In which epithets are hurled at me from a powerchair
I am not a current events kind of guy. Cause When you get right
down to it the news cycle is filled with nonsense and noise.
For example, a recent item of note in the news cycle was a statement made by Lindsay Lohan. Quote – It’s an amazing feeling. It’s our first colored president, so I’m thrilled to be a part of the country while that’s going on.
Of course, there was a stir about her use of the word colored. But the upshot of this story is that Lindsay Lohan isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. And that’s not surprising. ThatÕs not news. ThatÕs olds. Linsday Lohan solves differential equation — Now that would be news.
So why did this even make the radar?
Well, race is weird. And to illustrate how weird, I have a story.
Once upon a time, I was driving home. Driving on one of those crisp fall days where it’s just a pleasure to drive with the windows down. And on my way home — to my happily ever after, if you will — I made a right-hand turn. And crossing the intersection was a woman, perhaps 40 – 50 in one of those little motorized scooters. You know, those things that fat people ride around the supermarket.
Except this woman is not fat. In fact, she looks pretty healthy.
She’s easing her rig out into the cross-walk. Or cross-roll as the case may be. I give her a wide berth. About a lane and a half. So there’s no chance of me hitting this woman.
For some reason, this upsets her. And she gives voice to her displeasure. Now she doesn’t really have time to give me an earful — I’m driving by — So she pares her anger down to one word — and one word only.
I swear to God my first thought was, “Why thanks, A cracker would be delicious.”
And then I realized that I had been insulted. The woman had hurled a racist insult at me. And I couldn’t care less. In fact, I cared so little, I very nearly became spontaneously British.
“I say, did you call me a cracker? A crack-ah? That’s delightful. Please, tell me about yourself. Where do you come from.
Yes, yes, nevermind all the screaming, can I perhaps buy you lunch? Yes, let us dine and converse strange creature. Just allow me a moment to retrieve my new-fangled sterophonic magnetic tape recorder.”
Oh yeah, the insult. It was out there it was. I had been called a cracker. And I wasn’t even sure what it meant. So I looked it up.
The origin of the word is the middle English word Craic which meant “Entertaining conversation.”
Damn you, you, you, you, you, entertaining conversationalist!
It’s also the root of the phrase to Crack a Joke. So, in that sense, the shoe fits.
In Elizabethan times, the term Cracker came to mean braggart . In King John, Shakespeare wrote this line. “What cracker is this same that deafs our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath?”
But by the 1760s, this term was in use by the English in the British North American colonies to refer to Scots-Irish settlers in the south.
There is also a story that says the origin of the word comes from slavers cracking whips, hence they became known as crackers.
ItÕs been ringing in my ears for weeks. Not from the insult of it. From the oddity. And as a guy who is fascinated by words and their meanings, I began to wonder about words and racism. Not in an intense. Malcolm X reading the dictionary in jail kind of way. But in a more entertaining way. In a way that befits the Seanachai. And the weirdest stuff of all was the stuff that sounded like it should be racist, but really wasn’t.
Like Cracker Barrel.
For example. Cracker Barrel. If Cracker is an insult, should I be offended by this. I was mildly indifferent to Cracker Barrel before — but now I suppose I’ll have to move up the scale to totally indifferent.
These racist-sounding, non racist terms are all around us. Like Chiggers, or Colored Markers. Even the completely inoffensive pastime of gardening offers the possibility of this phrase
“Oh no darlin’, let the spade do the work.”
Anyway, the experience has stuck with me. It’s still with me. It was one of those moments, after which it’s impossible to see the world in the same way. It was a damnably odd experience.
But then racism has always struck me as odd. At best a little silly, and at worst, well lynchings and pogroms aren’t silly.
And last night, while I was bending the
wrist in the local bar — a guy from the neighborhood made a mildly racist comment. And the assumption that I was in his ignorant little club, bothered me to no end. Sure I could have cut him off with an abrupt, I don’t appreciate that kind of talk, but that would have left zero chance that he would buy the next round.
Besides, there are funnier things to say for example,
“You know Earl, I have friends who are black. I have friends who are Jewish. Hell, I even like Sammy Davis Junior. So knock it off would you?”
And if that doesn’t work, I keep what I think is the ultimate racist counterpunch joke in a custom-made velvet case. It goes like this —
What do you call a black man flying a plane? A pilot you fucking racist.
And I love that joke. It does everything a great joke should. Which is mostly head in one direction and wind up someplace completely different.
But you know, my joke and my velvet case are all for naught. They’ve been outdone by reality. I realized that I didnÕt even have to tell a joke anymore. So I said.
Hey Earl, what do you call a black man in the White House?
Everybody within earshot got a little nervous.
Earl laughed uncomfortably and changed the subject. Which just goes to show you that the woman in the powerchair was right. CRACKA. I am a cracker after all.