Picnic Basket Cases

I came across an interesting parallel to Cassidy’s nonsense recently. Apparently, beginning in the 1990s with a hoax email, many people in the USA have been persuaded that the use of the word picnic is racist. The email claimed that the term originally referred to a lynching, where southern bigots randomly ‘picked a negro’ to lynch and brought the whole family out to eat fried chicken and drink mint juleps in the southern sun.

In an excellent article in Black Voice News (http://www.blackvoicenews.com/more-sections/commentary/41888-an-urban-legend-that-binds-us-the-word-picnic-.html) by Richard O. Jones, the author describes his distaste at being sent a similar email (apparently not the original hoax but someone else spreading this nonsense independently). Here is part of the email he received:

This e-mail is being sent to you as a public service announcement and as information in the form of a little known Black History Fact. This information can also be found in the African American Archives at the Smithsonian Institute. Although not taught in American learning institutions and literature, it is noted in most Black history professional circles and literature that the origin of the term “picnic” derives from the acts of lynching African-Americans. The word “picnic” is rooted from the whole theme of “Pick A Nigger.” This is where individuals would “pic” a Black person to lynch and make this into a family gathering. There would be music and a “picnic.” (“Nic” being the white acronym for “nigger.”) Scenes of this were depicted in the movie “Rosewood.”

We should choose to use the word “barbecue” or “outing” instead of the word “picnic.” Please forward this e-mail to your family and friends and let’s educate our people.

Jones’s comment is just as applicable to the garbage spread by Cassidy and his asinine followers as it is to the case of picnic:

I don’t wish to misinform my friends and family with the likes of another vicious Internet hoax. Many Black people are too quick to believe negative rumors; therefore, I refuse to contribute to national ignorance. These type of hoaxes only serve to make Black people look stupid and by no means is an advancement in education. It is too easy to go to the library and research the origin of words in dictionaries and/or encyclopedias to believe and spread every bit of garbage that comes through cyberspace.

As Jones so rightly says, in the case of picnic  just as in Cassidy’s ridiculous claims, it is very easy to disprove this rubbish. Piquenique originated in France in the 17th century. It has no connection to the American south and nothing to do with black history. The worst thing is that lynching was a real phenomenon. In fact, it still is, though a gun seems to be the weapon of choice now rather than a rope.  Denial of this supposed etymology of picnic doesn’t mean that you are denying lynching or the evils of racism. And denying the validity of Cassidy’s claims about the Irish origins of hundreds of English words doesn’t mean that you are denying the value of the Irish language or supporting an elite of WASPs against your ancestral culture. In fact, it is Cassidy’s supporters who are betraying our language and our culture out of a misplaced loyalty to an ignorant charlatan, just as supporters of the racist picnic idea are allowing themselves to be manipulated by a person or persons unknown whose agenda, whatever it is, has nothing to do with the truth.

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