Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Let's Talk About Supposed Slurs: Cracker, Paleface and Honky
Slurs can be extremely harmful and are used specifically to hurt a marginalized group. In many cases, though marginalized people have made it clear that certain words cause incredible pain, dominant groups continue to use them in their every day language, because they either don't care about the pain that they inflict with these words, or they intend to cause damage. If a White person and a Black person are in a disagreement, the White person can immediately assert their power over the Black person by using the word nigger. It elevates the White person, while sending a message that the Black person is inferior. There is no word that a Black person can call a White person that has the same effect, or the same historical meaning.
Yesterday in the comment section, there was some consternation over the word paleface. There were claims of being hurt and offended at the label. Paleface is a descriptor; it is not now, or ever will be a slur. If an Indigenous Person chooses to use the term, it is done in reaction to a history of racism, and does not come from a place of purposeful oppression. Even if said Indigenous person were attempting to debase a White person, the fact of the matter is, that there are no words or phrases, that carries the same sort of impact of any slur a White person could call an Indigenous person.
Part of the reason that these words have so much impact, is because they come from a place of power. Historically speaking, people of colour have not had the ability to wield any form of power over Whiteness. No Black person ever tied a White person to a whipping pole and scourged their body, while calling them a honky. Until recently, no person of colour could even address a White person with anything but deference, because of the dissonance in worth and value, and therefore; to suggest that worlds like honky, paleface or cracker have any significant meaning is ridiculous.
The problem is that these words express discontent with Whiteness, and despite the history of outright brutality, Whiteness still expects love and adoration. This is why they forced Christianity on colonized people of colour. It set them up in a position to be loved, while indoctrinating slaves to believe that they would find reward in hereafter for their subjugation. It further allowed them to present themselves as the benign oppressor, while infantalizing POC. Even though Jesus was most likely not White, Whiteness elevated itself to the point that POC found themselves praying to a blonde haired blue eyed Jesus, and in this sense Whiteness became a god like figure. No person of colour has ever had the ability to wield this kind of power.
No matter the justification or the whining and complaining, words like honky, paleface, or cracker cannot be deemed a slur. This is especially true when it comes to cracker. This name was developed for the overseer who would whip slaves. Each time the whip went forward it made a cracking sound as it cut into the flesh. Cracker is a name that has been well earned by the actions of Whiteness, and an attempt to deny its truth, actually amounts to revisionist history. When someone complains that they are hurt because they have been called a cracker, it smacks of a failure to acknowledge the various ways in which Whiteness has been an absolutely violent force to POC.
These words have a historical context, and to demand POC stop using them, is to suggest that we forget the history of oppression and to live in a la la la land of equality that does not exist. These words are in reaction to the pain that people of colour have suffered for generations, and the claim of White pain at their usage suggests a continued failure to acknowledge the harm that has been done. The poor delicate fee fees of Whiteness, is nothing in compared to the righteous anger of POC.