It's hard to come up with an ethnic slur that has less of a sting than "whitey."
A prevalent yet unsubstantiated Internet rumor passed along by Rush Limbaugh and others has it that Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, used this term at some point in a speech, and the Obama campaign is concerned enough to have posted an online rebuttal.
I've got to ask, though. Are there really white people out there so ignorant of history, so unaware of the nuances of language and so threatened by minority grievances that they take genuine umbrage at the term, "whitey"?
It has no ugly history and hints at no particular stereotypes. Like the term "honky," of which it is an even milder cousin, "whitey" resonates with frustration, not oppression -- a taunt, perhaps, but not a threat.
The only way white people can work up a snit over "whitey" is if they fail to see that context is everything in measuring the wallop of informal ethnic terms. This requires them to set up a false equivalence between prejudice -- making negative assumptions about people based solely on external characteristics, which all races and ethnicities are guilty of -- and racism -- prejudice in action.
It requires them to imagine that "whitey" marginalizes, diminishes and therefore harms them.
And if they're really that dumb, then I guess they deserve to be insulted.