In her latest MTV Decoded video, Franchesca Ramsey, writer, actress and video blogger, gives a succinct and critical overview of the incestuous relationship between capitalism and racism, and how the inbred language birthed from that union makes some poor, white people confused about which institution is victimizing them.
Ramsey opened the door to this necessary conversation, so let's take a deeper look into the archives to contextualize it even further.
"Redneck," "cracker" and "white trash" are all terms created, or, in the case of “white trash,” popularized by wealthy white people to dehumanize white people living in poverty, particularly those who didn't own land. To the European aristocrats who traveled to Jamestown, Va., in the 1600s, impoverished white settlers, or "crackers," some of whom would be their servants, were valuable solely for the labor they could provide—just like the captured Africans who arrived in Jamestown on the White Lion in 1619. These arrivals included Anthony and Isabell, the parents of William Tucker, the first recorded "African American" in the colonies. Some white travelers also became indentured servants to pay for their passage to Jamestown.
Eventually, many of these "crackers" in Virginia would join forces with black people for what would become known as the Bacon Rebellion of 1676. This rebellion is notable for several reasons:
- Africans—who, by that time, were all sold into slavery upon arrival in the colonies—and African Americans, those who were enslaved and those working as indentured servants, were promised complete freedom in exchange for fighting with Nathaniel Bacon's rebels against Gov. William Berkeley and his wealthy cronies.
- Indigenous tribes were considered the "enemy" to some poor white landowners because they refused to stop raiding "their" land, and that largely influenced Bacon's Rebellion. The audacity and privilege there is astounding, as is the violence against First Nations that it spawned.
- Once upon a time, poor black and white people who were all suffering under white supremacist capitalism joined forces to tear it down, albeit at the expense of indigenous tribes—several of whom also enslaved Africans.
- Wealthy white people across the colonies gave "crackers" more power in order to solidify racial dominance and avoid what Martin Luther King Jr. would later attempt before his assassination—a "Poor People's Campaign." This power often took the form of being plantation overseers and, eventually, paddy rollers or "slave patrols."
"White trash" and "redneck"—words also used to disparage poor and working-class whites, particularly in the South—joined "crackers" in the mid-1850s. These poor whites would eventually join forces with wealthy whites to form the Ku Klux Klan, a racist, terrorist organization created during Reconstruction to ensure the perpetuation of white supremacy through intimidation and racist violence such as lynching. And, today, their descendants—many of them Republicans, i.e., former Dixiecrats who have (re)appropriated the terms for cultural use—have joined with wealthy white people to support a bigot like Donald Trump, even though it's against their own political and economic best interests to do so, because #WhiteLivesMatter.
White people in the United States have the dubious honor of not being subjected to systemic and institutionalized oppression based solely on race. This means that one cannot fall under the privileged umbrella of whiteness and not be a beneficiary of racism. It is impossible. Whiteness dictates that black people were never supposed to survive free in this country at all.
This racist dynamic is the reason it's important to get the language right. It is why "white trash," "redneck" and "cracker" have become synonymous with racist. It is why—despite a history of feigned victimhood on the ground of "reverse racism" and the continual appropriation of blackness (Hi, Rachel)—"everybody want to be a n—ga, but nobody want to be a n—ga."
Check out Ramsey's video below. And remember: #HistoricalContextMatters.