To paraphrase Steve Martin in The Jerk, I, sir, am a cracker.
Three of my four grandparents hail from the state of Georgia, where “cracker” is a slur for poor whites.
So I should be offended that state Sen. Donne Trotter, who is running in the 2nd Congressional District special election, called some of his fellow legislators crackers.
“I always tell people I know a cracker when I see one, and there’s a lot of crackers in Springfield, a lot of them,” Trotter told the Roseland Business Development Council banquet last month.
Roseland, the neighborhood surrounding the shopping strip at 111th Street and Michigan Avenue, is at least 90 percent black, so Trotter probably thought he was speaking only to his people.
The term “cracker” is probably derived from the Gaelic term craic, which means good-time partying, and was first used by English planters to refer to the boisterous low-class Scots-Irish settlers who arrived in the colonies in the 18th Century -- my own ancestors. (Some believe the term comes from the crack of the slave master’s whip, which explains why Trotter told CBS2 that a cracker is a person "who's oppressing." When used by blacks, it applies to whites in general, not just Scots-Irish Southerners.) I have to wonder how Trotter’s patron, Thornton Township Committeeman Frank Zuccarelli, would react if he’d said there are a lot of guidos in Springfield.
This isn’t the first time Trotter has used colorful racial language. Running for Congress in 2000, he called Barack Obama “the white man in black face.” And he’s not the first Chicago politician to make a racial gaffe. Roland Burris once complained about “unqualified white boys” running for governor. And Richard M. Daley said Chicago need “a white mayor” -- although he tried to insist he’d said “wet mayor,” whatever that means.
In 2000, Trotter was running in the historically African-American 1st District. In the 2nd District, though, only 54 percent of the voters are African-American. It’s not Roseland. If you use the word “cracker,” you may offend almost half the voters.