Mister Charlie

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Mister Charlie is a pejorative expression used within the African-American community to refer to an imperious white man. The expression suggests that whites are generic or interchangeable.[1] Occasionally, it refers to a black man who is arrogant and perceived as "acting white".

The expression is sometimes written as "Mr. Charlie," "Mister Charley," or other variations.[2]

The expression was in use during the 19th century, much like the female equivalent, Miss Ann. Miss Ann was an expression used among slaves to refer to the woman of the house, usually the wife of the slave owner, and any other white woman that the slaves had to serve. Mister Charlie was the slave owner, or any other white man exploiting, or being condescending towards, slaves.[3]

Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (2005) argues that in the 1920s, "Mister Charlie" meant "any white man," but in the 1970s evolved to mean "the man in power."[4]

In the 1960s the phrase was associated with the Civil Rights movement in the United States and became "nationally familiar."[5] It appeared in the title of James Baldwin's play Blues for Mister Charlie (1964) and in the third verse of Malvina Reynolds's protest song "It Isn't Nice" (1967):

We have tried negotiations / And the three-man picket line, / Mr. Charlie didn't see us / And he might as well be blind. / Now our new ways aren't nice / When we deal with men of ice, / But if that is Freedom's price, / We don't mind.[6]

The expression has fallen out of use by young African-Americans today.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Calt, Stephen (2009). Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. pp. 160–161. ISBN 9780252033476. 
  2. ^ Green, Jonathon (2005). Cassell's Dictionary of Slang. New York, NY: Sterling. p. 948. ISBN 0304366366. 
  3. ^ Jaynes, Gerald David (2005). Encyclopedia of African American society, Volume 2. Sage Publications. p. 551. ISBN 9780761927648. 
  4. ^ Green, Jonathon (2005). Cassell's Dictionary of Slang. New York, NY: Sterling. p. 948. ISBN 0304366366. 
  5. ^ Calt, Stephen (2009). Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. pp. 160–161. ISBN 9780252033476. 
  6. ^ Reynolds, Malvina (1967). The Muse of Parker Street. New York, NY: Oak Publications. pp. 42–43. 
  7. ^ Jaynes, Gerald David (2005). Encyclopedia of African American society, Volume 2. Sage Publications. p. 551. ISBN 9780761927648.