Cracker and the N-Word Are Not Equivalent

speak peace

*Trigger warning: this post discusses racialized violence*

Imagine that there is a small child with $1000 cash in their pocket. An adult walks up and says, “I’ll give you this pen for all of that money. It’s a great deal.” The pen is nothing special. It’s a five cent ballpoint pen, but they tell the child it’s magic, and that it’s worth $1000. After a little convincing, the skeptical child hands over the pen and the adult takes the money.

That is inherently unethical because of a power differential. It’s wrong on so many levels, and we all know it.

Now imagine the reverse: an adult with $1000, and a child trying to convince them of a pen’s magic powers. The adult would keep their money, and the situation would end. It would be funny instead of unethical because of the power differential.

Now, I’m about to parlay that little story into a discussion about epithets, which seems a bit bizarre, but a couple of weeks ago I watched as my brilliant graduate school teacher, Liz Owens, a Woman of Color, activist, and fierce dog mama used this example to answer the question, “Why is it okay for someone to call me ‘cracker’ but it’s not okay to use the ‘N word?'”

Liz calmly explained to the student that there’s a huge difference due to systemic and institutional inequality, and she talked about the historical significance of racial slurs and their relevance in contemporary experience. When it didn’t quite seem like it was setting in (in my opinion) she used the example about the child with the pen. The analogy isn’t perfect, but it worked for our discussion.

Here’s the thing: it’s not nice to call someone a “cracker,” but that’s all it is, it’s not nice. The word “cracker” wasn’t screamed at white ancestors as slave owners ripped them away from their families only to be beaten, raped, and murdered. It isn’t used today while white people experience disproportionate violence at the hands of police and other citizens.

Racial slurs against People of Color, especially Black people, are used in all of the contexts mentioned above. That is the last word some people hear as they experience violence against their bodies. The word itself is emotional violence. It’s a violence Black folks usually experience for the first time as a child, prompting questions to guardians about why they were called such a name.

Calling a white person a cracker isn’t violence. It’s not using your power differential to swindle someone out of their dignity, it’s as harmless as a child trying to sell an adult a magic pen.

[Ed. Note: Liz gave permission for me to publish my interpretation of this discussion.]

Share Your Thoughts