I love Tim wise's work. He delves into whiteness and racism with a boldness that I envy.
Tim Wise -- Honky Wanna Cracker? Examining the Myth of “Reverse Racism”
. . . I pointed out that even the mention of “honky” and “cracker” had elicited laughter, and not only from the black students in attendance, but also from other whites. The words are so silly, so juvenile, that they hardly qualify as racial slurs at all, let alone slurs on a par with those that have been historically deployed against people of color.
The lack of symmetry between a word like honky and a slur such as “nigger” was made readily apparent in an old Saturday Night Live skit with Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor, in which Chase and Pryor face one another and trade racial epithets. Chase calls Pryor a “porch monkey.” Pryor responds with “honky.” Chase ups the ante with “jungle bunny.” Pryor, unable to counter with a more vicious slur, responds with “honky, honky.” Chase then trumps all previous slurs with “nigger,” to which Pryor responds, “dead honky.” The line elicits laughs, but also makes clear that when it comes to racial verbiage, people of color are limited in the repertoire of slurs they can use against whites, and even the ones of which they can avail themselves sound more comic than hateful. The impact of hearing anti-black slurs in the skit was of a magnitude unparalleled by hearing Pryor say “honky” over and over.
As a white person, I always saw the terms honky or cracker as proof of how much more potent white racism was than any variation practiced by the black or brown. When a group of people has little or no power over you, they don’t get to define the terms of your existence, they can’t limit your opportunities, and you needn’t worry much about the use of a slur to describe you, since, in all likelihood, the slur is as far as it’s going to go. What are they going to do next: deny you a bank loan? Yeah, right. So whereas “nigger” is a term used by whites to dehumanize blacks, to “put them in their place” if you will, the same cannot be said of honky; after all, you can’t put white people in their place when they own the place to begin with.
Power is like body armor; and while not all whites have the same power, all of us have more than we need vis-a-vis people of color, at least when it comes to racial position. Consider poor whites: to be sure, they are less financially powerful than wealthy people of color; but that misses the point of how racial privilege operates within a class system. Within a class system, people compete for “stuff” against others of their same basic economic status. In other words, rich and poor are not competing for the same homes, loans, jobs or even educations to a large extent. Rich compete against rich, working class against working class and poor against poor; and in those competitions — the ones that take place in the real world — racial privilege attaches.
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