Whitey and honky – really?

From time to time, the terms Whitey and Honky are referred to in writings about African-Americans. The most infamous example, to my mind, is when Michelle Obama was accused of writing a college paper in which she referred to “Whitey”. The implication of the article was that she is hostile to White people.
This matter of linguistic usage strikes me as worthy of attention, at least on my part due to my obsession with language, but more broadly as emblematic of the ancient fear of Black people passed on among Whites in this country since the first White slave holder noticed there were more slaves than White people and it gave them pause. The linguistic question for me is not whether these terms connote hostility but whether they are even part of Black language usage.
In over 55 years of constant association with Blacks, I cannot recall a single instance of anyone using either of these terms in a natural way. As with anything linguistic or scientific, we have to define our terms. By “natural” I mean not in a scripted television performance, a performance written and directed by White people. A spin-off of that would be Black people imitating, as in retelling lines from such a TV program, such speech. I would also include the possibility that Black college students in a bull session or in a staged attempt to “out radical” his fellow students might use such a term, much as the term “Chicano” was used by Hispanic college students back in the 70s (I seldom hear it now and it’s usually among elderly former college students).
So in natural Black speech, among Black people of every rank from poor, uneducated, Southern born elderly to hip young college kid from middle class families, I just do not hear Whitey or Honky. The obvious objection is that they would not use the term around me. Over many years I have been in discussions where Blacks are talking among themselves in hostile tones about White people when someone will nudge another and nod at me, as if to say, “Cool it, one of them is here.” The reply is to look over at me and say, “Oh, that’s just Pat, he knows how we feel.” In addition, hostile terms are used, the most common one I hear being peckerwood. I’ll bet my bottom dollar a lot of educated, middle class Whites never heard that word, but that is the common term. An old one I would not discount even though I seldom hear it is ofay.
The other objection that might be raised is that I don’t get around much so perhaps Blacks in Phoenix don’t use those terms and they are common in big cities back East or in the South. I can only say that lots of Black people I’m around have migrated out here like everyone else, looking for, as in the title of Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns.
This then raises a another question: if these words are not current in Black speech, why do so many Whites believe they are? Obviously, they hear them on TV and read them in newspaper columns, but why does this linguistic distortion persist? The answer, assuming my perceptions are correct and these words are not current, lies in their perceived hostility toward Whites, i.e. they are not neutral terms like “White guy” or even socially differentiating terms like The Man, but hostile in tone. One interpretation might be that someone is benefitting from casting Blacks as hostile to Whites, but I believe one accurate interpretation is psychological: it is projection. Ever since that slave holder realized just how many slaves surrounded him and he got nervous, he began thinking of all the things he had done to those people and thought, “Maybe they’re pissed at me.”

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