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