Understanding the word ‘Creole’
Most academics agree that the word, Creole comes from the Spanish word Criollo, stemming from the verb criar, meaning to create or breed. It was first used to denote those born in the new colonies as opposed to those born in Europe or Africa and was not originally associated with race. The term became especially popular in New Orleans post 1803 as a way to segregate the native born (often of French and Spanish heritage) from the influx of AngloAmericans and their perceived inferiority. Despite the resistance in the wake of the Louisiana purchase, New Orleans slowly Americanized and thus focused less on nativity and more on race. The divide became less about the French versus the Americans and more about white versus black. This culminated in the aftermath of the Civil War and following period of Reconstruction. Once Reconstruction ended there was a White Supremacist backlash that among other things, aggressively arrogated Creole for whites only. The complexity of miscegenistic New Orleans gave way to the simplicity of Black and white. During the Jim Crow era so called “Creoles of Color” continued to refer to themselves simply as Creole and began to migrate out away from the heavily populated Caucasian sections of the city and into the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth wards. These wards have historically been overlooked by a city that increasingly valued the color white, despite their contributions to music and civil rights. Today, the definition of Creole is still hotly contested among historical scholars and laymen alike though this contentious debate has very little impact on the lives of those who live, work, and play under the title of Creole. It seems an odd debate given the etymological history of the word and the fact that it is 2016 and we have the first black president of the United States but sadly, old prejudices die hard.
Master Tour Guide and Historian
Crescent City Historic Tours