The word whitey (1960s- ) had two main meanings:
- A racist term for whites, at least when used by blacks, but way weaker than the n-word.
- Whites as a whole, especially when exercising power in society in racist ways: institutional racism.
It was current among Black Americans mainly in the 1960s and 1970s. People like Richard Pryor, Gil Scott-Heron and LeRoi Jones used it – but James Baldwin, Angela Davis and Stokely Carmichael rarely if ever did in unquoted use. Malcolm X used it on occasion.
Gil Scott-Heron in 1970:
I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
It spread to White American English. By 1966 this story appeared on the cover of Life magazine (pictured):
PLOT TO GET ‘WHITEY’
Red-hot young Negroes plan a ghetto war
As with blacks, the word fell out of use among whites in the 1970s.
But then it made a comeback among whites in the 1990s, apparently through the “blame whitey” trope of right-wing blacks (a phrase that did not appear in Ebony magazine till 1988).
Now in the 2010s it is mainly used by whites and Rented Negroes. You see it in The Economist, Mother Jones and Time, though rarely if ever in unquoted use in the New Yorker, The Nation and the New York Times. The biggest user on my Kindle is John McWhorter. The biggest users on this blog are white racists.
Current main uses:
1. To make blacks sound racist.
Sometimes with a helping of Mock Ebonics:
Abagond, you are a racist who often spews hatred like ”Whiteyz da debill”.
When they did it to Michelle Obama in 2008 she said:
I mean, “whitey”? That’s something that George Jefferson would say.
Meaning it sounds like something from the 1970s. It is whites who so love to use racist slurs, not blacks.
2. To belittle institutional racism.
Going by comments on this blog:
- Whitey saved blacks from Africa.
- Whitey gives good things to black people, like television and clean water.
- Blacks hate Whitey.
- Blacks want to beat up, even kill Whitey.
- Blacks expect handouts from Whitey.
- Blacks would be nothing without Whitey.
- Blacks are not thankful for Whitey and have the nerve to complain!
- Blacks imagine Whitey has an evil plot to get them.
- Blacks imagine Whitey is holding them back.
- Blacks imagine Whitey is evil and racist.
but most of all:
- Blacks blame Whitey for all their own failings instead of facing up to the Root Causes.
Racism cannot be a root cause because that would mean “blaming whitey”!
Feel the paternalism: Whitey is just overflowing with goodness and kindness and gumdrops while blacks are like children:
- They depend on others (for television, clean water, handouts);
- They are ruled by their feelings (hate! kill!);
- They imagine frightening things that are not there (Evil Whitey!).
As one commenter put it:
wonder if abagond checks under his bed at night for whitey.
This is the very same racist paternalism that underlies Mighty Whitey or White Saviour films.
Note: “Whitey” is a moderated word on this blog, but for the next seven days it will not be.