The Difference Between ‘white people’ and ‘White People’

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Last week I read a piece you wrote called “The Friendly, Caring, and Kind Crossing Guard on My Block Hates Muslims.” It talked about your reaction to this usually nice, white-lady crossing guard making an offhandedly bigoted remark about Muslims to you. Anyway, I’m bringing it up because of something you said in it: “Sometimes you just want to deal with a white person instead of dealing with White People.”


What exactly does this mean? There’s a difference between “white people” and “White People”? Are they not the same thing?

Oh, definitely. There’s a huge difference. It’s like the difference between Christmas, the annual Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and Christmas™, the annual American celebration of gluttony and unfettered consumerism that begins with midnight brawls on Black Friday and ends with you, facedown in a plate of feta cheese and Ritz crackers at 3 a.m. on New Year’s Day, after blacking out from too much champagne, Honey Jack and regret.

I see. So, what exactly is the difference between them? What differentiates white people from White People?

Well, like the crossing guard I wrote about, white people on a one-on-one level can be nice. And kind. And considerate. And compassionate. And empathetic. And even just. Basically, they’re human with human qualities. So dealing with white people (lowercase) can often be—and usually is—a very pleasant experience. Because, again, white people (lowercase) are just people.

With White People (uppercase), however, their whiteness becomes their most prominent quality. And not necessarily the color of their skin, but what the color of their skin means here in America. Basically, White People without historical, cultural and racial context are just white people. But it’s nearly impossible to remove that context, so when you’re dealing with a white person, there’s always the chance that those pesky White People might decide to appear, too.

It’s like what happens when you look in the mirror and say “Candyman” five times. You know he’s there and you know he’s going to show up and stab you in the spleen, but you still kinda, sorta hope he doesn’t. But then you say it, and he does show up, and now you’re spleen-stabbed. Basically, White People are Candyman.  


That didn’t make any sense.

I know. Need better examples?


OK. Let’s say you live in Brooklyn, N.Y., or in certain parts of Washington, D.C., or even in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh. Let’s also say that there’s this new and hip doughnut-and-coffee spot on your block that you frequent because you love doughnuts—who doesn’t?—and because the (white) owners and the (mostly white) cashiers and baristas are cool and funny. You go to the store so frequently that you’ve even developed a rapport with them. They ask you about your family and work, you joke together about the news or the neighborhood or the Knicks, and they even let you sample some of their new flavors. These are cool white people.


But you’re also aware that this nice and new and hip doughnut space exists where your favorite Jamaican takeout spot used to be. Four years ago, when more nice and cool and hip white people took an interest in the neighborhood, everything got more expensive. And certain businesses were priced out because they could no longer afford to stay. And then nice and new and hip (and white) businesses like the doughnut shop moved in. So even while you’re dealing with these nice white people on a microlevel, your interaction doesn’t exist in a vacuum. These white people are there because of White People.

And no single person better personifies the white person/White People dichotomy right now than the General Tso’s chicken-tinted monkey squirrel who used to host The Celebrity Apprentice.


You mean Donald Trump?

Yes, I mean Donald Trump.

How so?

People who’ve interacted with Trump on a personal, one-on-one basis have often said that he’s charming, kind, accommodating, gracious and even self-deprecating. Basically, he’s a normal human being, not a General Tso’s chicken-tinted monkey squirrel. He sounds like a nice white person. Perhaps this is the side of Trump that the black pastors who decided to meet with and endorse him saw. (Either that or he promised to buy each a new Cadillac and a beautiful, mute new wife from a war-ravaged country. One or the other.)


But Trump’s candidacy and current relevancy is tied to him being one of the worst types of White People possible—one who channels the collective id of White People in America to position himself as a White Person savior and restorer. One who probably has great relationships with Mexicans and black people as a white person, but who consistently says (and does) unambiguously racist things as a White Person. One who regularly and obnoxiously touts himself as a self-made billionaire but who began young adulthood with a multimillion-dollar boost from his dad. Which is quintessential White People.

OK. I get it. I understand. And the Candyman reference even makes more sense now.


It does?

No, it doesn’t. Just said that so you wouldn’t feel bad about it.


Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of He is also a contributing editor at He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at