Word Worth®
                      World Magazine of Ideas and the Arts™ — ©Spring 2018 Volume XVIII,  Issue 2

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How White of You

Popular expressions come and go and some that were widely used in one decade totally disappear or date the person who allows them to slip past their lip. Saying something is the cat’s pajamas has rarely happened in the last hundred years.

There is one expression, however, that I heard a very long time ago that is so precise that it should never disappear. That’s the expression, How White of You.

It was used at a Girl Scout camp in Virginia that I attended as a teenager.

I grew up in a town below the Mason-Dixon Line. Maryland had not been part of the Confederacy, but only because it surrounded Washington, the capital of the union and could not be allowed to secede. Slavery had been legal, and there were those who owned slaves. There were also those who were sympathetic to the anti-slavery forces as well as those violently opposed to slavery.

Eighty-five years after the Civil War, we saw very few African Americans in our town. Strange though it seems now, our schools were not integrated until I was in ninth or tenth grade.

At the time, I was a teenaged assistant scout leader for a Brownies troop of girls aged seven and eight. When the subject of the imminent integration arose, one of the girls said that when the schools were joined, the previously black school was going to be all cleaned up before the integration.  I realized that was the antidote for the My-kids-will-not-be-going-to-black-schools people, but Mrs. Gloyd, the very wise troop Leader, looked at the girls and  kindly but sternly said, “I’m sure that the white schools need a lot of cleaning up too.”

Thus, I’d had no exposure to black kids nor black culture until I got to Camp May Flather which drew mostly from the Washington DC area and the campers then were about half black and half white. The city girls, whether black or white, used the expression, How White of You.

It’s an expression without equal and should never fall out of usage. While it means something like How Big of You, it carries so much more sub-surface and usually isn’t uttered with that level of sarcasm. It can be stated matter-of-factly or as though it’s a compliment, or as one would say, We have dinner at six o’clock, and it means everything including: That’s smug of you or Don’t you think you’re superior or You really just screwed up or You’re a conceited fool or You can’t really believe that you have perfect manners considering the way you act or Think before you speak or I bet you’re going to want to unsay that

Although no race or group should be put down irrespective of its order in the dominance hierarchy, this expression transcends bias. It can be taken to mean, How white glove of you.

How White of You is an expression that is appropriate on infinite occasions. It’s irreplaceable.

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