Posted by R. Berg on July 11, 2006
In Reply to: "Mighty White of You" posted by Word Camel on July 11, 2006
: : "Mighty White of You": It is an insult that means that you are both clueless and arrogant. It is said in a situation where someone has said or done something as a gift or a favor for which they believe they should earn thanks, but is so ineffective or was delivered in such a condescending manner, that they have insulted the person they are pretending to help. For example: "This dress is out of style and I would never wear something made of such cheap fabric, but I thought maybe you could use it" Response "That's Mighty White of You" It implies that some white people may be, ahem, clueless and arrogant about the challenges other people face. I am white. I have met many Mighty White People. I was glad I finally found a phrase that describes it. It is similar to, but not quite like "Born on Third Base and Thought He Hit a Triple"
: This is an interesting example of a phrase that has fallen out of favour and now (apparently - I can't say I've seen it used at all recently, or as Cynthia has used it).
: I looked it up in Eric Partridge's dictionary of phrases. It says:
: "mighty white of you! - It's or that's. That's very decent of you or forgiving or generous of you C20. Orig. Southern US, it soon became gen. US, and has been heard in the UK since the 1930's, often with an understood implication of its origin. Of the US usage, JWC, 1977 has noted that it was at first used very seriously - " like a white man, not like a Negro", Now used everywhere, by everyone to anyone but always jestingly (and sometimes sarcastically), and with full consciousness that it is a provincial expression - and not racist."
: It goes on but that's the gist of it. It's hard to imagine that it couldn't have been construed as racist but Partridge is quite good on these things so it probably is the case that that's how it was used, at least prior to 1977. I can well see how its connotation could have changed.
: Anyway, a very interesting observation.
I believe the phrase is used in a broader range of situations than the one Cynthia described, in which a clueless, arrogant person insults someone he or she is trying to help. It can also be used when someone does too little in making amends, for instance, such as offering a hasty, minimal apology for a misdeed that requires serious guilt and abject groveling. Then an observer might say "That's real white of him, isn't it?"
The historical change is that the expression, once uttered seriously, is now spoken sarcastically. ~rb