Where did "That's Mighty White of You" come from, and what does it mean?

Hi all,

My wife and I have been using this phrase between ourselves for some time, just because it sounds so awful. But, does it really refer to race? I don’t think so, but can’t think of an alternative. Does anyone have the straight dope on where this phrase came from and what it means?


Some information on this from this cached Google page, from The Phrase Finder site :

In my experience, it has always been sarcastic. As Partridge notes, it means that one has all the “good” qualities of a white person. (Much as Huck Finn described Jim as “white inside.”) However, the whole notion that white people have inherent qualities or virtues superior to blacks (or other non-whites) is so silly that it is generally used as a parody of some stereotypical racist who would think that it actually was a compliment.

YMMV, I suppose.

Yes, it is used derisively, although based on racism.

See also: “Free, white, and 21”

I’ve found this link which seems to indicate that the phrase was used by a duo on WGBH by the names of Paul Noble and Stew White.

However, it doesn’t specify whether they’re the originators of that phrase (I doubt it) - and I’m not sure they’d want to claim responsibility anyway.

IIRC, the phrase was skewered in Blazing Saddles (gotta love Mel Brooks). I think it was also used in The Enforcer.

I also seem to recall there was a bit about it in a Spike Lee movie, but can’t recall which one ATM.


I’ve always heard it used to sarcastically thank someone who should have done an act in the first place. “White” is actually used in a derrogatory sense, in that this phrase stereotypes whites as those who want praise for doing what was decent in the first place.

There is an English (ie British) equivelent in the phrase “play the white man” when encouraging someone to do something good.

It is racist in origin too.

I read somewhere it was shouted at Abe Lincoln during one of his speeches, but that might have been a joke by the author of whatever I was reading.

Det. Harry Callahan in The Enforcer.

This phrase is considered horribly racist by everyone I know. (And I know a lot of black Americans.) It is on the same level as the n-word.

Carrol O’Connor’s character, Archie Bunker used to say it all the time to Sherman Helmsley’s character, George Jefferson in the sitcom All in the Family.

I have to disagree with the first part, but kind of agree with the second.

This phrase is so obviously based on outdated, racist principles that like everyone said, today its always meant sarcastically. Kind of like using the word ‘negro’ today. Its so ridiculously old-fashioned and quaint that its not racist, its a joke.

And I know that this will give very politically correct people a stroke, but that phrase is kind of on a par with ‘the n word’ in that it gets used in the same non-agressive, familial way between white people that ‘nigger’ gets used between blacks. And for the most part, just as harmlessly.

I have friends that do this, they do it as a joke, and it is terribly racist, they think it is funny.

I’d say that it’s definately got racialist or prejudical implications, especially the way it’s used nowadays. I hear these variations on the phrase very often:

*Spoken like a white man: * when someone says something even mildly intelligent.

*I thought you were white: * jokingly said in disapproval of someone’s actions. For instance, I was unemployed for awhile last year and accepted unemployment checks, and when a friend of mine saw one, he said, “I thought you were white”.

I don’t think people actually intend to make a racist comment, it’s just something they heard and picked up. But then again, I know quite a few whites who use the word “nigger” constantly and don’t consider themselves racist, so who knows.

A few years back I asked the same question. Here is the post


Thanks very much for clearing that up, folks!

Mighty white of you.

  • Colin, OP

Hey, with all these burdens we white folk take on, gotta say something, no?

I remember kids sayint that when I was growing up (1970s) in MA.

>>Carrol O’Connor’s character, Archie Bunker used to say it all the time to Sherman Helmsley’s character, George Jefferson in the sitcom All in the Family.<<

I don’t remember that unless it was later in the series.

I remember the phrase from an old movie with Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster. Lancaster gets the drop on Cooper while in the middle of nowhere, strands him without a horse but tells him he can keep the now useless saddle - to which Cooper replies “That’s mighty white of you.” Probably more people saw and remember that exchange than remember it from Mark Twain.

Actually, I’m a little surprised to learn that it’s racist. I’ve only ever run into it in books, and actually I figured it was going to the idea of it meant you were doing a good thing. You know, white=good, black=evil, light=good, dark=evil, and so on. Obviously, I was wrong.