Play the white man

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Play the white man is a term used in parts of Britain meaning to be decent and trustworthy in one's actions.[citation needed] The similar American expression is "that's mighty white of you" with the meaning of "thank you for being fair".[1]

The origin of the phrase is obscure, the colour white has long been associated with purity and virtue in English culture, but the racial sense of the expression may refer more explicitly to the administrators and soldiers of the 18th, 19th and 20th-century British Empire.

In popular culture[edit]



  • In After the Thin Man (1936), William Powell's character uses the phrase to someone who has been generous.
  • In Bringing Up Baby (1938), Cary Grant uses the phrase "that's pretty white of Mr. Peabody." In this sense, it meant as being noble.
  • In the Dirty Harry film The Enforcer, Harry and his female partner enter a black Muslim social club looking for information. An informant agrees to talk to Harry, but only alone, the young black men sneer and say, "Don't worry, pig. We'll see she don't get lonesome." Harry replies, "Well, that's mighty white of you."
  • In the Spike Lee film She's Gotta Have It (1986), Jamie uses the phrase "that's mighty black of you." In this sense, it means courteous. Hence the reverse meaning of play the white man.
  • In the Coen brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), Pete says "that's mighty white of you" to Ulysses Everett McGill as thanks.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smitherman, G (2006). Words and Expressions, Proverbs and Familiar Sayings. Word from the mother (pp. 45). Routledge: New York.
  2. ^ Coronation Street July 12 2013