Since its 1912 debut, more than 419 billion Oreos crossed the production line-making it one of America's most beloved snacks.
However, the snack with a chocolate outside and white creamy filling, which brings joy to scores of Americans, is also a metaphor with a distinctively negative connotation. The term Oreo is a recognized racial slur toward African-Americans who assimilated into "white America."
The origin of the word's reference to African-Americans is difficult to pinpoint. However, Dennis Preston, professor of linguistics and languages at Michigan State University, points to the term tracing back as far in American history as the Civil Rights era.
As the victories of the Civil Rights movement led to integration, using the word Oreo against certain African-Americans surged in popularity. Racial integration in the work place, educational institutions and neighborhoods, drove a wedge between African-Americans who behaved in ways mainstream society expected and those who did not.
"I remember the term being used from the time I was a kid," recalls Preston. "The term used to refer to the guy who went around acting black, being black, talking all the right things, dressing the right way, doing things that make him appear as an authentic member of African-American culture. However, when you take the two ends of the cookie apart and look on the inside, he's really a white guy, and as such, sympathetic to white positions and white things."
So who qualifies as an Oreo by modern standards? Africans who immigrate to the U.S. and fail to assimilate into traditional African-American culture may fall victim to the label.
Alexander Weheliye, associate professor of English and African-American Studies at Northwestern University, was on the receiving end of such name calling when he moved to the U.S. from Africa.
"I remember first hearing it when I moved to the U.S. in 1980," Weheliye says. "Back then, it was used to describe or identify biracial or multiracial people as well as people who were black on the outside and white on the inside, as in the Oreo cookie. I think that meaning has shifted. Generally, nowadays I think it is used to refer to people who are black but don't act in particular way."
There is another slang definition for Oreo. Just ask Kelsey Blackwell, who grew up in Utah. She says people use the word when someone senses a threat to a self-created definition of blackness.
"Because I was in Utah, there were a not a lot of black people around," says Blackwell, a writer for Southern Living magazine. "And because there were so few black people, they bonded over being black, liking the same music, and having the same characteristic black traits. When I came in and did not act the way they expected, it was almost offensive to them. They were trying to define themselves by their race, yet here was a black person who did not represent what they think black should be. It put everything they had used to define themselves into question."
Although the term Oreo, thought to be used exclusively by blacks, is according to some race experts, a term used by the masses.
"It's hard to say who uses it more, but I think whites often use it in reference to particular blacks," says Charlton McIlwain, co-director of the Project on Race in Political Communication at New York University. "I think when whites use it, they think they are making a positive statement, but what they are saying is 'you're more like one of us than one of them. And obviously that is better and to be preferred.' They say this without realizing the presumption that it makes, which is white is good, black is bad."
For African-Americans like Weheliye, the word promotes the perception that blacks do not perform well academically or know how to behave in a civilized manner.
"There is no reason at this point in time for all black people to be the same," says Weheliye. "Black people can be different yet have similar political goals and so forth. I think the word Oreo plays into the system a little bit too much for me because it eludes that a certain type of education, way of behaving and presenting yourself are characteristics that only white people possess."