“Dirty-ass crackers”: What does the term “cracker” mean and where does it originate?

By Penny Hoffmann

Recently we have seen the term “cracker” used again by a black Hebrew Israelite during the recent scandal where Catholic MAGA hat pro-life teenagers were confronted by African Americans who are members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a hate group that is becoming “more militant” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC).

The SPLC states that “around the country, thousands of men and women have joined black supremacist groups on the extremist fringe of the Hebrew Israelite movement, a black nationalist theology that dates to the 19th century.”

The exact quote that was directed towards the mostly white pro-life protesters by one of the black Hebrew Israelites was “you got all these dirty-ass crackers behind you with a red Make America Great Again hat on.”

This occurred when when a pro-life protest which that featured Kentucky high school students who were waiting to catch a bus and collided with the Indigenous Peoples March outside the Lincoln Memorial.

So, what does the term “cracker” mean?

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary states that “cracker” can have an offensive meaning.¬† It can be “used as an insulting and contemptuous term for a poor, white, usually Southern person”. It can be used to describe “a native or resident of Florida or Georgia”. Thus, by this definition it is a racial term as it is specificially about whites, but by extension it is a classist term due to it regarding poor whites.

Dana Ste. Claire, a Floridian historian and anthropologist, wrote a book about this term. According to her, “cracker” first appeared in a play from around the 1590’s called “King John” that referred to Scots-Irish people who were deemed self-important and unpleasant:

“What craker is this same that deafs our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath?”

The term then followed Scots-Irish people when they immigrated to America.

In the late 1800’s, it was used to describe poor white American southerners. It is said that the term refers to these white people during the slave trade when they cracked whips to discipline slaves. Dana explains further that it is important to note that few poor white southerners owned slaves, but many condoned the slave trade in other ways, and that these poor white southerners would most-likely crack the whip over livestock in general.

In the 1940’s, “cracker” was used as a racial slur mainly by inner city black people who fled from north American racism to describe bigoted white people.

In more recent times, the term has expanded in it’s meaning by some people derogatorily to include any white person who, just by being white, threaten people of colour.