Posted by Barbara Clayton on August 08, 2001
In Reply to: Mighty white of you posted by Markitos on August 08, 2001
: : : : : : : Does anyone know the origin?
: : : : : : I would guess the Old South. "Mighty white of you" referring to the perceived superiority of the white race over others. Another phrase along that line -- "free, white and 21." Meaning someone with the freedom to do anything he or she wants.
: : : : : Late night TV surfing brought me to an old Western movie a while back and I heard the phrase--"Why that's mighty white of you mister"--. Ouch!
: : : : The phrase has an entry in Eric Partridge's "Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British," which says it's of 20th-century origin (hmm, that seems late to me). "Orig. Southern US, it soon became gen. US, and has been heard in UK since the 1930s, often with an understood implication of its origin. Of the US usage, Prof. John W. Clark, 1977, has noted that it was, at first, used 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'. . . . [British usage:] Sometimes, in the Services, parodying the legendary British Empire builders, 'Sir, you're a white man!'"
: : : It is racist. And I certainly would never use that expression.
: : Well, (some people's) sensibilities have changed since the 1970s. Maybe Prof. Clark would agree with you now.
: Doh! Of course it's racist! It's a slam against white folks! Sure, it's of relatively modern origin, look at the class consciousness implicit in the message--it's damning with faint praise! As I recall, the late night Western this phrase was used so exquisitely in was Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles," where the white sheriff, Jim, the Waco Kid (played by Gene Wilder), was offering the new black mayor, Black Bart (played by Cleavon Little) refuge in the jail house as an alternative to being lynched by his new constituents. Black Bart's response to the Kid's indifference to a lynch mob: "Well, that's mighty white of you."
Thank you all, for the help. I heard it described (by no scholar) as originating as a white on white compliment . I would have guessed it started amongst black people as an apt insult. It's a great expression. Racist or not, I am going to keep it in my arsenal. Since I am white and, therefore, the butt of the joke then I guess I should be able to use it. When people say it wryly, I think it's funny.