In an intro to Metro Studies class, I had a wonderful professor, Robert Fitch. He authored The Assassination of New York, a cutting and searing indictment of the financial and real-estate elites who wrecked New York. Unfortunately, Mr. Fitch passed on several years ago and it was a huge loss. He was an inspiring and passionate teacher. Anyway…
Cornering the Market
These ‘new’ whitemen were called scramblers because they would rush on board a Slaveship before it docks and brave the filthy stench…
— Richard Ligon, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados
I bring up Robert Fitch because he spent at least one-third of that intro course expounding on capitalism and how it was such a great boon to Western civilization. Finally, unable to take it anymore, I raised my hand and asked, “But what would’ve capitalism have looked like without the slave trade?”
The man smiled so wide, I thought his face would crack and he said, “I thought you would never ask… ” and he began what was one of the more insightful take downs of capitalism I had ever heard. After class, he called me over and expressed that he thought no one would ever ask that question.
Why bring this up, you ask? Read on…
First let me start in this way: not that long ago, I overheard two former colleagues describing a bigoted real estate player as a “cracker.” My colleagues were white, raised in the northeast, progressive-thinking, activists — two people I hold in high esteem. Anybody that knows me even for a little while knows that I’m not exactly “politically correct.” I transgress at least once a day.
I am also a lover of words and love to explore word and phrase origins. Having lived in the deep South, I was aware of the word’s origin. Well, at least as it was explained to me by a genuine “cracker.” He said that the word cracker came from the sound of the whip used to beat slaves. When I informed my colleagues, they were horrified! They never used the word again. Of course, from that point on, I went out of of my way to say “cracker” in their presence at least once a month.
Language is a powerful thing and many of our everyday words and phrases come from ignoble origins. Take “handicap,” for example. Handicap comes from the phrase “hand in cap” used to describe the physically challenged who were forced to beg for money for their survival. Not a nice.
Which brings me to my point today. Let’s take the common phrase, “cornering the market.” To corner the market is a good thing, right? It means dominating and economically exploiting a market. It’s “winning.” Not bad, right? Well the phrase has its origin from the behavior of “scramblers.” Scramblers would rush on board a slave ship before it even docked. They would wade through the filth and death stench of these slave ships so they could get their pick of the healthiest looking captives. They would separate their picks from the rest and have them placed in a corner of the deck. Hence the origin of the capitalist term “to corner the market.”
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…
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