mighty white of you

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mighty white of you

Post by Archived Topic » Fri Dec 10, 2004 11:54 pm

Obvious racial overtone. What is a term for a slur like this, so ingrained that its user doesn't realize it's a form of bigotry
Submitted by dale hileman (Apple Valley, CA - U.S.A.)
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mighty white of you

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 11, 2004 12:07 am

Dale, I don’t think that ‘mighty white of you’ is so common an expression that everyone knows what it means. For one, I don’t, so I’ll try to shed some light on its meaning and origin.
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THAT’S MIGHTY WHITE OF YOU! began according to Partridge’s ‘Dictionary of Catch phrases’ as a complement meaning that’s very decent, generous, forgiving, obliging, fair, etc. of you, or as one source on the web said “Thank you for being fair.” The phrase was used in the U.S. from the early 20th century and in the U.K. since the 1930s. It is not certain exactly where the phrase originated, but the two possibilities proposed are the southern U.S. and the colonies of the British Empire with, of course, racial connotations suggesting “like a white man, not like a Negro” – the ways of the white man being assumed superior. In modern usage it is often used jocularly and often sarcastically meaning exactly the opposite – that’s really rotten and nasty of you and you’re a no good bum!

Interestingly, in my search, this phrase only showed up in two reliable sources, Partridge and ‘Merriam-Webster Online.’ It did appear on one nondescript site and in the online Urban Dictionary, but since anyone can post anything in the Urban Dictionary, I generally refrain from using it as a source, although it may sometimes give a indication of a meaning. However, M-W Online only gave the positive interpretation under its definition of ‘white’ as follows: “From the former stereotypical association of good character with northern European descent: marked by upright fairness <that's mighty ‘white’ of you>”

“Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang” says that the adjective WHITE has had dual meanings since the late 19th century. On the one hand it meant honest, upright, and fair-dealing, to a white person, but on the other hand in the Black community it meant patronizing, exploitive – but of a black person as well as a white one. Part of what Cassell’s says next I don’t necessarily buy but include the entire quote FYI: “Coined [[the adjective ‘white’]] without any consciously negative overtones and representing a rare (if surprisingly) positive racial stereotype, the term has been used in an increasingly ironic manner, especially since the 1960s” and the noun ‘white’ has been a U.S. Black expression for “anyone irrespective of colour, who is seen as immoral or unethical.” While it is definitely a rare example of a positive stereotype, at least in its original meaning, ‘without any consciously negative overtones’ sounds like a bit of a stretch to me.

In searching the internet, I found “that’s mighty white of you” produced ~3400 hits, so it is not an uncommon expression, but in my travels it somehow must have passed me by. And sifting through a reasonable number of these hits it appeared to me that they were fairly well divided between the complementary meaning and the ironical. Dale, which meaning did you have in mind in your question, although either way there are racial overtones, whether the utterer realizes it or not?

Although, I have clarified the meaning and origin of the phrase, I have not answered your question because I don’t know if there is a special term for it. However, there are many, many euphemisms which are uttered without the user probably having any idea what they are referring to (e.g. ‘cripes’ and ‘jeepers creepers’ for Chirst, . . . ).

Ken – November 21, 2004
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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mighty white of you

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 11, 2004 12:21 am

Ken thank you

Agree about Urban Dictionary but it is valuable sometimes determining when an expression has become common, when you'll get several similar defs eg "smurf" for any verb

I guess in this day and age of political correctness one has to tiptoe on eggshells, to coin a mixed metaphor. I was horrified when a friend once used the expression "mighty white of you" in speaking to a black fellow, who was nonetheless not visibly taken aback

Still does anyone have have a term for it
Reply from dale hileman (Apple Valley, CA - U.S.A.)
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mighty white of you

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 11, 2004 12:34 am

To take your question seriously requires that we have some notion
of how much bigotry can be assigned to a person and how much to
a word or phrase. I would maintain that no word can have or be a form
of bigotry, and that "intent" is all. One man's slur can be another's
compliment. So I see your question as a logical conundrum.

To take your question not so seriously, I think I can koin
" to pull an Archie Bunker " as a candidate.

Reply from Louis Bussey (Boise - U.S.A.)
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mighty white of you

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 11, 2004 1:01 am

My mother uses this phrase, without exception, in a sarcastic manner. When someone who could afford to do or give much more of themselves or their money, or in some way offers a thoroughly inadequate palliative to an earlier gross misdeed or omission, she will say, sneering, "gee, that's awful white of ya...".

I can only imagine, but it seems to me that the inherent sarcasm implies that the original phrase as she used to hear it when she was much younger was used positively -- though I can certainly imagine it being co-opted by Blacks during the Civil Rights era here in the US.

Hope that helps a little.

NdL
Reply from Nathan Lansing (Seattle - U.S.A.)
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