“Cracker” My first Encounter with a Racist

“There is no racial bigotry here” I do not look down on Blacks, Jews, Italians, and Indians – Here you are all equally worthless!”  -Gunnery Sergeant Hartman

The world is made up of all kinds of people from different countries believes, origins, from whats acceptable and what is not.  Growing up in Southern Ontario Canada, racism might of been prevalent, but I didn’t see it, as a matter of fact, it wasn’t an issue for me until I was a recruit in The Marines.  By no means am I referring to the Marine Corps as racist, or an organization that supports it.  For sake of conversation, I mean just the opposite. See, I am an American by birth raised in Canada from the time I was 4 years old, brought up under Catholicism and went to church on a regular basis.  During my day as a child I was always involved in sports, and we didn’t see race, religion as a problem.  By the time I was 15 being a Marine was in my heart and at 16 transitioned from Canada to the US where I lived under the strict rule of my Cornell-educated Grandparents.   It was an enjoyable time in the mid-eighties, but I still did not see religion or race as a factor in my life.  I did not refer to people as them or us vs them it wasn’t something that crossed my mind.  At the age of 18 I joined the Marine Corps under the Delayed Entry Program, and by May of 1986, I was off to Marine Corps Recruit Training.

During 12 weeks I was exposed to a mixture of cultures;  guys just like me but different ethnic backgrouds such as Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, Jewish, Native American Indians,  Middle Eastern Americans.   As an undisciplined individual (By Marine Corps Drill Instructor Standards) in the first 48hrs I learned what racism was, I had never seen such a divide between ethnic boundaries and it was a shock to my system. Furthermore, I looked at these guys in my platoon as equals or on the same team .. and never looked beyond that until I was approached by a Mexican American who referred to me as “Cracker.”  I had never heard that term before and laughed at it wanting to know what it meant.  In a way I had it coming because of my reference to him as a little Hawaiian.  I honestly thought he was Hawaiian and ever interacted with a Mexican American before.  He responded with I am not Hawaiian (Using colorful language) I’m Mexican-American from East LA, “Cracker.”  “Do you know where East LA is?”  I said uh in East Los Angeles … he said that’s right “Homes”  Another term I had never heard, but I could tell he was upset about something.  I responded with “Ever had a Canadian Ass Whipping”  He looked at me in  an odd way and said, “Canada, you’re from Canada?” “What are you doing in the United States Marine Corps?” I lean down and looked at him and said “I am an American”  and he responded with “Whats a Canadian Ass Whipping”?  I said “Whats a Cracker?” and he retorted “It’s a white piece of bread”  Another Term I had never heard, and by the look on his face… I could tell it wasn’t a friendly name.  Now I am getting angry ..he said: “what’s a Canadian Ass Whipping?”  See at that time he had been appointed the squad leader or guide in the platoon.  He wanted me to take a dirty gray towel referred to as a deck towel get on my hands and feet and run back and forth across the floor in the Head (Bathroom).  My logic of the situation told me 5 recruits doing the same thing just wasn’t practical, so I said “leave me alone”… and pushed him away…  He came back held out his hand with the gray towel dripping wet, nasty and God knows what was on that towel. I smiled at him with a cocky grin .. took the deck towel and swung it so fast all I heard was a Thwap noise in succession as it wrapped around his entire face.  He struggled under muffled sounds swaying back and forth trying to remove it, it seemed like it took him quite a bit of time to remove the wrapped towel.  When he succeeded in removing the towel his rage  sent him in a straight line run at me, and of course, I had nowhere to go because I was situated inside the stall (Shitter as they call it in the Marine Corps).  As he came at me, I took his blouse (Term for Cami Jacket) pulled it over his head and started to pound his head and ribs with my closed fists.  When I was done he was laid out on the Deck (Floor In Marine Corps Terms)  I leaned over him as he was wincing in pain and said. “That’s a Canadian Ass Whipping!”

At the end of that twelve weeks the transformation of racial dividing lines disappeared. The one valuable lesson I learned in US Marine Corps Recruit Training and the fleet, at the end of the day there is no room for Racism or to look down on someone because of skin color or religion.  You can’t afford it in a combat situation, and the Drill Instructor’s took any kind of semblance of racism right out of the picture. It was my first real encounter with racism, but to this day he still calls me “Cracker” .. and I still call him “The Hawaiian.”  After boot camp, he and I kept in touch, I separated after two tours and he did twenty-six in the Marine Corps and retired out of Hawaii, go figure 🙂

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