NR Digital

Meet the Cracker

by Florence King

An old epithet gets a new life

As the Zimmerman case proved, a defining characteristic of the American mind is the care we take with our racial vocabularies to make sure they specify where we land in our national free fall known as “This is who I am.”

Earlier generations of blacks had no trouble finding interesting and clever ways to identify the Southern white racist. For instance, they called him a “peckerwood,” a deliberate inversion of a familiar word to describe the way he treated them: Like a woodpecker drilling into a tree, he was always at them, but switching the syllables gave them a protective cover in case he overheard their grumbling. Or he might be a “hoppergrass,” a dangerously changeable type whose next mood and next move were as unpredictable as a grasshopper flitting across a field.

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