Today, my thoughts were turned to a subject I think about from time to time, the subject of identity. One of my coworkers was teasing another one about being a dry cracker, not even a Ritz cracker with butter, and my thoughts were immediately drawn to Cracker Country . As a schoolkid, I often went on field trips to an area next to the Florida State Fairgrounds devoted to historical reenactment of the 19th century for poor white countryfolk. I found no fault with the historical aspects of the place–I have always been fond of 19th century history  and it was intriguing to see life in a small village or hamlet designed to be like those of Cork Station  or similar places a century before I called the area home. Yet I was long troubled by the name, perhaps because I am a somewhat prickly person, but partly because questions of identity have always been of considerable personal importance.
As a child, I was deeply poor, growing up in a broken and divided family in rural poverty , looked down on by the more genteel of my neighbors who had nicer homes and thought my family and I (and many of our neighbors) to be poor white trash. I always resented this. Regardless of the poverty of my circumstances, I never felt I belonged there. I never thought I was trash, unworthy of respect. For that matter, I never thought that others were unworthy of respect either, even when I have had difficulties with them or even if they have been very different from me. Given that I have self-consciously sought and demanded respect for my entire life, it would be completely unacceptable for me to deny that respect to others. That does not mean that I have never said or done anything that hurt or embarrassed others (or myself) but rather that I have always seen others as worthy of a certain amount of honor and dignity simply for being human beings, and the same has been true of even plants and animals.
There is something nagging and inchoate that has always bothered me about Cracker Country and what it represents. For one, I never felt as if terms like redneck and cracker and other terms really belonged to me. I was a Yankee-born boy with a complicated accent that combined the Western Pennsylvanian speech of my father with a hint of the Ontario accent of my maternal grandfather, an accent I have never entirely lost. I was bookish and intellectual, inclinations I have never lost. I simply did not feel I belonged in that box that people wanted to put me in, especially once I left Florida and became seen by those around me as a Floridian, as a Southerner, with all that entailed. I never saw myself as a Southerner, for my family roots are in the North, and I have seen myself as an eccentric and somewhat wayward child of Appalachia, not someone who had any kinship with the Deep South at all or who appreciated being considered as belonging there. Like many people, I resented being given an identity that I did not choose for myself. God may call us what He wants, since He made us, but no one else has the right to define me. Because I saw being called a cracker as a condescending insult towards my impoverished youth, I never wanted to be associated with the term at all.
There is a great deal of stress that comes with rejecting the identities that others want to give you. There is the isolation of feeling that one does not belong because one has rejected the place that one is being encouraged to take, and there is the conflict with those who continually call one by names that one does not accept. Yet there is a price to be paid for accepting the negative identities others want to tie on us as well. No one is trash, no one is merely a tease or a whore, no one is merely dumb or a klutz or silly or awkward or a nerd, much less less flattering and more profane identities. All of us are far too complicated to be defined by simple words. Our depth may not always be obvious, but it exists even if we intentionally hide it to avoid being made fun of even more. If we accept others defining us in an evil way, we will only disrespect ourselves (and others) and mistrust anyone who says good things about us that we do not believe even if they are true. We will try to escape ourselves with substance abuse or promiscuity and will only more deeply tie ourselves to lies that we have believed about ourselves. And we will spread our disrespect to others, for we cannot give love and respect to others that we do not have for ourselves. Indeed, when we recognize that we are respectful and loving people to others, we can realize that maybe we have a healthy regard for ourselves after all, despite our struggles. Such moments deserve their appreciation, even if the fight against names we do not accept for ourselves still goes on.