Is ‘Colonizer’ the Best Word for Problematic White People Ever?

Illustration for article titled Is ‘Colonizer’ the Best Word for Problematic White People Ever?
Photo: Ethan Miller (Getty Images)

The search for the perfect slur for white people has been relentless, exhausting and mostly fruitless. There are dozens of contenders, but none that have ever truly stuck. Basically, the search for the perfect slur for white people has been like the search for a really good fast-food fish sandwich.


“Cracker” is perhaps the most famous one, as it’s been around so long that there are popular modifications to it, most notably “cracka” and the sublime “cracka-ass cracka.” But these feel too retrograde, like one of those insults that seemed old even when it was young. It’s the Morgan Freeman of slurs. “Honky” is corny and stupid, and “redneck” and “white trash” are both classist and allow white people to be intraracially classist. 

Recently, quite a few punny attempts at finding the perfect insult have been created—most notably, “wypipo” and “Dwight.” But these might be too “clever.” Too—dare I say it—millennial. Plus, what’s the point of a slur if the people you’re slurring don’t even realize it’s a slur? That’s a waste of a slur! Slur wasting is a sin!

Searching for a slur for white people seemed, well, useless. But in the week following the release of Black Panther, a new contender emerged—one that smashes historical reverence and contemporary snark and pith together into a tasty slur sangria: “colonizer”!

Now, “colonizer” isn’t a perfect slur. It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. Plus, it has four syllables, and all of the best slurs have two or fewer. And it requires at least a superficial understanding of world history to understand the context. The best slurs should work even if you slept through social studies, or if you’re like me and you (mostly) stayed awake in class but didn’t quite know what colonization meant until you read a very illuminating Twitter thread on it in 2011.

Most importantly, slurs derive their power from power. The main reason slurs for white Americans don’t quite stick or pack much of a punch is that they still wield most of the power here. Slurs are meant to shame and induce claustrophobia—a sense of perpetual unwelcome. But how unwelcoming can a word be if your status exists as a boundless welcome mat? Colonizer, however, recognizes that dynamic and inverts it by laughing at it instead of lauding it. It’s a Jedi slur trick.

Perhaps “colonizer” won’t catch. But I think we should give it a test drive for the next three months to see how it rides. And if that doesn’t work, we can always go back to the lab. And who knows? Maybe a new contender will emerge. Personally, I’ve always thought “mayonnaise boy” had potential. But I think it might be best to keep that reserved for Michael Rapaport.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


Lord Whistledown

“Colonizer” is clever, but “Racist” seems to be the only one that gets their hackles up.