Well-meaning whites (c. 1787- ) are those who mean well when it comes to people of colour but might still be unknowingly racist in some way. Most whites in America seem to present themselves this way – and they mostly seem to believe it too. It is a phenomenon that goes back at least to the late 1700s and extends to Europe too.
Some well-meaning whites truly are well-meaning. Like John Brown, William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln and those who were abolitionists and Freedom Riders.
Lincoln is a good example. He was straight-up racist, we know that from things he said in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, yet in the end he did free the slaves. That was not the easy or safe thing to do – it led to all-out war – but still he did it. And many whites from the North willingly gave their very lives for that cause.
But most whites who seem well-meaning are not, not deep down. It is an act to maintain their self-image as being Basically Good.
How I know: I used to think most whites were well-meaning but were racist because they just did not know any better – that if you pointed out their mistake the scales would fall from their eyes and they would say, “Wow, you are so right!” But instead you get anger, hatred, scripted denials, blame-shifting, Repeatedly Missing the Point, Changing the Subject and that strange deer-in-the-headlights look on their face.
Not the behaviour of a clueless innocent. Deep down they know just what the deal is and what their dirty, ugly part in it is. And at bottom they just do not care. Thus their “well-meaning”.
The well-meaning act is just that – an act. For most of them. They even talk like they are reading from a script and not speaking from their heart – like they are speaking lines they learned somewhere.
Their racism is not some accident, not something left over from slave days that never got properly examined and thrown out. No, racism is the very thing that allows them to benefit from an unjust society while still thinking of themselves as – well-meaning. And the well-meaning act allows them to think of themselves as – not truly racist.
Being well-meaning and being racist often go hand in hand.
That is why they like those White Saviour films where a white person helps Helpless Darkies: “The Help”, “The Blind Side”, “Mississippi Burning”, “Lincoln”, etc.
That is what the white man’s burden is about: white people are not the biggest robbers and killers the world has ever seen. No, they are helping to uplift mankind!
That is why some white allies are paternalistic and controlling: their well-meaningness is driven by racism: They want to think of themselves as anti-racist, so they do anti-racist things, yet their racism makes them think white people know better and should help the less fortunate.
All this stuff is a lie to hide their true natures from themselves.