Please don't hurt him, sir! He is an idiot who knows nothing about people of color!
So you've got a really nice character who comes from a sheltered background. They could be a Sheltered Aristocrat
or Spoiled Sweet
, or maybe they just grew up in a community that happened to not be very diverse, or they could even be a time traveler from a period when people from different backgrounds just didn't associate with each other
. They're not used to dealing with people from other ethnic/religious/etc. groups, but that doesn't mean they have a problem with those groups. Far from it! In fact, they probably think other cultures are really exotic and cool and wouldn't it be awesome to have a Black Best Friend
? This is part of the problem.
When the Innocent Bigot meets characters who don't share their background, their ignorance will lead them to say and do things that are insensitive or downright offensive without realizing it. "Wow, I thought [members of group X] would be [insert stereotype here], but you sure are different
!" Or, "I've never met a [member of indigenous group Y] before! It's really cool how you guys live in harmony with nature and stuff
!" Another common variant is the male character who was taught to be chivalrous
toward women and is surprised to learn that Action Girls
find it insulting to be told to Stay in the Kitchen
while he protects them.
Innocent Bigotry is often portrayed as a relatively sympathetic flaw
(which can lead to Unfortunate Implications
if it's not ultimately suggested that the character ought to take some responsibility for thinking about whether they're doing something offensive). In fact, in a setting in which most other characters are the hardened and mean-spirited kind of bigot, the Innocent Bigot might even be the hero
. If the Innocent Bigot is a minor character, it will be Played for Laughs
and used to characterize them as well-meaning but also shallow and self-absorbed. If they're a major character, though, expect them to be called on their prejudice. They will be genuinely shocked and remorseful, and probably thank the person who challenged them for opening their eyes
. (Rarely do they instead become defensive and hostile, as often happens in Real Life
is a closely related trope. The difference is that the Noble Bigot has attitudes that are outright bigoted and probably understands perfectly well that their beliefs would be considered offensive by many people, but is a fundamentally good person otherwise. The Innocent Bigot holds absolutely no malice toward the people they offend, and sincerely has no idea that their ideas about other cultures are ignorant, insensitive or harmful. It is not quite this simple in Real Life
, where the Innocent Bigot and the Noble Bigot can subtly overlap (i.e., a character really
wants to be kind to people who are different and tries their best, but harbors feelings of fear or resentment deep down which occasionally manifest themselves as crude commentsnote
Very often Truth in Television
. Innocently Insensitive
is the supertrope. The character might grow into a Troubled Sympathetic Bigot
, especially if Cerebus Syndrome
ensues. Other related tropes include Condescending Compassion
, Positive Discrimination
, Fair for Its Day
, The Ingenue
, Mistaken for Racist
, Obliviously Evil
, Racist Grandma
, Values Dissonance
, Virginity Makes You Stupid
, You Know I'm Black, Right?
and You Are a Credit to Your Race
. For honest error rather than honest ignorance, see Noble Bigot
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- In the Tintin story The Blue Lotus, Tintin saves a young Chinese boy named Chang from drowning. Chang is confused that Tintin would do this, explaining that he thought all "white devils" were evil. Tintin tells Chang about some of the evil things white men believe about Chinese people, and Chang laughs. The two end up becoming best friends. Fair for Its Day? Very much so. Especially when compared to Tintin In The Congo which is infamous for all its Unfortunate Implications.
- A common gag in the early comics of The Boondocks, when the Freemans first move to Woodcrest. Though Cindy McPhearson was the usual go-to character for this kind of joke, the teachers and principal of Huey and Riley's school were also fairly common examples of this as well - at least, before they disappeared from the strip.
- Captain America, in stories set just after he wakes up in the present day, can approach the edges of this trope. In Man Out Of Time, he meets his first black female doctor, and says, "Well, that's nice!" (She seems very puzzled.)
- Klara Prast, a 12-year-old immigrant from the 1900s who was brought into the 21st century by the Runaways, has a tendency to say potentially insulting things to people who are different - she once mistook the Young X-Men for demons (and even after learning that mutants are not demons, could be seen staring warily at the burka-clad devout Muslim Dust) and mistook Tigra for a prostitute because of her skimpy clothing. But she doesn't actually mean to insult people; she just has a relatively limited understanding of the modern world.
- In Blast from the Past, the main character (who was raised in a fallout shelter with only his two white parents around, and has social mores calibrated for the early 1960's as a result) greets a black postal worker by exclaiming delightedly, "Oh, my lucky stars! A Negro!"
- In Clerks II, Randal had a Racist Grandma but didn't know it, so he uses slightly obscure derogatory terms for various ethnic groups without realizing they're offensive. He then tries to make amends by "taking back" the term "porch monkey," which fails as hard as you'd expect it to.
- Likewise, Jay seems to have been entirely ignorant of how insultingly sexist and racist his language is, being completely surprised at being informed that women don't like being called "bitches."
- The Twist Ending of North implies the title character may be this.
- The young Good Old Boy up-and-comer in Million Dollar Baby reassures Eddie that he "ain't got no problem with niggers." Eddie takes it in stride, accepting on good faith that the guy means well and simply doesn't know any better.
- After hearing an adult say it, the little white girl in Corrina Corrina tells her best friend, a young black girl, "I'm a nigger lover." Though the friend objects, she then realizes that she's not sure why it's a mean thing to say, either.
- Huckleberry Finn is understandably like this towards Jim.
- Comes up a lot in Everything Is Illuminated.
- In Carl Sagan's novel Contact, the protagonist, a female physicist, gets really tired of receiving "compliments" like "You're so good at this, I forget you're a woman" from her (almost always male) classmates and teachers.
- In Running Out of Time, the main character grew up in an isolated village where the adults were required to teach the children that it was still the nineteenth century. When she is forced to go out into the 1990's-era real world, she considers asking a black girl she meets what it's like to be a "Negro" and commenting on how surprisingly smart she is. Fortunately, she leaves before getting the chance.
- In the Dragaera books, Aliera (an elf, sort of) considers Vlad (a human) one of her closest friends and has put her life on the line for him more than once. That doesn't stop her from obliviously having conversations about invading the human homeland right in front of him, without giving the slightest indication that it's occurred to her that might bother him. Aliera is a powerful, aristocratic Magic Knight and demigod with a Hair-Trigger Temper, so she doesn't get called on this sort of thing much.
- Tal Graile-Rerem of The Seventh Tower sometimes comes across this way toward Underfolk, whom he had been taught all his life were a servant class and simply lower beings than the Chosen. To his credit, he very quickly realizes how stupid this is after meeting a few of them, although he does make some insensitive comments out of habit from time to time.
- John in Dirge for Prester John, doesn't catch on for a long time how offensive he is. He never quite fully grasps how much Pentexore doesn't need Christianity.
- in Brimstone Angels, Brin is pretty freaked out upon meeting the heroine and her twin sister, believing them to be devils (to be fair, the sisters are tieflings, humanoids who bear a strong superficial resemblance to devils and suffer Fantastic Racism as a result, and he'd never actually met a tiefling before). Upon hearing other humans expressing the belief that tieflings are Always Chaotic Evil, Brin feels pretty horrible about the things he said and seeks out the twins to apologize.
- Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird initially is like this due to being a young child who lives in the Deep South during the 1930s, and as a result does not seem to realize for instance that the n-word is offensive at first. As she grows older she realizes the effects of racism and prejudice and averts this trope.
- Gets briefly mentioned in Stephen King's It when the black member of the Losers recalls a time at school (in the 1950s) when another kid was earnestly telling him that "nigger" and "jig" couldn't be bad words because his father used them as compliments; his father would say that someone "worked like a nigger" or did something in "jig-time". He ends up thinking that this sort of completely innocent bigotry is actually more hurtful than open violent racism, because at least you can be angry with the latter, while it's difficult to even have that option with the former.
- H.P. Lovecraft was one for a long time; there are divergent opinions on whether this affected his writings.
Live Action TV
- Pierce Hawthorne in Community frequently makes well-intentioned comments that the other characters consider bigoted, especially in the first season. In this case, generational differences play a role.
- Chris' teacher from Everybody Hates Chris often cites things about "Chris' people", but she is very compassionate and supportive.
- The infamous Tokyo Breakfast, a spoof sitcom pilot produced for Japan One Television, is all about this trope. It features a family of Japanese hip-hop fans who keep addressing each other as "my nigga." They clearly have no idea of the connotations and history that word has in English. At the end, a black delivery guy comes to ask if anyone there ordered a case of beer, and they all look up at him and joyfully shout, "We did, nigga!"
- Handled very well on Scrubs. Elliot was raised in an exclusive, white, upper-class environment and when she comes to work at Sacred Heart she inadvertently offends almost everybody because she has never been in a mixed-race, mixed class environment. She gradually learns what is offensive and eventually becomes best friends with Carla, who originally hated Elliot's bigotry.
- And true of JD as well, in a less overt way. Him and Turk are best friends have a relationship that goes beyond best frienditude. Their relationship is certainly based on deep feeling and similarities - but JD frequently references Turk's blackness, and often in what would be an offensive way coming from someone else. Turk calls him out on it when he goes too far, but more often there's humour based around the fact that Turk is OK with JD's innocent attitude to Turk's blackness. The point is that JD clearly regards Turk's race as the coolest thing, and any comments he makes are coming from a place of innocent admiration. Turk, for his part, is as innocent and immature as JD and is able to accept comments on that basis too.
- Clement McDonald from Torchwood. Seeing as he was institutionalized, and therefore pretty effectively cut off from the outside world, for 40 odd years, it's not surprising that some of his language comes off as... unsavoury.
"Who's the queer?"
- In almost every season of The Real World, there's one roommate who comes from a sheltered background and genuinely sees nothing wrong with their... less than enlightened views. They usually come around by the end. Examples that come to mind include Julie from the New Orleans season—a Mormon girl from Utah who would still call minorities "colored", and Mike (aka The Miz) from "Back to New York," who came from a Cleveland suburb known for its racial tension and would repeat the racist things his uncle would say, much to the other roommates' chagrin.
- Sacha Baron Cohen's character Borat is very much this with his antisemitism. He comes across more pitiable than malicious when, for example, he faces a sweet elderly Jewish couple and acts like they are a pair of rabid dogs which might attack him any moment.
- Arthur from Merlin is a notable example. His best friend is a wizard, but since he doesn't know, he agrees with his father's policy that all magic users are evil. As such, there are quite a few scenes where Arthur discusses the evils of magic with Merlin, who has been working to prove him wrong.
- Arthur seems to veer between this and a Noble Bigot. He's often far more tolerant of magic than his father, but his natural inclination is to mistrust it. Similarly, he persecutes those who practice it simply because it's against the law in Camelot. Overall, it seems more that he doesn't actually care about magic, as long as it stays out of Camelot.
- In an interview on The Daily Show just after Obama's election, Larry Wilmore jokingly said that the thing he most looked forward to in the coming four years was developing a sense of "black liberal guilt." He then listed off some innocent-sounding but terribly condescending comments about how much he "admired" people of other races. When Jon took offense, Larry was pretty pleased: "Oh, good, I'm getting it right. I really have to work at this stuff. It's not a second nature to me like it is with you."
- Mrs. Cooper (Sheldon's mom) from The Big Bang Theory has a tendency to do this a lot. She's extremely sweet and the characters love her motherly nature, but she has a lot of stereotypically conservative Texas views instilled into her so doesn't quite understand that offering Raj an exorcism to get rid of the foreign demons that prevent him from talking to woman or referring to the church she visits as "nice for a rosary rattler" aren't politically correct things to say. Leonard literally had to make her a list of politically incorrect terms she isn't allowed to say. Of course, when the guys visit her church they aren't a lot better; everyone but Leonard manages to get entirely the wrong end of the stick about praying for things.
- Sheldon himself can come across as this. He unintentionally sexually harassed his assistant Alex by telling her she couldn't help herself as a woman, being a slave to her body's desires. He does the same thing to the HR woman and even later gives her a DVD set of Roots (she's black) . He later gives an Asian-American (possibly) professor the complete Jackie Chan collection. After finding out that wasn't appropriate he apologizes to the former with a stereotypical black handshake.
- Raj's Parents and Howards mom qualify as well
- Brenda's parents in The Closer are from the south and have old fashioned values. One Christmas, Brenda's parents gave Det. Sanchez a pair of maracas for work since he has so many at home. Sanchez just accepted them.
- Ichabod Crane of Sleepy Hollow has a moment of this in the Pilot when he asks African-American police officer Abbie Mills if she's "been emancipated yet." He's been asleep for the last 200+ years, so it's understandable.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, Leliana acts like this if you play as an elf. If you're Dalish, she'll earnestly tell you that you've shown her "how wrong people are about the Dalish" and how wonderful it is that you're such a spiritual people with a deep connection to the land. If you're a City Elf or an Elf Mage, she says she could see you as a servant for an Orlesian noble and that you could be paid handsomely as such. In either case, if you respond that you're offended, she will be surprised and apologize, and later thank you for helping her understand what was wrong with the way she'd been thinking.
- When you first meet the king as anything but a human noble you'll get an appropriate variant on this and have an option to call him on it.
- In Mass Effect 1, Garrus occasionally makes these sort of comments toward other aliens whose species are less dominant in galactic society — telling Wrex that he'd expected all krogans to be stupid thugs, and rather snidely asking Tali whether the quarians feel bad about unleashing the geth on the galaxy. By Mass Effect 3, he's clearly become very close friends with both Tali and Wrex, and apologizes to Tali for that three-year-old comment.
- Wrex also calls out Kaidan for making a similar comment...but in all fairness, even other krogan say that Wrex is an unusually calm and thoughtful example of the species.
- Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance: Ike refers to the Laguz as sub-human, but only because he'd never met one before and it was the only name he knew for them. When one gets angry at him, he immediately apologizes.
- From Tales of Symphonia Zelos's feelings toward half-elves are like this. A bit of a subversion in that he isn't quite "innocent," in the traditional way, however the game shows his feelings as inevitably derived from a society that feels the same way he does. Even with the friction between him and Genis, though he thinks that Genis and Raine seem like nice enough people and never protests to them being in Lloyd's group, finding common ground in that the Church isn't fond of him either. Over the course of the game you can see his development—by the end he is even willing to risk his life to save a half elf named Kate from execution by her father ( the Pope). When the group is talking to her after the rescue, he tells her "it's a good thing [she] takes after [her] mother." This culminates in a Z-Skit where he and Regal are discussing the racism against half-elves in Tethe'alla.
Zelos: Well, anyway, now that he's out of the way, I can relax a little. And discrimination against half-elves may soften some, too.
Regal: I wouldn't be so sure about that. Just because the Pope has fallen, does not mean people's minds will change that easily.
Zelos: That's why they've got me to help. The great Zelos, friend of half-elves!
- Zelos's initial dislike for half-elves is also pretty justified when you learn that his mother was killed by the half-elf mistress of his father (Seles's mother). So there's that.
- In a softer version we have Lloyd, who at first seems to equate Desians with half-elves (as the pool of reference is mostly NPCs, the player may feel this way too, depending on how Genre Savvy they are). When the group goes out into the world, he learns that while Desians are half-elves, not all half-elves are Desians. Being the innocent, good-hearted idiot he is, his acceptance of this is quick. When it is revealed that both Genis and Raine are half-elves, he is surprised by the fact, but couldn't care less what their race is. He only cares about saving his best friend and teacher from being put to death by the Imperial Knights.
- In The Walking Dead, Kenny wonders if Lee, the African-American protagonist can pick a lock, on account of him being... "Urban". Lee is mildly offended before Kenny apologises, claiming that crazy shit just comes out of his mouth because he's from Florida.
- In Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Raiden assumes a poncho and sombrero is appropriate incognito for modern-day Mexico, and doesn't seem to understand why this is wrong until his Codec contacts spell it out for him later. Passers-by laugh at the 'cyborg mariachi'.
- Teresa in Exiern really likes and admires Tiffany, a northern barbarian, to the point of calling her one of the country's greatest heroes. She also genuinely believes that northerners have physical differences in their brains that make them more violent and less literate than other ethnic groups.
- Denmark◊ in Scandinavia and the World, making fun of the stereotype that all Danes are racist without realizing it.
- In Dumbing of Age, Joyce frequently makes offensive remarks to non-Christians (especially atheists), due to her sheltered, homeschooled environment.
- Kankri from Homestuck tries hard to be sensitive to all different kinds of people and will eagerly rattle off social justice spiels to anyone who will listen (or, failing that, anyone who is incapable of running away) but his attempts to defend people often just come across as back-handedly offensive.
- In an episode of Justice League, the team ends up in a dimension that's an Affectionate Parody of The Golden Age of Comic Books, with social mores similar to the 1950's United States. One of the superheroes there, a white man, sincerely tells John Stewart, the African-American Green Lantern, "You're a credit to your people, son." It's clear that he genuinely means it as a compliment, and it probably is a forward thinking thing to say by the standards of that universe. (John is obviously not pleased, but he's understanding enough to take it in the spirit it was intended.)
- In context it's possible to interpret "your people" as referring to the characters from the main Verse, not John's ethnicity, which is probably how it got past the radar. Doesn't help with the "son" part, though.
- Allen in Allen Gregory has misinformed views over Hispanics, thinking one of the Hispanic students works as a janitor in the cafeteria because he sees him there all the time and proceeds to "fire" him, even though Allen is just a student himself. Allen gets this view from his father, Richard, who also has the same misguided views.
- Princess Clara of Drawn Together was this, although the "innocent" part started to dissolve as the series went on. In the first episode, she mistakes Foxxy for a servant and her attempts to apologize only end up ending up in her saying more racist things. Finally, she says that her father, who is "so wise," told her to cut holes in can rings to prevent them from getting lodged in people's blowholes, causing Foxxy to realize that she got her beliefs from her father.
- An instance of Fantastic Racism in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: When Trenderhoof (a unicorn writer) falls for Applejack (an Earth pony farmer), he remarks to her that that he has "such respect for the work ethic of Earth ponies."
- In Archer, Ron Cadillac can be guilty of this. When praising Lana's leadership abilities, he says that she seems capable, and reminds him of his head mechanic in Yonkers. "He's a black!" Her response is a shocked "Wow", to which he brightly and proudly replies that he is head mechanic.
- Very, very common. Children are especially prone to this, but adults from not-very-diverse backgrounds fall into the trope all the time.
- In A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis' memoir of the aftermath of his wife's death, he mentions having told her once that his relationship with her felt more like his friendships with other men than any other relationship he'd ever had with a woman. She had to point out to him that it's a bit insulting if the highest compliment you can pay to a woman is that she's almost like a man, and asked what he'd think if she started praising him for his "feminine virtues". He was convinced.
- During the controversy over the depiction of Africans in Resident Evil 5, several commentators pointed out that since Capcom is a Japanese company and Japan is fairly racially homogeneous, the individuals responsible for the game probably were genuinely unaware that imagery portraying white heroes being menaced by hordes of savage and bestial black people has a long history in racist propaganda. Capcom's American division has since pledged to communicate better with the home office when these things come up.