"When they put together this costume I said. 'Imagine an African, white Christ from space.' And this is what they came back with: An African white space Christ. Well, that's just the concept, you know, obviously and I'm not saying I'm African white space Christ, that's not for me to say. That's for other people to say. It's for other people to say if they think I'm like Jesus." — Aldous Snow, Get Him to the Greek
A common trope in 18th and 19th century adventure fiction, when vast swathes of the world were being explored and properly documented by Europeans for the first time, Mighty Whitey is usually a displaced white European, of noble descent, who ends up living with native tribespeople and not only learns their ways but also becomes their greatest warrior/leader/representative. Extra points if he woos The Chief's Daughter along the way; an unfortunately common variation that perpetuates into present-day media is that she will continue to love our hero even if he is directly responsible for the death of her husband, brother or even father.
Sometimes the foreign societies are shown to be realistic, three-dimensional and actually rather pleasant places to live. Indeed, sometimes the native peoples are shown to be betterin some way than European society and the white man begins to despise his old home. All this is a setup for the white man to adapt to the Native's ways, thereby making him superior both to the natives and the Europeans back home. In modern-day fiction, sometimes the Mighty Whitey is there to lead or inspire the Hollywood Natives or bring some aspect of modern technology or knowledge to their aid, something they presumably could not do before he showed up. One particular version has it so that the sympathetic Author Avatar whitey is not only now the Great White Hope for the non-white Noble Savages, but is very often defending them from other evil whites.
In modern-day fiction — particularly in Hollywood movies — Mighty Whitey pops up as the result of creative types trying to appeal to as broad a cross-section of society as possible to get their cash back. And since the majority of major Hollywood stars are white Americans (despite the fact that only a small minority of their audiences are Americans at all, let alone white Americans), it's almost inevitable that the all-singing, all-dancing hero is also going to be registering low on the melanin count... which can become a self-perpetuating mess.
Of course, these writers might also just be doing the respectable thing, and be writing what they know. Perhaps not in the 'I'm a badass Adventurer Archaeologist' sense, but in the 'I'm used to the cultural norms of my race/gender, and would be terrified of offending people with incorrect cultures cues' sense. Or in the 'What I know has been mostly informed by what has already been established in fictional story-telling and I'm subconsciously perpetuating those same ideas' sense. Or it might be a combination of their or the audience's preference for a protagonist that looks like themselves combined with the natural desire to see the protagonist become the Chosen One. See Jive Turkey as well.
Remakes of shows/movies with the original trope often subvert this; for instance, making the Mighty Whitey into a dunce, and their Ethnic Scrappy sidekick into a smart, street-savvy Bad Ass. Sometimes this goes a little too far. This trope can also occur as an unintended side effect of writers trying to show the equality of all races and cultures — in a tone-deaf and more than potentially offensive kind of way.
Non-American media can exhibit versions of this trope tailored to their home audiences (i.e. the awesome guy in an Anime/Manga series being Japanese). But Not Too Foreign is often used as a way to set up this version of Mighty Whitey.
Can be a Justified Trope as it did happen in real life. Explorers from a more advanced civilization had access to education, technology and general skills and experience that a native who never traveled further than the neighboring village didn't. Especially as only those who were already among the strongest and bravest in their home countries did have the courage and motivation to become explorers in those dangerous times. The Unfortunate Implications came in when people began to assume that they were better because of their culture, beliefs, or genetic stock, rather than access to tools and benefits derived from hundreds of years of accumulated advantages.
See also White Male Lead and (especially) Going Native. Compare The Man Is Sticking It to the Man (basically the same trope but removed from race), Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow and Instant Expert. Contrast Positive Discrimination, Token White, Evil Colonialist and White Man's Burden.
And of course not to be confused with Tighty Whitey.
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Played straight in Sword of the Stranger. The strongest of the Chinese warriors is Luo Long, who is a six foot tall blonde-haired blue-eyed man. Possibly the main character, Nanashi/Nameless as well. He has red hair, but is otherwise indistinguishable from a normal Japanese person. It's theorized that he is of mixed race.
Code Geass plays it straight with Lelouch vi Britania, a white man leading a war to drive out evil white men from Japan, but also inverts it with Suzaku Kururugi, a Japanese man who is the best Knightmare Frame pilot in the white man's army. Both examples are somewhat justified, however, since it's implied that Lelouch had been scheming to take down the Empire since his mother was killed and Suzaku's physical skills effectively a Charles Atlas Superpower.
Fatal Fury, especially the anime, is founded on blonde-haired white guys mastering eastern martial arts teachings beyond everyone else. The two Japanese members of the main cast are respectively The Chick and the goofball.
Played with in Freezing. All the top Pandoras in the world seem to be of Caucasian descent, even the ones situated in Asian countries. However, the one Pandora touted as the most powerful Pandora ever who lived ( Kazuya's sister Kazuha) was Japanese, while the currently-living most powerful Pandora is Korean.
In Ouke no Monshou, the girl who carries on the story of Ancient Egypt and changes it for the better is — a blue-eyed blonde lass, Carol Reed, mistaken as a goddess or goddess avatar due to her hair and eyes.
Inverted in Monster, in which the brilliant, long-suffering, morallyinfallible main character is a lone Japanese man among Europeans.
Likewise inverted in Attack on Titan, in which Action Girl, 3D combat prodigy, and all-around Badass Mikasa also just so happens to be the only surviving person of Asian descent on Earth (the other survivors being apparently European).
Immortal Iron Fist, on the other hand, reveals that Iron Fist is just one of several Immortal Weapons. Most of the others are Asian, and most of them are better than Iron Fist.
The Phantom, a generational line of more than twenty white males who protect the African jungle, including tribes of native Africans.
Legion of Super-Heroes, set in 30th Century earth, for decades managed to have blue-skinned members, orange-skinned members, and green-skinned members, but no blacks or Asians. They were still almost entirely Northern European body-types right into the 1980s. When they decided to have a martial arts expert join the Legion—in 1966, before it was fashionable—they got Val Armorr, Karate Kid raised on an earth colony, allegedly of mixed human genetics, but with features and curly red-brown hair that suggested Irish ancestry, if anything.
There was a (probably unintentionally) funny bit in the issue which examined Val's origin, where he's absolutely SHOCKED to discover that he's not actually entirely Japanese. Despite his appearance being as white as possible without making him blond, and his name being decidedly non-Japanese.
Jim Shooter originally wanted Ferro Lad— who joined the Legion at the same time as Karate Kid to be of African descent but got vetoed by Mort Weisinger (likely out of fear of offending readers in the South.) So Shooter had him make a Heroic Sacrifice seven issues after his introduction. Later iterations of the character would be white.
Inverted in the early-'80s comic Arak: Son of Thunder, in which a Native American crosses the Atlantic to become the greatest swordsman in Scandinavia.
Recycled INSPACE in the Adam Strange comics, which used a concept nearly identical to the John Carter Of Mars books. On Earth, Adam is just an archaeologist, but he uses his jetpack to make himself the hero of the space planet Rann. Popular comic author Alan Moore later subverted this by having the Rannians still treat Adam with contempt because they have superior intellects.
Note that Moore's interpretation was a Retcon, and has been ignored since.
B'wana Beast, originally appearing in the DCU's Showcase #66 (1967), is called "the White God of Kilimanjaro". During Grant Morrison's run on Animal Man (1989), he passes the title to a (black) successor, who rechristens the character "Freedom Beast".
Snake Eyes, in the Marvel comics G.I. Joe series is an interesting example, as he was essentially invited to adopt another culture by Tommy Arashikage AKA Storm Shadow, a friend who was doing much the same thing himself at the time (being a traditionally-trained ninja then serving in the US Army), nor did he excel his friend in skill and ability, but rather became his equal (though the one is said to be slightly better with a blade, the other with a bow).
It should be noted that Larry Hama, the writer of the comics, is Japanese-American.
Doctor Strange. A wealthy, spoiled, arrogant Dr. Jerk travels from Manhattan to the Far East seeking a cure for his injured hands, meets The Ancient One, and within a matter of years he has surpassed all other students in The Ancient One's temple to become the next Sorcerer Supreme. In both the comic and animated adaptation, the second-best student is consumed with jealousy and becomes Baron Mordo. In later years, the mighty whitey implications have been softened. His replacement as Sorcerer Supreme was Doctor Voodoo, a Haitian psychologist.
Both parodied and played straight in the comic book Charisma Man, produced for English-speaking expatriates in Japan. The title character was a dorky Canadian unsuccessful with women in his own country - until he arrives in Japan where he instantly becomes suave and supercool, admired by all the locals and able to pick up any girl he wants. His mortal enemy is "Western Woman", the only one aware of what a loser he really is.
In the Marvel Universe, Daniel Lyons was chosen by a "Black Feet" (sic) Indian chief (not specifically tied to the real-life Blackfoot tribe) to be a champion of justice, after besting 100 challengers by outrunning a deer, outswimming a salmon upstream, hitting the bullseye while blindfolded and then catching arrows that were fired at him, and then wrestling a bear, finally winning by breaking its neck with his bare hands. He was given a long bow into which he carved a notch whenever he performed a good deed. When he had attained 100 notches, would be judged worthy of having taken the mantle of the Black Marvel.
There is actually a Blackfeet tribe, separate from Blackfoot tribal bands. 
Dr. Doom is one of the villain examples. Stumbling upon yet another clan of monks in Tibet, he quickly surpasses them at their disciplines to become their new master. They loyally forged his mask and armor.
This is debateable due to the fact Doom was already a very experienced and extremely talented occultist before heading to Tibet. It wasn't a discipline he just picked up and suddenly became good at, but a continuation of his training since childhood.
Tarzan is parodied in Youngblood: Judgment Day with Zantar, the White God of the Congo. The narration in his story is casually racist towards the natives, but heaps accolades upon Zantar. A descendant of his remarks upon discussing Zantar's adventures that it's all pretty offensive.
Subverted in ElfQuest. Although Leetah is definitely The Chief's Daughter, Cutter and the Wolfriders mix pretty thoroughly with the Sun Folk and their cultures support each other relatively equally (and the white Wolfriders are considered the Noble Savage types). It's further subverted with Dart, who teaches the Sun Folk warfare as a child, but it's because he's lived in the village all his life; he stays living there for most of the rest of the series.
DC Comics Western hero Firehair subverts the mold — he's a white man raised by Native Americans, taught to be a great hunter, fighter, tracker, and survivalist like all the other men in the tribe, but neither the whites nor the natives ever truly accepted him as one of theirs. This caused him to start Walking the Earth in search of a place to call lhome.
Tintin had a notorious example in the album Tintin in the Congo, in which the boy reporter goes to the Belgian Congo, bests the childlike natives in both physical and mental prowess and explains to them about their homeland, which is here identified as Belgium. Later versions of the album would remove some of the more extreme stuff. Current English editions feature a prominent disclaimer, having spent many years out of print. In fairness to Hergé, he acknowledged this as Old Shame, and the trope is (mostly) absent from later albums.
Deconstructed with White Wolf, archenemy and adopted brother of Black Panther. He was raised by T'Chaka the former king of Wakanda and has always loved the country. However Wakanda is a fairly xenophobic country, so he was never accepted or treated with respect by people outside his family due to being white. Add T'Challa generally being treated far better than him by both their father and the people of Wakanda, and the result is a deep resentment of his brother combined with a desperate desire to be loved by others. All he wants is to help Wakanda and gain the acceptance of his adoptive culture, but his desperation to do so and the natives' constant refusal of his help drove him into supervillainy.
There are a lot of fanfictions in which an Original Character, or a self-insert lands in a pre-established setting and becomes the strongest warrior or the leader of it. Though there are non-white examples, and even between canon character examples, it isn't uncommon to see stories about American teenagers landing in Japanese land due to mysterious ways and unlocking their potential power.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) is one of the most well known examples of this in cinema, with an Englishman leading the Arabs in a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
It's also a rare example of this trope being more or less completely justified.
The Indiana Jones franchise plays with this trope, playing it straight (Belloq and the Hovitos), inverting it (bumbling Marcus Brody, given extra comedy by Indy's describing him as the ultimate Mighty Whitey, immediately cutting to his being hideously out of his depth in Turkey), and subverted, inverted and played straight at various times with Indy himself. As the movies are inspired by the tone of old adventure serials, this was probably intentional.
Deconstructed in Apocalypse Now, in which Colonel Kurtz becomes the leader of a native tribe, but in doing so goes absolutely bonkers. This subversion originates in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, where a white trader had made himself god to an African tribe before losing his marbles.
In The Proposition, Arthur Burns is essentially the evil version of this. He lives up in the hills, and the Aborigines are terrified of him and think he's a werewolf.
Averted in The Forbidden Kingdom. While it's true that Jason does become a kung fu master in a short period, and is able to beat large numbers of Jade Soldiers, he is weaker than any of the other named characters. And while he is The Chosen One, he fails to defeat The Dragon, has his possible Love Interest killed off, and is unable to save his mentor, free the Sealed Good in a Can, and kill the Big Bad without help. He doesn't even get to fight the Big Bad directly. It's also notable that the movie was originally going to feature an Asian-American kid learning about his roots, but Jackie Chan though the story would work better with them teaching a white American whose knowledge of Chinese culture was limited to kung fu movies, since that's what the averageviewer would be.
Crocodile Dundee: Averted by the eponymous Mick Dundee, a white Australian bush expert who was raised by Aborigines. As such, he knows a lot of mystic secrets and survival tricks that serve him well in the bush. However, he's never shown to be any better at it than his Aborigine friends. He simply has one foot in the urban world, allowing him to make a living showing off to tourists and newspaper reporters.
Although each mummy they've encountered has had its own particular native guardians/jailkeepers who have been watching over it for centuries, only the white O'Connell family of The Mummy Trilogy can actually destroy the mummies, even if the guardians are the ones who have made the means for doing so. This is true to just about all Mummy films, though the second one has the hero trained by the Middle Eastern guardians as a youth.
In The Quest, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a street criminal who is shanghaied and sold into slavery to a Thai boxing camp. Without any past training as a fighter, within two years he is one of their top-ranked members, despite the native boxers having trained from early childhood. And this just from watching the classes on the beach...
Avatar : Jake Sully becomes one of the Na'vi, goes native, convinces their "Goddess" to assist the protagonists, gets the girl, and gets chosen by a dying Tsu'tey to replace him as chief of the Omatecaya.
Deconstructed in The Last King of Scotland, in which the white protagonist Nicholas Garrigan is at first presented as a likable young man who wins the favor of Ugandan leader Idi Amin, but descends into Fallen Hero territory as he allows himself to be seduced by the power and luxury Amin offers (even as the evidence of Amin's brutality mounts). When Garrigan finally has his Heel Realization and decides to resist Amin, he's laughably out of his depth, and nearly every Ugandan who aids or gets involved with him is punished horribly for it. For all this, the movie ends with Garrigan getting on a plane out of the country, as happened in real life.
In G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Snake Eyes is a white street urchin in Hong Kong who fights Storm Shadow to a draw on their first meeting, even though presumably Storm Shadow has been combat-trained since he could walk, by virtue of throwing every object he can get his hands on at Storm Shadow. After being accepted into the dojo, it takes Snake Eyes only a short time to surpass Storm Shadow's skills, though it seems Storm Shadow retains the edge with a Katana—in their climactic fight, Storm Shadow disarms Snake Eyes and breaks his Katana, and the Joe is only able to win after switching to bladed tonfas.
Averted in Little Big Man; though Jack Crabb was adopted by the Cheyenne, he was never their best warrior or their best leader.
The French film, White Material, looks like it's heading in this direction. Taking place in an unnamed African country torn by a rebellion, Maria, a fierce and fearless white woman, refuses to abandon her coffee crops and to acknowledge the danger to which she is exposing her family. Maria puts the farm in even more danger when she looks after a wounded rebel officer known as 'The Boxer'.
Black Rain. The Japanese Police Are Useless, it's up to the white American protagonists to catch the criminal. Neither side is portrayed as flawless, but in the end the white guy wins after persuading an uptight sympathetic local officer to loosen up a little.
Dangerous Minds has ex-Marine and sassy white girl Michelle Pfeiffer inspiring a class room full of angry ethnic minority teens to learn. Based on a true story, though the Hollywood treatment given to the story isn't reflective of reality in many ways.
Pathfinder has an 11-year-old Viking boy raised by Native Americans and becoming their greatest warrior. The boy is the best because he learns to combine the savage Viking combat skills he learned as a child, with the patience and cunning ambush skills he picked up as a teenager. He does accidentally wipe out his own side in the process, though...
Big Trouble in Little China subverts this by presenting a big, brawling, two-fisted white guy who thinks he's the hero, but who often gets his ass handed to him in the battle against the Big Bad. The real hero of the movie, of course, is Jack Burton's competent, martial-arts savvy, Chinese-American "sidekick," Wang Chi. Of course, Burton is the only one in the movie that can shoot straight, even when he isn't really aiming. As he would say, "it's all in the reflexes." According to the DVD commentary both the director and the star wanted to make the subversion more obvious but Executive Meddling prevented it.
The Last of the Mohicans is an excellent example of Mighty Whitey in traditional American literature and, hence, in classic movies. Imitations and similar characters appear in Westerns. Although Chingachgook is just as much of a badass as Hawkeye — and he's the one who kills the main antagonist in many adaptations and he's the guy who the entire book/movie is named after.
Farewell to the King: The blond, blue-eyed American Learoyd deserts his command, flees into the Borneo jungle, winds up with a tribe there, slays their best warrior in a duel, marries a beautiful princess, and becomes their chief...but he has no more power or influence than any other native chieftan would.
The Ghost and the Darkness, a pair of lions are killing scores of local tribesmen, so two white men, Patterson and Remington, go off to kill them. Patterson is the one who survives, and he's just a military engineer by trade. The film is based on a true story and actually makes Patterson less badass than he really was. Patterson was an experienced hunter and took both lions down himself.
Parodied in Beverly Hills Ninja where Chris Farley's character is adopted by a tribe on ninja who think he'll be the prophesied Great White Ninja. As it turns out, Farley is a blundering klutz, who is far outmatched by his Japanese brother. Though they do end up playing it straight in the end.
Dances with Wolves is often accused of being an example, though it's a weak example at best. Kevin Costner's character does learn to become an entirely competent member of the Sioux. He acquits himself well in battle, but not significantly better than his fellow tribesmen, and he was already a professional soldier before joining them. His background gives him better insight into the upcoming conflicts with the American military, but that is to be expected.
Referenced in a throwaway remark by Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl while recounting his adventures, "And then they made me their chief!" We see the tribe he became chief of in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. However, this trope is subverted because even as the chief, Jack can't stop the natives from doing what they've already made up their minds to do, like keeping his crew imprisoned or honoring Jack by having him ritually sacrificed and eaten. It's also worth noting that the throwaway line itself was a reference to The Fast Show, which Johnny Depp was a big fan of.
Hidalgo has the underdog whitey beating Arabs and Bedouins in their race, on their own lands, which he had never before visited. He gets the bonus points for having a good chance with the Sheik's daughter, whom he rescued.
Deconstructed in The Mosquito Coast. Harrison Ford plays a brilliant but arrogant inventor who, disillusioned with the consumerism of American life and believing nuclear war is around the corner, moves his family to a village in the rainforest of Belize and attempts to construct a utopian society there. Sanity Slippage ensues.
On Deadly Ground is more an environmentalist fable than anything else (if a particularly demented one), but Seagal's character puts it upon himself to speak for the Inuit who are being screwed over by the oil companies. Because, well, the Inuit have no voice. There's even a scene where undergoes a Vision Quest to essentially purge himself of white guilt.
Blind Fury has a dash of this, with Ruger Hauer playing a Vietnam veteran who gets blinded and adopted by a local tribe. Under their tutelage, he becomes a Master Swordsman despite being blind.
The Last Samurai has many elements of this. After being captured by the samurai leader, Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) adopts their ways, falls in love with the widow of one of the men he killed, and becomes a key advisor for those he was originally ordered to defeat. However, he's never really shown to be any better than the Japanese. As a career soldier, after lengthy training he's finally shown to beat his trainer just once, and he was an advisor mainly because he trained the people they were going to fight (in that case simply due to his familiarity with the weapons). Algren even states in his journal that the Japanese treat him mostly with a "mild neglect." Even when they begin to begrudgingly respect his combat skills (if giving better odds on how long he lasts before getting his ass kicked in training counts as respect), one samurai jokes that even if he has gotten better, he's "still so ugly."
Kingdom of Heaven has an scene where Balian, fresh from Europe, has to teach a bunch of lifelong desert-dwellers how to dig a well.
A little-known film called American Guerrilla in the Philippines, wherein the titular American soldiers are stranded in the Philippine Islands during World War II and end up leading the rebellion against the Japanese. The main character even meets and falls in love with a white woman who went native, and she falls in love with him after her Filipino husband dies.
2013's 47 Ronin is a very, very loose adaptation of the original story, but with fantasy elements and a character played by Keanu Reeves, a half breed who nonetheless charms his samurai lord's daughter, wins a spot of honor among his fellow samurai, and all but orders all the Japanese men around him about in the second act.
The 1991 Dolph Lundgren/Brandon Lee buddy cop movie Showdown in Little Tokyo. A blond, tall, muscular American cop raised in Japanese culture slaughters an army of Yakuza and is physically and martially superior to anyone, including his comic relief half-Asian partner. His sexual prowess is commented on while the Yakuza boss is implied to be impotent unless he beats women and he romances an Asian woman whom the boss had kidnapped and previously raped.
In the 1970 Western A Man Called Horse, Richard Harris plays English aristocrat John Morgan who is captured by the Sioux. After various trials and tests, he becomes not only a tribe member but eventually its leader.
Dick Lestrange, son of the original couple in Henry Stacpoole's 1908 novel The Blue Lagoon. He appears in the sequel, The Garden of God and the followup novel The Gates of Morning. He can best be described as an intelligent, likeable and very easygoing Surfer Dude. Katafa, something between a Jungle Princess and a Broken Bird, washes up on the shore and causes trouble. She isn't really a Kanaka, but a Spanish girl who was Raised by Natives. To ensure the plotline, she's been cursed as an untouchable. After sundry how-likely-is-that events, Dick and Katafa fall in love. Katafa becomes touchably soft and takes him home with her, where he is immediatelyhailed as King, the old King having died in Katafa's absence. More to the point, laid-back ol'Dick immediately accepts, as a matter of course! (Having earlier picked up a Royal MacGuffin probably helped with this decision.) Stacpoole (usually fairly nonracist) clearly implies that in their present predicament, the natives need a white couple to save them.
Dick was, in all but blood, a kanaka, a savage—and yet the white man was there. He could think forward, he could think round a subject and he could imagine possibilities.
Lord Greystoke, AKA Tarzan, was shown in the original books to be far better suited to life in the African wilds than any of the black natives. The original books explicitly said that his European noble ancestry (and not being raised by apes) is what allowed him to shine. Eugenics was a popular topic at the time. However, Burroughs seemed to be more interested aristocratic blood than racial blood, considering his characterizations of lower class whites and upper class blacks.
Tarzan wasn't Burroughs' only Mighty Whitey. John Carter of Mars is an (white) Earth man who bests people of nearly every color on Mars. He even weds the Red Men's Princess.
John Carter spends most of the first three books fighting the white Martians, the Therns, who are depicted as cannibalistic creeps and con-men and who are in turn the dupes (and food) of the black Martians. The only other remaining Orovars (white Martians) are a few tiny remnants. The Red Martians, who are stated to be the product of large-scale interracial marriage in earlier eras of Martian history (effectively Barsoomian mestizos), are the "highest" race on Barsoom — much more numerous than any other group, politically and economically dominant, and the most technologically advanced with a thriving science and industry. Dejah Thoris points out that it is they who maintain the atmosphere plant that keeps the planet habitable, and without which everyone else would die.
And then, just to complete the Edgar Rice Burroughs set, there's Pellucidar...
We start with David Innes and Abner Perry using SCIENCE! to overthrow the reptilian overlords and free the humanoid natives, culminating in David being crowned emperor.
When David is lost through Pellucidar again, captured and made a slave, the chief's daughter wants him...
Chief: You can't marry a white man! It is beneath you!
David: How interesting! In my world, it is the white people who are superior.
The long-running pulp serial The Destroyer is predicated on a prophecy that a white man will become the greatest master of the phlebotinum-laden Korean martial art of Sinanju. Main character Remo Williams is not just the prophesied white Sinanju master, he's also the incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva.
Another pulp example that's often overlooked due to the fact that the property is still running and this now counts as Values Dissonance: the primary distinguishing feature of the Cimmerians of Conan the Barbarian fame, and the original explanation for why they were smarter, stronger, more articulate and just essentially better than all the members of other tribes/civilizations was that they were white and everyone else wasn't. In many of the stories, they are in fact obviously intended to be white _Americans_, complete with America's tradition of taking other nation's technology and traditions and trying to improve on it.
The 1632 novel series averts this trope. While the 2000 era Americans do have far superior technology, and want to spread American ideals, history teacher Melissa Mailey quickly points out, after finding a 1632-era doctor is fluent in at least a dozen languages, "You didn't actually think you were smarter than these people, did you?" In addition, the most respected American doctor is the African-American James Nichols — who is instantly trusted, because in 17th century Germany, the best doctors were usually Moorish.
Besides this, there are many, many non-American key people on every side.
Kylie Chan's Dark Heavens trilogy in which a young, white Australian nanny with no previous training develops superhuman martial-arts skills and magic qi powers in just a few years, beats up demons and generally proves herself an equal to to Chinese gods, never mind mere mortals. Then she gets upstaged by a half-American, half-Chinese six-year-old. Justified to an extent as the most recent book has revealed that this is largely a result of her half-Shen heritage.
On the American frontier, from colonial times up to end of the frontier around 1900, a number of men of European and African descent joined Indian tribes and became proficient in the wilderness. The literature of the time treated most of them as morally degenerate "renegades." However, when someone thought to use them as heroes, they were marvels of stalking and tracking skill. The foremost example is Natty Bumpo, hero of James Fenimore Cooper's The Leatherstocking Tales, the most famous of which is The Last of the Mohicans
In Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, Lord Roxton becomes the best hunter in the native village he visits. There is some justification, as he was already a big game hunter, but the A&E miniseries, to be on the safe side, portrayed him as good enough to win the respect of the natives, but by no means the best. They also omitted Zambo.
Subverted in another portion of the book. At first it seems like the Challenger Expedition members are the only ones who can defeat the ape people who have been menacing the local Native American tribes. However, it turns out that the Native Americans could have won without them, the expedition members were just a Magic Feather.
H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines gives a surprisingly early aversion of this trope. The three English explorers find themselves caught up in an African civil war, and all of them do fairly well in battle, but only one of them (who is actually half-Danish) does anywhere near as well as the African chief. That one gets to kill the bad guy, but only because the chief isn't allowed to do it himself for ceremonial reasons.
It's only a partial aversion, in that the Dane immediately masters spear fighting and axe and shield combat, both of which are difficult fighting styles that require a large amount of training. The fact that the Mighty Whitey instantly masters forms of combat that the natives have been trained in since childhood, and the natives can't touch a point-and-click rifle without it exploding, keeps it from being a full aversion. Interestingly, Allan Quatermain himself is actually pretty modest about his own abilities, except when it comes to putting a bullet through somebody, and he leaves most of the Manly Derring-Do to Sir Henry Curtis.
H. Rider Haggard's She features an immortal white queen, "She Who Must Be Obeyed", who rules over a primitive tribe of Africans and has magical powers due to her ancient wisdom. She is of Egyptian origin, and the book implies that white people made up the oldest civilizations.
However, Haggard's "white" queen describes herself as "an Arab of the Arabs," so she is not supposed to be imagined as a blue-eyed blonde.
Both used and subverted in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody mysteries. Amelia and her husband, son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren are all white, and regarded with awe, admiration, and dread by the Egyptians they work with, but one of the causes they champion is equal rights for Egyptians, and they cultivate some impressive Egyptian sidekicks (though none in their own league). In The Last Camel Died at Noon, Amelia and family visit a Lost World, where Amelia is irritated to discover that the heroic native prince believes in the Mighty Whitey trope.
Terry Pratchett's Jingo mentions this trope when some of the (overtly racist) Ankh-Morporkian generals refer to Klatchians as the finest soldiers in the world—provided they're led by white officers. (Jingo is an extended Lawrence of Arabia reference.) Then subverts it by making it clear that the Klatchian generals are far better at tactics and strategy than the Ankh-Morpork generals (not that modern Ankh-Morpork's generals bother with strategy)
Olaf Stapledon's Odd John both subverts and plays this straight. Roughly half of the super-intelligent mutants are of East Asian descent and there seems to be no racial discrimination between them. However, the protagonist and de facto leader is still a white man of mixed European ancestry. Though it's made clear that there are several members of the mutant species/ race with powers and intelligence far in advance of Odd John, including a Tibetan and an Arab, and most of them think of John's venture as another Children's Crusade.
Subverted in the H. G. Wells story The Country of the Blind, where the outsider assumes his ability to see will automatically make him the ruler of a primitive blind tribe. But the blind villagers have adapted perfectly to their environment, and fail to see why they should do anything the newcomer says when their own ways make more sense. They have been blind for such a long time that they've forgotten what sight is, and think that the man is insane.
Present to a limited degree in The Sky People, the first of the Lords Of Creation series. Justified not only by Venus' lower gravity, but by the fact that the only Earthlings who make the cut to go to other planets are literally the best, brightest and strongest that Earth has to offer. Also contains Cynthia, who is perhaps the first Black example of this trope.
The second book in the series, In the Court of the Crimson Kings, subverts the trope. The Earthling who finds himself caught up in political intrigue on Mars is certainly heroic, and he's physically much stronger than the low-gravity Martian natives... but for most of the book, he's playing second fiddle to his native Martian girlfriend, who's better at most of the things he's good at, with the sole exception of brute muscle power.
He's stronger than -ordinary- Martians. The Thoughtful Grace, the ancient genetically engineered warrior caste, are just as strong as he is, if not stronger. And while on Earth he's a brilliant individual out at the right end of the bell curve, on Mars he's only in the top quarter or so.
Played mostly straight in The Blue Sword, although it takes place in a fantasy setting.
Played with in Dune. Paul Atreides, scion of galactic nobility, is cast into the desert, but befriends the noble (Arab-ish) Fremen. He becomes their leader and messiah and achieves final victory in the long struggle against the Harkonnen and later Sardaukar occupiers. Justified in the sense that while Paul is a newcomer to the ways of the desert, his Bene Gesserit training make him and his mother superior fighters to the Fremen (and everyone else). Additionally, what enables Paul to become the Fremen messiah are the prophecies that the Bene Gesserit planted in order to deliberately invoke this trope. Eventually deconstructed in The Sequel when it's shown that Paul's becoming Messianic Archetype has sparked the Fremen to start a jihad (holy war) and as a result have become corrupt religious zealots who have now become assimilated to Paul's ways the same way he became assimilated to theirs.
Also, at least the original series never explicitly stated that Paul and the Fremen were of different races rather than different cultures.
And he wasn't the first foreigner to achieve messianic status with the Fremen, just a couple generations earlier planetary ecologist Pardot Kynes managed to unite them under the goal of terraforming their desolate planet into a paradise. His half-Fremen son Liet-Kynes continued that work up until his death in the original book, and Paul falls for Liet's three-quarters Fremen daughter Chani.
Subverted in James Clavell's Shogun. While John Blackthorne does eventually integrate into Japanese society, he has a lot of difficulty learning the new ways, becomes only moderately competent, does not impress people, and is usually irrelevant, except as a Spanner in the Works who unwittingly derails everybody's schemes, save for Toranaga, who plays him like a fiddle.
Averted in John Dalmas' The Regiment: although reporter Varlik Lormagen gets called "the White T'swa" for his close association with a regiment from the planet Tyssnote Tyss is a decidedly hot world, even at the poles, and over twenty thousand years settled there have left the people very black, nobody who really knows the facts (least of all Varlik) thinks he's up to T'swa standards. They're just impressed he comes as close as he does — and the T'swa, who're very cheerful, friendly people and Cultured Warriors down to the lowest private, like him for giving it such a good try.
Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King plays this trope brazenly straight. Eugene Henderson is a disaffected middle-class American who goes to Africa and quickly impresses the local tribe enough for him to have the title honor bestowed upon him.
Subverted in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. While the Africans are universally depicted as violent savages, the European colonialists are universally depicted as evenworse. The latter depiction is Truth in Television given the nature of King Leopold's "Congo Free State". (cf. Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost)
Solomon Kane, rides the line between straight and subversion, depending on story and author. He is a paleface if ever there was one, and he spends an awful lot of time kicking around Darkest Africa all alone and straightening out the local tribesmen and righting wrongs as he sees them, which usually involves killing lots of people. However, Kane is a former soldier and established very early as an exceptional fighter. There is at least one outright subversion; in Wings of the Night, a tribe asks Solomon to defend them from the winged demons, after he kills one with his pistol. However, when the demons descend on the village in numbers, he kills two, and then stands there with two empty pistols and can only look on as the villagers are slaughtered.
Then Kane kills all the vampires in one fell swoop by himself by trapping them in their nest and setting them on fire.
Daughter of the Lioness: The series has been accused of the same thing because Aly goes to the Copper Isles and becomes the spymaster of a developing rebellion by the native, dark-skinned raka against the white-skinned luarin conquerers. Granted, Aly was raised by Tortall's spymaster. It's also stated that they need a Token White on the rebel side to stop a general slaughter of luarin, but given that their own Chosen One is half-luarin and loves that side of her family, it's possible she could do that on her own. The other rebel leaders are mostly raka, but spying and clever plans are shown as being basically the most important thing. Though it helps that, especially in the second book (and likely as a result of complaints about the first), it's clear that Aly is still only a small cog in a rebellion that represents generations of work by the raka.
Peekay in The Power of One, who acquires a cult of personality with the black prisoners at Barberton Prison when he is still just a small kid - because of his multilingualism, boxing prowess and the sophistication of the smuggling system he helps to set up for the prisoners, they start to see him as some kind of saviour. Slightly subverted in that said cult of personality is mainly due to how prisoner Geel Piet keeps talking up & promoting him with the other prisoners, but the fact that the prisoners buy into it is a case of Mighty Whitey.
Also kinda subverted in the sequel Tandia where Peekay, now an adult, is embarrassed by his status and actually does something useful for South Africa's black population with his career as a civil-rights-advocating trial lawyer.
Shows up in Lost Horizon, which is notably progressive for featuring a modern Mighty Whitey in the 1930s, when the old-fashioned version was still in vogue. When a plane full of white passengers finds themselves in Shangri-La, the mostly Chinese and Tibetan monks there prove themselves to be wise, intelligent, competent, and well-rounded characters. However, the white Conway turns out to be better at being a monk than the best of the Tibetans, and it turns out that the founder and leader of the monastery is a European who arrived in the 15th century.
Madi in The Grimnoir Chronicles is a rare villainous example. Japanese Iron Guard are considered badass if they can survive taking up to five kanji brands. Madi, a white man, has thirteen and is second only to the Big Bad in power. That said, there are other Caucasians in the Iron Guard and none of them are as badass as Madi or the Japanese members.
I think it ran in the family because Madi's brother, Jake, killed even supposedly indestructible Iron Guard with his power of gravity control.
Orson Scott Card's Hidden Empire spends pretty much 70% of its length dealing with well-meaning white Americans saving Africa from itself. There's even a scene where the male lead has to instruct Nigerian natives on how to treat an aggressive strain of cholera, which you'd think they'd know all about.
In The Mystery of Urulgan by Kir Bulychev, Douglas Robertson is a deconstruction of the Mighty Whitey. He can hunt well, but he is violent, rude, arrogant, racist, cowardly, vain, and responsible for a lot of trouble in the story.
In Soviet-era novel Aelita, the Queen of Mars by Aleksei Tolstoy (a distant relative of the more famous Tolstoy), a group of stranded Soviet astronauts on Mars lead a communist revolution by technologically advanced, but ideologically backwards masses against the ruling class of that planet!
Winnetou: The narrator/protagonist embodies this trope.
Played with in the final volume of The Wheel of Time. Shara is an isolationist empire, at least partially populated by dark-skinned people (Sharans of varying shades are described), who accept the pale-skinned foreigner Demandred as their messiah and happily march to war under his overlordship. Of course, Demandred is a manipulative, vengeful villain and Shara is a brutally repressive slaver society both pre-and-post Demandred, so this is a very dark take on the trope and the association doesn't make either side look that good. Not to mention that Demandred's mightiness comes from his being an immortal who dates back to a golden age milennia ago and was the considered the second-most Badass person on the planet even then, so he's mighty next to just about everyone- Shara just happened to be where they had prophecies about him.
Flashman discusses this trope in Flashman and the Redskins, and points out the ridiculousness of it (with a clear Take That at King Solomon'sMines as an example of the trope). While he does best an Apache warrior, it is made very clear that Flashman chose to fight using a weapon he knew he could handle better than the warrior, and the warrior in question is indicated to be generally mediocre. Having been accepted, he is not held in any high regard and, indeed, is on the whole less skilled than the rest of the tribe.
Genially deconstructed at Jorge Luis Borges short story "The Dead Man", the seemingly imposible life and death of Benjamín Otalora, a corageous argentinean White Guy hoodlum who emigrated to the Brazilian frontier and became the leader of a band of racially mixed smugglers in only three years. All the Natives smugglers are pulling a Massive Multiplayer Scam to mock Otalora, who is naive enough to fall for it and is murdered by them.
Live Action TV
Doctor Who: The Doctor himself is immune to this trope due to not being human in the first place. However, in the early seasons of this trope, some of the Doctor's white companions can brush against this trope. For instance when Ian Chesterton, a science teacher, is forced to compete for command of the armies of the Aztecs with the best soldier in the empire. Rather than realistically being portrayed as out of his league, he manages to beat the Aztec warrior with one thumb and later the Aztec has to resort to poisoning him to stand a chance of beating him.
Subverted in Heroes; when Hiro goes back in time and meets the great Japanese hero Takezo Kensei, he discovers that Kensei's actually a white man. He then goes on to discover that Kensei is not nearly the patron of bravery and honor that myth has made him into, and finds himself trying to hammer Kensei into the role that history has made for him. Kensei eventually undergoes a Face-Heel Turn and it is Hiro who ends up inspiring the Takezo Kensei legend.
Colonel Mitchell is captured by the Sodan tribe, "the best Jaffa warriors ever", who are offshoots of humans and dark-skinned. He's taught their fighting style prior to a ritualistic one-on-one deathmatch. Mitchell rapidly learns their fighting style, and even uses it in later episodes to easily dispatch Jaffa Mooks. However, both his teacher and Teal'c (who in addition to being non-human, also happens to have dark skin) still effortlessly beat him on multiple occasions.
The first season episode, "The First Commandment," had a rogue SG team set themselves up as gods to a primitive tribe on a world they had been sent to explore, exploiting the natives for their own benefit.
In the eighth season episode, "It's Good To Be King," former NID agent — and thorn in SG-1's side — Harry Maybourne had been exiled to a remote planet. He used his knowledge of future events (from his ability to read the notes left behind by a time travelling Ancient) to elevate himself to command of the local population. He turned out to be a benevolent ruler who truly improved the lot of the people under his rule so much that when they found out about the con that had placed him in command, they chose to keep him.
1984 TV series The Master: Lee Van Cleef plays a man who stayed in Japan after WW2 to learn the ways of the ninja, and became the head of a ninja clan. He abandoned it to search the US for his daughter. Naturally the ninja clan thought his abandoning them was dishonorable, and sent his best student after him to exact revenge.
Kung Fu is a borderline example - the half-white child is stronger than all the Chinese mercenaries sent to recapture him. The character was originally going to be played by Bruce Lee (who has white ancestry himself), but television studio executives recast the role with David Carradine, a completely white actor (but a thoroughly incompetent martial artist).
On The Office (US), Michael and Vikram talk about the latter's Worthless Foreign Degree from Pakistan, where he was a surgeon. Michael, not really understanding that trope, thinks he'd be Chief of Medicine there.
General John Doe from the Kraft Suspense Theatre episode "Jungle of Fear" is a villainous example. He's a white 19th century American who claims to have been raised in China, although it's more likely that he's a US Navy deserter who jumped ship there to escape hanging for murder. By 1850, he's a general in the Chinese army and the chief adviser to the Emperor's brother, and he plans to make the brother Emperor so he can rule behind the scenes as an Evil Chancellor.
In the live action series for Planet of the Apes, there are definite hints of this; where the human's tech and knowledge thereof gives them a great advantage.
"The Good Seed" is one of the earliest and best examples of this. Virdon and Pete's advanced old-time knowledge lets them educate their hosts, a family of ape tenant farmers, on using a block and tackle (making it easier to store hay), the importance of using the best kernels of corn to grow next year's crop and of using horizontal ploughing on hills rather than vertical (to control erosion), build a rail fence (better than the simple planted sticks fence they were using) and a windmill for them, and midwife a cow having trouble calving. It's further justified by Virdon having been a farm boy before he became an astronaut.
There's an episode where Virdon gets shot and Pete has to retrieve a book on human medicine to teach the ape doctors to perform the life-saving surgery Virdon needs. He also has to educate them on how to properly match blood types for blood transfusions.
"Tomorrow's Tide" hinges on them teaching a fishing colony how to make fishing nets rather than rely on just individual fishing spears.
"The Cure" revolves around them helping a village that is being plagued by malaria, teaching them how to identify the tree that makes the antidote and instructing them on the importance of avoiding mosquito bites and draining the stagnant water where the plague-carrying mosquitoes breed.
The final scene of the third season of Game of Thrones. Lily-white Daenerys Targaryen has just liberated a city's slaves, and they come out to hail her as "Mother." In the book the slaves were all kinds of races, but in the show the scene was filmed in Morocco, with the crowd made of entirely of locals.
David Chappelle: You'll be walking down the street and you'll see a bunch of black dudes walking, not just any old black dudes, we're talking 'thugs'. And in the group, they got one, or two, sometimes as many as three white guys with them, you ever seen that shit? Well let me tell you something about those white guys. Those white guys are the most dangerous motherfuckers in them groups. It's true, man. There's no telling what kind of crazy shit they've done to get them black dudes respect, but I'll tell you they've done some wild shit.
Zig-Zagged with the Primarchs of Warhammer 40K. The Primarchs were the twenty lab-grown sons of the Emperor Scientist (who is from what would later become Turkey), scattered across the galaxy onto different planets by the forces of Chaos. Each Primarch survived to be adopted by a tribe of locals, and eventually become their strongest warrior/leader (or in on case, 40K Batman). When you factor in that they were all seven-foot-tall genetically-engineered super-soldiers, this seems a little less implausible.
There is an exception with Vulkan, who was black-skinned (although landing on a volcanic planet, nobody noticed). The Emperor plays it straight when he shows up, noted for being a lot paler than any native, though he and Vulkan are tied in contests of strength.
The outdoor drama Blue Jacket, performed every year in Ohio from 1981 to 2007, was based around the idea that the titular warchief was actually a white settler captured and adopted into the Shawnee tribe before rising to lead it against the early United States. The increasing amounts of historical evidence against this Mighty Whitey myth may have contributed to the eventual closure of the drama.
Rock was a white English boy who marooned in the New World and raised among Native Americans, though they were afraid of the "white giant." His immense size and strength make him one of the most toughest fighters in the world. In this case, his being White is just a coincidence.
Setsuka is a European woman who was raised in Japan. Despite discrimination for her European features, she's one of the deadliest fighters in the world.
Although it's also subverted in that the only person she has found who would accept her white heritage was her master, which would go a long way in explaining why she's a great fighter. Otherwise she had a very hard time fitting in.
Sub-Zero in the Mortal Kombat series is a white man (offically half Asian but you wouldn't know it by looking at him) that was born and raised in Minnesota. He moved to China with his father after his parents divorced when he was a teenager, and became leader of the Lin Kuei; he even moved the ancient tribe to America after they were discovered, instead of just relocating somewhere in China.
The Lin Kuei are also shown to be a very diverse organization; Cyrax is Motswanan and Smoke is revealed to be Czech.
He was portrayed by an Asian actor in his ending in Mortal Kombat II though, but he was masked for the rest of the game.
Speaking of fighting games, Ken in the Street Fighter Universe is born to a rich Caucasian father and a Japanese mother. Compared to his best friend and rival Ryu, he is the most out-going and coolest. However, it's how he's portrayed in the American animated TV series that qualifies him for savior status. By the final season, Ken is given the title greatest martial artist of all time, and the only one who can beat Akuma. Interestingly enough, the Anime motion picture would avert this, by making Ken a victim of Bison, and Ryu being the only one who can save him. And lets not forget the live motion picture, which portrays Guile - played by Jean Claude Van Dam - as the hero and savior, when in the fighting game universe, he's not a main character. Ken and Ryu, who are the main characters, are portrayed as traveling con-artist who get in over their heads.
Ryu spends every moment of his life wandering the world to challenge the greatest fighters he can find and hone his martial arts. He breathes, eats, sleeps, and craps his style 24 hours a day. Ken on the otherhand spends a wild time in American nightlife, gets married, has a kid, and lives life like a rich guy. He practices martial arts to avoid getting rusty, but nowhere near the level Ryu does. When Ken and Ryu fight, it's often described that Ryu is better... but not by a whole much, and Ken can give Ryu a serious workout.
In the Fatal Fury universe, Terry and Andy Bogard are Caucasian boys adopted by Jeff Bogard and taught his martial arts style. After Geese Howard, Deceptive Disciple of Tung Fu Rue, murders him, the brothers set out to stop him, with Terry being the ultimate hero in the end. In the anime movies, Terry is always portrayed as the strong, silent hero while the highest-profile Asian character from the games, Joe Higashi, is relegated to comic relief.
Subverted in Jade Empire, with Sir Roderick Ponce von Fontlebottom the Magnificent Bastard. "Mighty Whitey" is his mantra, and he's a card-carrying supremacist through and through... but if your "Asian" hero can out-debate him, actually fighting him isn't that hard.
The reward for fighting him is his Tactical Manual, a treatise on the art of warfare which gives you a bonus to your fighting ability by teaching you what not to do. Another "reward" is a manual on trepanation, which has your character noting that this goes against every known medical practice in the land and so must be metaphorical. Or his gun Mirabelle, one of the best weapons in the game once upgraded.
In the 2008 Turok, General Roland Kane is such a master of the ancient warrior ways of the American Indians that he ends up teaching them to Turok, a Native American marine. Somewhat justified in not everyone studies their own history extensively; simply being of Native American descent wouldn't automatically grant him in-depth knowledge and Kane had actually researched the subject. Turok also ultimately proves to be a superior warrior to Kane when he defeats him in a knife fight, after Kane turns out to be an evil Broken Pedestal.
X: Beyond the Frontier (and pretty much the entire X series, for that matter) takes this trope and Humans Are Special and runs with it. In the first game, displaced human Kyle Brennan (a white man) is stranded in the X universe and, over the course of the series, contributes to the near-defeat of a race of genocidal robot ships, builds up a massive and influential R&D company in the hopes of finding a way back to Earth, uncovers the true nature of the Kha'ak, and through his actions eventually sets in motion the reunion between Earth and the rest of the universe. Terran Conflict plays this trope in a mechanical sense in that Terran ships, which're often faster, better shielded, and more destructive than anything else in the X universe, range from a bright polished platinum color to near-pure white.
From BlazBlue, we have a deconstruction, a subversion and an inversion.
First up, we have Jin Kisaragi, who despite his very Japanese-sounding name is actually an Evil Brit. He was adopted into the Kisaragi family and soon proved to be better than any of the real children at pretty much anything, including iaido, although constantly having to put up with their jealousy is one of the contributing factors that led to him becoming a big time Nietzsche Wannabe. By the time of the sequel, he admits that he's "given up on life (and) the world" and that he believes the only "truth" is death.
It's revealed that the Kirsaragis are considered pretty strong due to adopting from all walks of life, making Jin an exemparary case.
It's revealed that the Yayois are growing weaker due to imbreeding and that Tsubaki's the first child to survive. Her general lack of talent compared to most caused her to take a sealed weapon that causes her Face-Heel Turn.
Deconstructed in Fallout: New Vegas three times over in various ways — the central one being that all players involved save for Ulysses are caucasian, while Ulysses is black.
First, there is the Big Bad Caesar, who formed the Legion by taking over a tribe and leading them to conquest over other tribes, assimilating them into the warrior culture Caesar was creating based on The Roman Empire, erasing the tribal identities of his followers and replacing it with loyalty to him, the Legion, and the ideals he believes in. The result is a society based on violence, brutality, slavery, rape and control, only acting as "civilization" in the sense of an organized force overseeing the people.
The four DLCs take it further. Honest Hearts features Mormon missionaries that act as leaders to the Sorrows and Dead Horse tribes, but they only do it to protect them from the White Legs, a third tribe that is trying to exterminate them and are armed with firearms far above the simple weapons the Sorrows and Dead Horses use. The two are both uncomfortable with how the tribes worship and look up them, and both emphasize they are conflicted over doing what is right for the tribe, particularly since the two don't agree on what to do — get the tribes to flee to survive and abandon their home, or teach them to fight back at the loss of their peaceful naivete. This is why the player has to act as a third voice to solve their problems, and one of them, Daniel, is tormented by if the course of action taken was the right one or not regardless of what the player chooses.
As for the White Legs themselves, the Lonesome Road DLC reveals that Ulysses, a frumentarii for Caesar, showed them how to find and maintain their firearms and other weapons, and taught them about warfare and other pre-war technology, promising them entry into the Legion if they exterminated the other tribes. The White Legs honored Ulysses by braiding their hair like his. The act enraged and disgusted Ulysses as the braids were a custom from his original tribe and had a deep meaning to them the White Legs could not understand, and he left them. He also never revealed that his promises of a Legion alliance were a lie, he knew that once the White Legs held up their end of the bargain they would be assimilated just like all the other tribes Caesar had conquered.
Max Payne 3 is a double subversion. At the start, Max is an alcoholic who repeatedly fails to stop local Gang Bangers from making off with his principal's wife. As we reach the end, though, he stops the large-scale Organ Theft of Sao Paulo's poor, destroys the paramilitaries and Dirty Cops responsible and brings down the Sleazy Politician who is to blame.
Lampshaded when one of the masterminds behind the Organ Theft scheme sarcastically calls Max "The Great American Savior of the Poor" (which is also used as the title of that particular chapter).
Roxton A. Colchester III, though an orange Lutari in Neopets, is a character created based on this trope - a bold mighty white adventurer accompanied by a white chick and a short Asian sidekick. The Atlas of the Ancients plot even went so far as to say that their adventure is essential to saving the world of Neopia.
This Listverse entry that purports to highlight the ten most "intellectual" rappers. Fewer than 25% of the artists mentioned are people of color, while people of color make up somewhat more than 25% of all rap artists.
The blog Smart Bitches Read Trashy Books warns against this trope.
If the heroine is a noble Caucasian maiden and the hero is a member of an indigenous Native American tribal people, AND the title contains the words "half-breed," "savage" or both, then you’ve got the makings of a really, really bad romance. Apocalyptically bad, even. In fact, if these romances could ride horses, they could probably substitute for War and Plague all by their little selves. If the plot of that romance involves the heroine taming the hero's wild ways while he teaches her to listen to the music of the rhythm of the night wind, and he’s not referring in any way to flatulence or El De Barge, then you’ve definitely embarked on a bad romance.
Parodied in South Park episode "Last of the Meheecans" where Butters, dressed up as a Mexican for a game with Cartman, unintentionally inspires and leads hundreds of immigated Mexicans-Americans back into their home country to the point where America loses its propserity to Mexico.
Parodied in the American Dad!! episode "Home Adrone." Stan Smith rides a Predator drone disguised as a dragon in a Chinese New Year's parade. An old Chinese man cries "The prophecy has been fulfilled! The Great Dragon awakens!" A young Chinese American woman sarcastically replies, "Oh, and with a white guy riding him. Awesome."
In The Mummy: The Animated Series, Rick's son Alex gains a golden band which gives him the superpowers of a Medjai (such as telekinesis), allowing him to become the most powerful of the students training to be a Medjai.
In Bruce Timm's Batman: The Animated Series Bruce Wayne is considered by his martial arts master, Yoru, to be his best student. This creates the friction between Wayne and Kyodai Ken who constantly refers to Wayne as "Rich Man's Son".
In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the white person can read the ancient language of the Atlanteans, even though none of them can. An odd example of Truth in Television, though, as this was inspired by the Egyptians of the 1800s, who had no knowledge of the meaning of the pyramids.
In Journey to Saturn, sergeant Arne Skrydsbřl says "We are the white gods" to the aliens when landing on saturn. The aliens do (presumably) not understand Danish, but it does not end well.
In Homage to Catalonia George Orwell describes the Spanish militiamen he fought alongside viewing him as Mighty Whitey. Despite Orwell's total lack of training or familiarity with soldiering his compatriots were thrilled that an educated Englishman had joined up with their cause.
In 1511 a Spanish ship sunk off the coast of the Yucatan. Those who didn't die in the shipwreck or of thirst before reaching the coast were enslaved by the natives, sacrificed or worked to death, except for a friar, Gerónimo de Aguilar, and a soldier, Gonzalo Guerrero. Guerrero won his freedom after saving his owner from a crocodile, embraced Mayan culture and religión, and rose rapidly in rank until he married The Chief's Daughter. When Cortés passed through the place on his way to Mexico and offered the two men to join his army, Aguilar readily took the offer but Guerrero chose to stay with his wife and three children. By the beginning of Montejo's conquest of the Yucatan in 1528, Guerrero was the Nacom (General) of the army of Chetumal. Montejo tried to win Guerrero to his side but once again he refused, and instead lead the Mayas to several victories using both Mayan surprise guerrilla tactics and Spanish anti-cavalry phallanx tactics that he had learned while serving in Italy. He was killed in battle in Honduras in 1536, of an arquebus shot to the chest, but Montejo had to concede defeat and it was his son who finally managed to control Yucatan a decade later. Giving his ridiculously troperiffic life, it's incredible that Guerrero's story has never been adapted to film.
The history of the Tanegashima matchlock musket is this trope. In 1543 a few Portuguese reached Japan. The local lord, Tanegashima Tokitaka, bought two matchlock muskets from them and set a swordsmith on reproducing them. At the time, the Japanese had both crossbows and primitive hand cannons so reproducing one of the most advanced firearms then available wasn't too hard ... except for one little thing. The matchlocks they bought used a screwed in bolt to seal the breech which could also be unscrewed for both cleaning and to remove things stuck in the barrel (before that, something getting stuck in the barrel rendered it permanently unusable). The Japanese didn't know how to make the grooves on the outside of a metal bolt match the grooves on the inside of a metal barrel. It took a Portuguese Blacksmith (sometime before 1546) to teach the Japanese how to do that.
Played remarkably straight in the case of the White Rajahs of Sarawak. English adventurer Sir James Brooke was granted the title of Rajah of Sarawak by the Sultan of Brunei, as a reward for his efforts in combating piracy in Malaysia. To the surprise and fascination of many, Brooke forged Sarawak into an independent sovereign state, introducing a modern system of government and an efficient civil service. Although there were some western influences (Brooke invited a number of Anglican missionaries to set up schools), he made a determined effort to preserve the local culture, and led the natives into battle against local pirates on several occasions. When Sarawak was absorbed into the British Empire after WWII, many locals objected and sought the restoration of the Brooke Dynasty because they felt the White Rajahs had been one of the most effective barriers to western colonisation. When the British withdrew from Sarawak in 1963 it was promptly absorbed into Malaysia, but to this day the Brookes are still remembered with considerable fondness.
Lawrence of Arabia, under Film, tells of T. E. Lawrence. It would be an exaggeration to say he alone put together a loose band of irregular tribesman that threw back the better armed, better equipped, much-more-powerful Ottoman Turks by mastering desert warfare on a level that amazed even his Arab irregulars, and thus was directly responsible for weakening the Ottoman Empire critically and thus changing the entire strategic balance in the First World War. It would not be a gross exaggeration.
Anime and Manga
Pick just about any Real RobotHumongous Mecha series you can think of. The Super Robot Wars series really tends to point it out: For so many supposedly international organizations, there sure are a hell of a lot of Japanese people compared to any other ethnicity.
And they sometimes double up on it, with a large percentage of the non-Japanese characters being American. Some games in the series, such as Alpha and Compact 2/Impact, will pair the two together.
Super Robot Wars is making a habit of making the "better" Original Generation pilots be German as well. Sanger Zonvolt and Elzam V. Branstein come to mind. Fridge Brilliance can also elevate Elzam's brother Raidese to this level as well (And their cousin Leona, though she's mostly out of focus). See also Arado and Seolla.
Not to mention Latooni (... well, Latun, as a proper romanization of the way her name is written), who is one of the best pilots in the game (can easily compete with Raidiese for 'ace of the younger generation') - she's Russian. Or at least her name is, since her backstory makes it rather hard to figure out her ethnicity and nationality...
Mobile Suit Gundam has a whole actually tends to play with this by having their heroes not technically be Japanesenote Domon Kasshu from G Gundam was from a Japan Recycled IN SPACE! but rather Spacenoids. If a character is considered The Ace and can fly rings around more experienced mobile suit pilots, pick up the ability quickly or get that series version of a Super Mode then they are likely from space.
In The Twelve Kingdoms two very successful rulers (and two noble kirin) are from Japan. In fact, a rival ruler is trying to prevent one of them from rising to power because he fears the success that he believes is inevitable if the rival nation is ruled by someone from Japan.
Often subverted and ridiculed in Nangoku Shounen Papuwakun, a series in which Shintarou, the Number One most competent warrior in the Ganma army, is marooned on an island in the southern seas. Although Shintarou often tries to introduce elements of his own culture, it usually either goes terribly wrong or is revealed to have already existed in some way on the island. Shintarou, throughout the story, is also relegated to the role of housekeeper for Papuwa, the only other human on the island at his arrival, who is a young boy...and much stronger than Shintarou.
In a rather odd example, Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix: Sun is about a Korean soldier who flees to Japan after his kingdom is defeated by the Tang Dynasty forces & eventually becomes a feudal lord & a major player in the historical Jinshin War. In a bit of a subversion, he is also invited to join a tribe of Noble Savage Shinto wolf-spirits (because his face was cut off by the Chinese & replaced with a wolf's), but declines because he feels he'd be a burden to them, having no supernatural powers of his own.
A manga version of the old Romance of the Three Kingdoms story, Destiny Of An Emperor (which was also made into a Dragon Quest knockoff RPG for the NES, which bizarrely enough managed to cross the Pacific), posits that historical warlord Lü Bu was in fact a blond European who had taken a Chinese name, thus explaining his historically-documented freakish height and strength. Hilariously, when applied to Lü Bu of all people it becomes a subversion of the trope, as Lü Bu was a lecher, a murderer, and betrayed everyone he ever met. He died alone and utterly ruined.
In Anatolia Story, the girl who carries on the story of the Hittite Empire... is Yuri Suzuki, who is a full-blooded Japanese.
Oddly enough, Superman may be the earliest example of a superhero playing to a variation of this trope, except that the "mighty whitey" is actually an alien, and the entire human race are the natives who he joins (in contrast to the more common Sci-fi variant of the trope where the opposite would be the case). Kal-el learns the ways of the primitive Earth folk and ultimately becomes their greatest champion while inspiring them to bring out the best in their culture, and even turns against the race he was born to when they try to molest his new home with their advanced strength and weapons.
De cape et de crocs has a race flip where a black former slave ends up on the shores of an island populated by white savages who dress like Robinson Crusoe. Because they'd never seen black skin before, they took him for a god, but he was quick to insist that he was just a man (he is their chieftain, however).
The 13th Warrior features something of a reversal: the cultured Arab diplomat Ahmad ibn Fadlan leaves his country with some Vikings to go north. The Vikings don't expect him to be very useful, but he learns their language, fights alongside them, and amazes them with his literacy, though he does not surpass the Vikings in any of the skills they teach him. In fact, the Vikings treat him a bit like a child, calling him "Little Brother." He is ultimately a secondary figure in the big picture behind their leader Buliwyf. The story, taken from Michael Crichton's book The 13th Warrior, is very loosely based on the accounts of the real Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, spiced up with a nonmagical retelling of Beowulf.
The 2010 remake of The Karate Kid, where Dre Parker (black) moves to China, and with a month or so of training, beats all the experienced bullies at the local kung fu tournament. Although to be fair, he did have Jackie Chan as his mentor.
At Play in the Fields of the Lord is about a half-Cheyenne who organizes Amazonian peoples. Not really sure if it counts as nonwhite (since that's what the other half was), but still...
In Michael Bishop's No Enemy But Time, a time-traveling black man fills this role for a group of homo habilis.
Not strictly a non-white example, but not conventional: In Patrick Rothfuss's The Wise Man's Fear, Kvothe is a white man who learns the martial art of the white natives in a ridiculously short time. He does not become better than his teachers, but it is implied that, with a few more months of training, he would surpass his native friend (who has spent a lot more time practicing).
Live Action TV
The Doctor from Doctor Who could be considered this. He's a Time Traveling alien who originally looked down on other species, until becoming enamoured with the universe, in particular his favourite planet, Earth. He's now one of our greatest defenders, inspiring us to be better. Every version so far has been played by a white British male.
Rules accompanying the Classic Dungeons & Dragons game's "Hollow World" setting, which was largely inspired by works that use this trope, incorporate a Mighty Surface-Dweller element to adventures involving outer-world PCs. Most of the heavy-damage spell effects such as Fireball are unknown to the Hollow World's natives, ostensibly to evoke the feel of literature in which heroic explorers' use of firearms gives them a tactical advantage over indigenous peoples.
Deconstructed in Tales of Rebirth. It's done with humans and beastmen rather than people of any skin colour but hey. Milhaust is the only Huma and the only non-Force user in the Five-Bad Band and, wouldn't you know it, he's also The Ace of it. It's his being so incredible and awesome that causes Agarte to fall in love with him. However, because she believes that he could never love her due to them being from different races, she gets it in her head that she needs to get herself a Huma body. Cue the events of the entire plot that ends in Agarte dying and Milhaust revealing that, actually, he felt the same way about her; thereby making everything she did to win his heart completely pointless.
Played with and deconstructed in Far Cry 3. Delving into Rook Island's background and paying attention to the players involved in the current story indicates that it's less of a case of Mighty Whitey and more of a case of Mighty Outsider-In-General. Rook Island has a history of outside individuals coming to the island and taking control of it, only to go mad and be killed by another outsider. The Chinese general who took over island and left many of the ruins, only to be killed by his superiors, the Japanese who took over only to go mad and be killed by each other, and now Jason and Vaas/Hoyt (as well as Citra). Depending on the ending, either Citra is killed by Dennis or Citra kills Jason after he kills his friends. in either case, it's another example of an outsider effectively dominating the island being killed by another outsider. Even the mythological background of the island involves an outsider (the "prince from the northern kingdom") slaying another malevolent outside power (the giant).
Samurai Jack: Has a subversion in "Jack in Africa.' The boy that would grow into Jack (who's Japanese), still a pre-teen, goes to train with a native African village, which is attacked by a different village, and all the inhabitance bar Jack are captured. Jack adapts to the superior weapons that the opposing village has, and fights against them, but, while Jack can fight off one or two, the reason he wins is because he frees the other villagers, who prove that the enemies better weapons are no match for their own better skills. The Big Bad is not defeated by Jack, but by Jack's mentor, and the day is won by both Jack and the villagers.