offers conceptual clarity.
What Color Is Racism? On the crossroads of race, sex, and skin tone: Black women and colorism
Race: Are We So Different? Understanding Race (American Anthropological Association)
What We Mean When We Say 'Race Is a Social Construct' …the argument that racial labels refer to natural differences in physical traits doesn't hold up.
The myth of 'race' was invented by racism, and racism keeps it growing Racism is incredibly successful, despite having no basis at all in fact. There is only one race – the human race
What is Racism? Wikipedia