White nigger

White nigger is a slur, with somewhat different meanings in different parts of the English-speaking world.


Certain white AmericansEdit

White nigger was a derogatory and offensive term, dating from the nineteenth century, for a black person who deferred to white people or a white person who did menial work.[1] It was later used as a slur against white activists involved in the civil rights movement such as James Groppi of Milwaukee.[2]

The term "white niggers" was uttered twice by Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia in an interview on national television in 2001.[3]

Italian AmericansEdit

During all the 19th century until the early part of the 20th, Italian immigrants in the United States were often referred to as "white niggers".[4]

French CanadiansEdit

In another use of the term, Pierre Vallières's work White Niggers of America refers to French Canadians.[5]

Richard BurtonEdit

The White Nigger was a nickname given to the nineteenth-century English explorer Richard Burton by colleagues in the East India Company Army.[6]

Irish peopleEdit

Northern IrelandEdit

"White nigger" was never widely used to refer to Irish Catholics, in the context of The Troubles in Northern Ireland,[7] despite an example of this being found in the Elvis Costello song "Oliver's Army", which contains the lyric: "Only takes one itchy trigger. One more widow, one less white nigger."[8]

In May 2016, Gerry Adams, the Leader of Sinn Féin, was criticised after writing on his Twitter account "Watching Django Unchained - A Ballymurphy Nigger!" Ballymurphy is an area of Belfast best known for an eponymous massacre. Adams deleted the comment, and subsequently wrote "[Anyone] who saw Django would know my tweets & N-word were ironic. Nationalists in [the North] were treated like African Americans."[9]

United StatesEdit

The term was applied to Irish immigrants to the United States and their descendants. The Irish were also nicknamed "Negroes turned inside-out", while African Americans would be described as "smoked Irish".[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang, 2nd edn, ed. John Ayto and John Simpson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
  2. ^ Frank A. Aukofer, City with a Chance: A Case History of Civil Rights Revolution, 2nd edn (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2007), 114.
  3. ^ Andrew D. Todd, What Is a "White Nigger" Anyway?, History News Network (March 20, 2001).
  4. ^ How Italians Became ‘White’, New York Times
  5. ^ DePalma, Anthony (26 December 1998). "Pierre Vallieres, 60, Angry Voice of Quebec Separatism, Dies". New York Times. New York. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  6. ^ David Shribman, "'That Devil Burton,' the Great Adventurer", The Wall Street Journal (6 June 1990), A14.
  7. ^ The IRA 12th impression, Tim Pat Coogan, page 448, William Collins, Sons & Co., Glasgow, 1987
  8. ^ "The Elvis Costello Home Page". Elviscostello.info. Retrieved 2015-06-18.
  9. ^ McDonald, Henry (2 May 2016). "Gerry Adams defends N-word tweet". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  10. ^ McKenna, Patrick (12 February 2013). "When the Irish became white: immigrants in mid-19th century US". Generation Emigration. The Irish Times. Retrieved 16 December 2016.