And yet, on story quoting Jackson's letter, CNN placed a video of analysis from Marvette Britto, who was introduced as an "expert" and "brand strategist." Britto, like so many commentators, was fixated on the n-word in the past, not allegations of employee abuse in the present. "I was surprised that Paula Deen didn't take more ownership of the words that she said, of the words that she spoke -- and add context and clarity for her comments for an audience that's very confused by her words."
The reason CNN was comparing the n-word with cracker was because the latter was supposedly uttered by Trayvon Martin. According to the testimony of Rachel Jeantel, Martin referred to George Zimmerman as a "creepy-ass cracker" who was following him. Zimmerman, was carrying a gun, is on trial for shooting and killing Martin, an unarmed teenager, after they met in the street.
Many people have seized on the term "cracker" as proof that Martin was racist against white people and therefore was threatening enough to justify Zimmerman shooting him. In turn, that has inspired many people sympathetic to Martin to write that cracker really isn't all that bad. "As a born-and-raised Southerner— and a cracker— I feel qualified to offer some insight to those who may be confused by this thorny sociological quandary," Gawker's Hamilton Nolan writes. Cracker is no big deal, he explains:
A racial slur? Sure, technically speaking. A real racial slur? Sadly, no. There are no good racial slurs for white people. Despite the fact that white Americans have committed far more atrocities against the other races of the world than all of those races combined have committed against white people, there is no one single slur in popular usage that can really cut a white person to their soft, marshmallowy core.
Counting the atrocities seems like a weird way to justify a word's sluriness. We wouldn't want to use racial slurs against North Sudanese people even though the North Sudanese people committed genocide against the South Sudanese. At Mediaite, Tommy Christopher noted that "cracker" has some interesting history that's not so racial. In Florida, Christopher writes, "the word 'cracker' isn’t a racial slur at all, but rather, a proud nod to the region’s history, and one’s own ancestry." It's a reference to pre-Civil War Florida cowboys. And at NPR, Gene Demby explains the etymology of cracker, noting that Cracker is an old-fashioned way of building a house in Florida to beat the heat. Demby writes:
By the early 1800s, those immigrants to the South started to refer to themselves that way as a badge of honor and a term of endearment. (I'm pretty sure this process of reappropriating a disparaging term sounds familiar to a lot of y'all.)
Like Nolan, I am also from the South. I was called cracker in city elementary school, and it hurt my feelings! You can see my permanent facial expression in that era at right. (Why were you so mean, Victoria T.?!) In my rural high school, which was mostly white, people called each other cracker all the time, as a joke. The difference is using the word to exclude people versus using it to include people. Obviously. Martin was obviously not thinking of a grand Celtic cowboy tradition when he said "cracker."