REAL TALK – The History of the Word ‘Cracker’


When nearly everyone hears this word directed at someone as an epithet, they immediately think of the racial component associated with the word. This pretty much works the same way for the word ‘nigger,’ unless it is two blacks speaking to one another. What most people don’t know, since they never went to school anyhoo, is that the words ‘nigger’ and ‘cracker’ were never created to describe an insult to one’s ethnicity. These words were created to identify one’s vocation.

The ‘cracker’ was the production supervisor on a plantation or farm. It was his job to monitor the slaves and keep them from slacking off. As he sat on his horse and trotted around the plantation, he might lash his whip on anyone he felt was unproductive. Many times he would use his whip purely as a means of intimidation, to let all the plantation workers know that it was going to be one of those lifetimes in which they would wish they had never been born.

The slaves did their best to avoid beatings from these enforcers, but they could not escape the best part of the American chattel slavery system: violence was often random and indiscriminate. This kept the slaves in a constant state of confusion and fear. The slaves began to call these enforcers ‘crackers’ because of the sound that the whip made when it was lashed across someone’s sweat drenched skin. The slaves would warn each other of the ‘crackers’ presence by saying the word rapidly and repeating it many times. Imagine the croaking of a frog. In this way, slaves developed a communication system that was undecipherable to the plantations’ managers.

At first, a typical ‘cracker’ might be the land owner and his male children, but as the plantations grew, ‘crackers’ were hired from the many European immigrants that came to America to escape the poverty and famine in their countries. Often times these new immigrants were quartered with the slaves and there are many instances of hired immigrants rejecting the task of violent enforcement against their roommates. Those immigrants would find themselves out of work and, worse still, disenfranchised from within their own community. In this way the landowners forced these immigrants to play their position, or risk being ostracized, destitute and literally worse off than the slaves.

Really large plantations even used other slaves as ‘crackers,’ which became a supremely effective tool for controlling the worker population. These slaves/’crackers’ knew which workers to target with intimidation and violence in order to maintain control and they even knew the slaves’ secret languages and dialects, so they could serve as effective translators for their managers and the landowners This is the most important fact we need to remember. The Black ‘cracker’ was put in place to regulate the Black populus. All the Black ‘cracker’ cared for was making sure that he secured a steady meal for himself. He would do whatever he was told by the manager or the big boss, the landowner.

Today these ‘crackers’ manifest themselves in many different ways, but their ultimate goal remains the same: to secure a steady meal for themselves. They receive their reward by helping to control the slaves through various measures using intimidation, violence and acting as translators to the owners.

Some might call this, ‘Getting Rich or Dying While Trying’.

3 Responses to “REAL TALK – The History of the Word ‘Cracker’”

  1. Hashim says:

    I was oaught that the word cracker was invented by rich, slave owning whites to describe the poor “lazy” whites who sat on cracker barrels all day waiting for work to be given them on the plantation.

  2. apple halsey says:

    Well, I agree with the closing statment. A cracker is a cracker is a cracker, no matter the creed or color. No doubt it is a tool to enforce economic inequities that benefit massa.

    That being said, I object to the notion that white crackers, aka early european immigrants, who declined to act as instruments of brutality, were worse off than the slaves.

    If shit got tough, they were still free to move, to roam the countryside, to visit or relocate with friends and family, to create families, etc. That’s one of the hallmarks of being free – the ability to determine your own movement and to shape your destiny. Now some could argue that no one is able to do that without interference, and therefore ain’t none of us really free. And I wouldn’t argue with that.

    But some are freer than others. And you’ll never convince me that a cracker has it worse than a slave because he’s ostracized from his own community. The only way a cracker has it worse is because he ain’t free either, but he thinks he is.

    To appropriate Mr. T, “Pity the fool….”

  3. Kominy says:

    I try to start a fire in my napoleon wood burning insert, but the smoke enters my home so bad I had to stop trying. I built a fairly large kindling fire just to get it going still lotta smoke enter the home and I was forced to close the door, this in turn puts the flame out. What am I doing wrong or what could be wrong with the system. It is cold, -9.

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