Play the white man
Play the white man is a term used in parts of Britain meaning to be decent and trustworthy in one's actions. The similar American expression is "that's mighty white of you" with the meaning of "thank you for being fair".
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
In the movie Bringing Up Baby (1938), Cary Grant uses the phrase "that's pretty white of Mr. Peabody." In this sense it meant as being noble.
- An episode of Coronation Street in July 2013 featured the expression as a plot point. Paul Kershaw (Tony Hirst) uses the phrase during a game of darts at the local pub as is promptly accused of racism by Lloyd Mullaney (Craig Charles). Lloyd is joined by his friends but both men refuse to back down, due to differing thoughts of the phrase's connotations.
- In the Showtime original series Californication, the character Hank Moody (David Duchovny) uses the phrase regularly.
- In "The Way Through the Woods," an episode of Inspector Morse, DCI Martin Johnson (played by Malcolm Storry) tells Inspector Morse not to "play the white man."
- 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.
- Smitherman, G (2006). Words and Expressions, Proverbs and Familiar Sayings. Word from the mother (pp. 45). Routledge: New York.
- Coronation Street July 12 2013
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