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Mistaken for Racist
Homer: If we wanted to see Japanese people, we could have gone to the zoo.
Marge: Homer!
Homer: What? The guy who washes the elephants is Japanese! His name is Takashi. He's in my book club!

A character says or accidentally does something that is interpreted by everyone else as being racist, and they proceed to chew him out for it or start shunning him for it. If it is not the main plot for the story, it can be quickly cleared up, but otherwise, any attempt to prove that he's not really racist ends up backfiring and making him look even more racist. Appearing to look xenophobic in front of foreigners is a common variant.

If the people who believe this person prejudiced are themselves prejudiced, they'll be proud of him, leading to Your Approval Fills Me with Shame. The character may also try (unconvincingly) to deny it by saying "Some of My Best Friends Are X."

Compare Discriminate and Switch, Stereotype Reaction Gag, Calling Me a Logarithm.


Examples

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    Meta 
  • Certain tropes on this wiki are sometimes interpreted as racist.

    Comicbooks 
  • Let's just note up front that comic book heroes in the 1940s and 1950s were almost exclusively either Caucasian (or at least looked Caucasian, e.g. Superman) or their ethnicity was their defining characteristic, and usually not in a good way (Whitewash Jones). Some time in the 1960s, the comic book companies discovered there was an ethnic market out there they could skim more dimes from. The first batch of non-white heroes that were more than simply stereotypes tended to have names that let you know right off the bat what you were dealing with ("Black Lightning"). Then someone with slightly more of a clue realized that just shading someone darker and putting "black" (or "El" for Hispanic heroes) in front of their names was maybe not all that much better. Cue stories with all the subtlety of a chainsaw about how racism is bad, kids! And expect heroes who are and have always been very level-headed suddenly realizing in an anvilicious manner just how racist they've been for all these years. A lot of the stories below hail from this time period.
  • An issue of The Avengers has Iron Man getting extremely upset by the idea that the team needs to induct a minority member in order to diversify its line-up. His opposition becomes extreme enough that Duanne and Triathlon (who are both black) begin to insinuate that Tony is in fact, a racist. He tries to deny this, stating that he believes that the Avengers should only be the "best of the best" regardless of race, but he ultimately stops arguing after noting that he is indeed beginning to sound like a bigot.
    • While never saying that Tony is a racist, the narrative itself does go out of its way to try and justify the idea of diversifying the team. The Wasp for instance is shocked and upset when she realizes that there have only been a handful of non-white Avengers in the team's history, and an earlier issue by the same author has an African American man noting that he wished the Avengers had some diversity so that his son could see that people like him could be heroes too.
    • Strange enough this issue has been in Avengers many times before. During the 80's the government and the people in the streets wanted the Avengers to be more diverse. The Avengers asked Black Panther to join them, but he turned them down since he didn't want to be the Black Guy In The Team.
    • Captain America was accused of racism in the 90s, in the issue that introduced the "Harlem hero" Rage. He got in Cap's face to angrily demand why "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" were almost entirely white people.
  • Archie Comics had this in a comic where Veronica has a party. She tells Archie that she doesn't want certain friends of his there. Since he's hanging out with Chuck and Jughead at the time, he thinks she means Chuck (who's black) and becomes angry. Turns out she means Jughead, who tends to be a slob and rather greedy with the food.
  • In Angel: After the Fall Spike tells Angel he has "bigger fish to fry". Betta George, a Canon Immigrant telepathic fish demon thingy, is offended by this and calls him a racist.
  • Played for laughs in issue #9 of Grant Morrison's run on Action Comics, which focused on Alternate Universe where Superman was black. The Lex Luthor of that Earth is still a white guy, and upon being arrested, is shown arguing that he is not a racist and hates Superman because he's an alien, not because he's a black man.
  • Happens with the fame-hungry villain Screwball in Superior Spider-Man. She refuses to attack a woman she deems to be "too ethnic" because she's worried that it would make her seem like a racist.
  • In an infamous Green Lantern comic from the 1970's, Hal Jordan enters a neighborhood full of African-American families to deal with a mugging, and is quickly accused of racism by everyone. An elderly black man points out that Hal patrols the galaxy helping and protecting aliens, but hardly ever helps the black people. Hal is very shaken up by this.

    Films 
  • In Die Hard with a Vengeance , the Big Bad of the film, portrayed by Jeremy Irons, blackmails John McClane into standing on a street corner in the middle of Harlem wearing a sandwich board that reads "I Hate Niggers". He very nearly gets killed by a gang of local street thugs but is saved by Zeus. Note that when they were filming the scene, Bruce Willis wore a sign saying "I Hate Everyone", because they were genuinely worried that he'd get killed. They photoshopped it after.
    • In order to avoid racism the TV edit keeps the "I Hate Everyone" sign. Of course this means the black people in the neighbourhood appear to attack Mc Clane for no real reason leading to some Unfortunate Implications.
  • "What do you mean, 'you people'?" from Tropic Thunder. A subverted example since it was spoken by a white guy playing a black guy, and then an actual black guy asks what he means.
  • An incredibly awkward version pops up in True Crime, when Clint Eastwood's character goes to see the mother of a black possible witness. She assumes he's racist, and while he's sputtering, trying to explain herself, she correctly figures out that the other two witnesses and the victim were all white. Eastwood's character tells her she's "making it into a race thing" and tells her the condemned man he's trying to save is also black. She tells him the man he came to see has been dead for three years, and asks him where he was when he got stabbed.
  • In National Security, which gets a good half-hour out of the joke, Earl (Black) played by Martin Lawrence tries to get into his car when he finds that he has locked his keys inside. The police officer Hank (White) played by Steve Zahn confronts Earl and mistakes him for a car thief trying to break into the car. However, immediately after Earl is cuffed a bumblebee arrives and, as Earl is allergic to bumblebees, Hank attempts to swat the bee away to protect Earl from a potentially lethal reaction. Unfortunately, all that the bystanders see is a white cop savagely swinging a nightstick near a hand-cuffed black man, and to top it off the bee does manage to sting Earl. Afterwards, with a jittery recording of the encounter on the news and Earl seemingly bruised from the beating (But really just swollen from the bee sting) Hank was convicted with aggravated assault by an all black jury and sentenced to six months in prison.
  • Occurs as a Moment Of Funny in Cabin Fever. At one point the characters ask a store owner why he has a high-powered rifle behind the counter, and he explains it's "for the blacks" (not in those exact words). At the end of the movie we see a black group pull up to the store, and the owner goes into the back hurriedly... only to hand them the gun that they'd apparently ordered, at which point the audience sees that he simply doesn't know the difference between using "er" and "a".
  • In the 2005 The Dukes of Hazzard film, Bo and Luke are shown stuck in traffic. As several other drivers pass them they make comments. The first is a stereotypical redneck who shouts out "Southern By the Grace of God!" leaving them a little confused. Then a black couple drives by them and asks them if they're late for their Klan meeting, leaving them even more confused. Another redneck drives by complimenting them again. Then another black woman drives by and says "Nice roof." Bo and Luke then check their roof of the General Lee and discover the Confederate flag that it was so well known for on the TV series.
  • The first Rush Hour movie combines this with N-Word Privileges when Carter (who's black) and Lee (who's Asian) go to a pool hall. Carter, who's known by the patrons, greets them by saying "What's up, ma nigga?" While Carter goes into a back room to interrogate a source, Lee tries to start a friendly chat with the bartender using the same line (to be fair, though, Carter had previously instructed him to "follow my lead, and do what I do"). Since this is a Jackie Chan movie, Fighting Ensues.
  • Guess Who, a race-inverted remake of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, is built on this trope. The patriarch (Bernie Mac) mistakes his daughter's fiance for racist for most of the film.
  • Me, Myself, and Irene: Charlie (Jim Carrey) incurs the wrath of a black midget chauffeur by asking him "Do you people take credit cards?" (He was speaking of the business itself, not the driver, who was a black midget, wielding nunchuks, and also a Mensa member.)
  • In Beauty Shop, Gina quits her job in the beginning of the movie mostly because she misunderstands the way her foreign boss pronounces the word "Moniker". (He's not actually racist and didn't intentionally say the N word, like she originally thought, but he is still an egotistical, overly competitive douche.)
  • Occurs in the Jackie Robinson biopic 42, when the Robinsons are walking down the street when a gruff-looking (white) man approaches them. They prepare for a fight, only for the man to sternly say that he's a supporter who thinks Jackie should be allowed to play baseball as long as he has the talent.
  • The main character in the opening scenes of Anger Management, in the middle of his Humiliation Conga that started with getting (falsely) accused of physically harassing an airplane stewardess, makes the mistake of proclaiming "What is wrong with you people?" to the black air marshal who comes up to investigate.
  • Referenced in Crash. Jean (a White woman) states that she felt uncomfortable when she saw two Black men (who turned out to be carjackers) coming toward her, but she didn't say or do anything because she didn't want to look racist.
  • The trope is sideswiped by Will Smith in Men in Black 3: he's pulled over by a couple of policemen, and after neuralizing them gives them a dressing down about how they're racists who only stopped him because he's black, so they assumed he stole the nice car he's driving.
    J: Keep in mind, just because you see a black man driving a car, does not mean he stole it! <pause> Okay, I did steal this one - but not because I'm black!
  • In Soul Plane, Elvis Hunkee (Tom Arnold) meets an old black classmate at the airport. The schoolmate remembers Hunkee since he and the other kids always pick him last when playing basketball due to the fact he was black. But Hunkee reveals a funny shocker to his classmate: it turns out the other kids picked him last not because he was black but because he was a horrible basketball player! The ironic part was the classmate is now a famous NBA player which Hunkee think he's joking. The classmate is bewildered by this revelation.
  • In Clerks II, Randall loudly complains about being treated "like a porch monkey" in front of a couple of black customers. They react about how you'd expect. Randal then admits he wasn't aware "porch monkey" was a racial slur and it was just a phrase he picked up from his grandma and he spends much of the rest of the movie attempting to reclaim the phrase.
  • In the Denzel Washington film Out of Time, an older woman is at a police station reporting on a prowler, and excitedly identifies Denzel's character as the culprit. When it's revealed that he is the chief of police, she uncertainly starts pointing out other people of color as the culprit, and is dismissed as racist. However, the audience knows that Denzel really was the culprit.
  • In Clear History, Rolly punches a black guy who pops up at him at his birthday party. The black guy spends the rest of the film finding pretenses to accuse Rolly of being prejudiced against blacks. It doesn't help that Rolly keeps screwing up the guy's relationship with his girlfriend.

    Literature 
  • Philip Roth's book (and later movie) The Human Stain was all about a professor accused of being racist after he used the word "spooks". He used it in the context of referring to two students who never showed up for his class, the full question being "Do they exist or are they spooks?" The two students in question who never appeared were black, although he did not know they were black at the time. After unjustly being charged with racism, he resigns from his job in protest. The faculty admits he probably was not intentionally being racist, but he just shouldn't have used that word. It is implied that the faculty was resentful because he effected some unpopular tenure reforms.
  • In the short story "A Hot Time in the Old Town" by Desmond Warzel, the elderly gentleman telling the story to the narrator was a landlord, whose house was avoided by potential black tenants because of a hate crime homicide that had taken place there. As it turns out, this is a wise decision on their part, because it's not the landlord who's racist, but the house itself that has been poisoned by the original crime..
  • In Bryan Miranda's The Journey to Atlantis, Hispanic José is insulted on his race by Chris, calling him a "spick" and referencing his ability to reach America without knowing how to swim. Although he isn't really acting of his own accord but is being influenced by Loki.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Seinfeld: Happens to both Jerry, when he dates a Native American woman, and George, when he tries to find a black friend to prove to his boss he's no bigot after he comments on the latter's resemblance to Sugar Ray Leonard and the boss assumes that all black people look alike to George. George is vindicated the end when another black guy actually mistakes the boss for Sugar Ray.
    • Kramer in the infamous Puerto Rican Day episode, when he accidentally sets fire to a Puerto Rican flag.
    • In the episode where Jerry dates a Native American woman, he innocently asks a mailman for directions to the nearest Chinese restaurant. He doesn't have a clear view of the man's face at that moment. Jerry doesn't realize until it's too late that the mailman is a Chinese-American, who takes great offense at the request.
      • "You know, I don't get it. Not allowed to ask a Chinese person where the Chinese restaurant is! I mean, aren't we all getting a little too sensitive? I mean, someone asks me which way's Israel, I don't fly off the handle."
    • Elaine desperately tries to avoid this trope when she's dating a racially ambiguous man (darker skin tone, curly hair). She finds out he's white and was only dating her because he thought she was a Latina (thick curly hair, last name Benes). When they realize they're both white, they go to the Gap.
    • The episode where Elaine's company was critically dependent on a deal with a Japanese conglomerate. Her boss had a terrible cold, forgot his handkerchief on her desk, and sneezed all over his hands. The Japanese businessman mistakes his refusal to shake hands because of germs to be an insult rather than a courtesy. This doesn't make much sense considering that the Japanese tend to prefer bowing over shaking hands.
    • Occurs in an episode where George and Jerry can't get a cab at the airport and pretend to be the people a limo driver is waiting for. Turns out the person George is impersonating is a notorious neo-Nazi. Jerry and George don't actually say anything racist but are still Mistaken for Racist by other racists. It's even more awkward because Jerry is Jewish.
  • Every other episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (Hmm, Larry David must love this trope.)
  • The Father Ted episode where Ted manages to offend Craggy Island's surprisingly large Chinese community. Somewhat subverted in that the presentation intended to prove that he's not racist is actually pretty racist in its own right.
    Father Ted: The Chinese: A great bunch of lads!
  • 30 Rock
    • Liz in the episode "The Source Awards" where she dates a black man she ends up not liking. It seems only her date thought she was racist rather than everyone, but her attempts to prove herself not racist still backfired in the typical manner:
      Liz: I am not racist! I love black men! I love you! This is fantastic! Let's get dessert. Death by Chocolate! [her date gives her a look] No, no, not that kind of chocolate.
    • From the same episode:
      Jack: Steven's a good man, he's on partner track at Dewey. And he's a Black.
      Liz: "A" Black? That is offensive.
      Jack: No, no, that's his last name. Steven Black. A good family. Remarkable people, the Blacks — musical, very athletic, not very good swimmers — again, I'm talking about the family.
    • Happens to Liz again when she's interviewing for adoption in "Do Over." She calls a black technician by the wrong name (maybe).
      Liz: Happens to everyone, right Bev?
      Bev: Yeah, it happens all the time to my black husband.
    • Tracy is very fond of playing the race card against Liz to get what he wants. In one episode, he literally handed her a card labeled "race card".
  • An episode of Becker revolves around the title character making comments that a journalist construes as racist (such as making fun of a blind black man, insulting an Asian taxi driver, complaining about a neighbour who barbecues his dinner on the sidewalk etc), leading him to write an article attacking him. Becker confronts him during a radio interview and clears himself by pointing out that the blind man happens to be his best friend, his neighbour literally does cook his dinner on the sidewalk, and he has every right to not like rap music (especially when loud and being broadcast into a public street), and to be angry with a driver who just crashed into his car, regardless of where he came from. Becker then counters by pointing out that he never mentioned that his neighbour was Puerto Rican, or any other race, and that Tetzloff jumped to that conclusion based solely on the "barbecuing on the sidewalk" comment.
    Becker: Same thing with your column, too: you took a private conversation, you imbued it with racial overtones, all under the guise of political correctness. You know something, that concept was meant to make us more sensitive to each other but instead all you did was use it to perpetuate some ugly stereotypes!
    Tetzloff: [stuttering] Well that certainly wasn't my intention!
    Becker: Yeah, well, that's what you did.
  • Knowledge of this trope was used in at least two plots of The West Wing, and not played for laughs either time.
    • In "The Midterms" Sam persuades a college friend and Florida DA to run for Congress. Unfortunately, it comes out later that as a DA he often dismissed black jurors from cases he was trying to win. Since this is not an uncommon tactic for DAs, this was still seen as a winnable campaign. Then it was revealed that he belonged to an all-white fraternity in college, which again is neither uncommon or embarrassing, as many frats and sororities have few-to-none black members (especially if the college has a black fraternity that attracts most black pledges). These two circumstances together were enough to staunch the promised support from the White House, as Sam, Josh and Leo knew the DA was going to be Mistaken for Racist and didn't want the White House to be as well.
    • In "In Bartlett's Third State of The Union" a (white) Detroit police officer is cited for heroism by the President. It comes out later that the officer was once accused of excessive force, breaking the leg of a (black) suspect. It's evident from the officer's story that the suspect lied (the suspect broke his leg jumping from the building he was robbing) in order to get a several million dollar settlement out of the city. Nevertheless, CJ and Sam have to do damage-control, lest the White House be Mistaken for Racist, wondering aloud why they even let him into the State of the Union, and persuading the officer to clarify the situation on TV.
  • Absolutely every white non-black person the Militant Black Guy talks to in Balls of Steel due to the usage of words spoken causing very Unfortunate Implications from both sides.
  • Monk has that habit of cleaning/disinfecting his hands after he shakes anyone's hand. When he does this after shaking the hands of two white women, then a black guy's hand in "Mr. Monk and the Marathon Man", people who aren't familiar with this habit assume it's because he's racist. For some reason, he does not explain.
    • A similar occurrence happened in the episode where he went to Mexico.
    • Thankfully avoided in the first part of the series finale - after shaking hands with a black physician, Monk does his normal wiping thing...and is complimented by the doctor, who notes that if more people did that, he'd have a much easier job. Almost as if they were referencing the earlier jokes.
  • In an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun, Dick says to his black colleague, "You people all look the same to me." Of course he means all humans, and is explaining why he hadn't noticed that she and another colleague were of different ethnic groups.
    • In another episode, Dick, having failed to infiltrate a black study group, decided to seek out the white equivalent. He ended up taking his family to a "white power" rally.
    • He also started calling other white people "brothers" after hearing some blacks doing this, always getting insults in return because of this trope.
  • There's an episode of Scrubs where the Janitor sets up JD to appear prejudiced against East Asians by pondering a crossword puzzle solution just before an Asian lab tech could get there, just out of eye-shot of JD.
    • "A *blank* in one's armour?"
    • Another episode contains a flashback where JD is mistaken for racist against blacks when he shows up in black-face at a black fraternity while the white-faced Turk dropped the joke at the last second to talk to a cute girl.
    • In one episode Dr. Cox tells Turk he doesn't approve of "you people". Turk has just enough time to get offended before Dr. Cox finishes his blanket insult, declaring, in his own special Dr. Coxy way, his endless disdain...for surgeons. Another episode has a patient say something very similar.
    • Averted in one episode with Elliot: she just happens to lock her car door at the same time a black guy walks by. She then proceeds to freak out, thinking he mistook her for racist. Her boyfriend asks the guy, who says he just thought she was locking her door.
    • In another episode, Elliot responds to an overt public display of affection between Turk and Carla by saying she's "a little sick of the Turks". Cue a Turkish colleague, Omar, leaning over from the next table, causing her to clarify.
      • Later in the same scene, JD arrives. When Turk and Carla turn the conversation round to Elliot's social skills at her new job, JD notes "the Turks are sneaky". Turns out he's talking about Omar, who's stolen his pudding cup.
  • The first episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, "The Gang Gets Racist", hilariously centers around this trope.
  • On The Drew Carey Show, Mimi tells Drew that the Hispanic corporate executive he's going to interview is just the guy applying to be a janitor. Among other unfortunate things Drew says about "his kind" (by which he means janitors) is that they have to come into the store through the back entrance so that the customers don't see them.
  • On Just Shoot Me!, Elliot mistakes an Asian-American client for the Chinese food delivery guy. Jack's attempt to set things right backfire when the person he thinks is the returning client actually works for him. To cap it off, Elliot is drinking a Slushie and gets brain freeze. Holding his temples so tightly his eyes slant, he bows back and forth saying "Ah, so cold!" - just as the client returns to be insulted a second time.
  • On Modern Family, Cameron is talking about how two of his acquaintances never shut up about how they went to Columbia Law School and Brown University respectively. Gloria, his Colombian stepmother-in-law, walks in just in time to hear, "I wish that tart would go back to Columbia and take her little Brown friend with her." He then digs himself deeper when he tries to explain that he meant people who go to college, not "her people", and subsequently realizes his statement would imply that Latinos are too dumb to get into Ivy League schools.
    • Also on Modern Family, Phil inadvertently pisses off a black cab driver when, after representing the White team at Family Camp, sports a t-shirt that reads "If You Ain't White, You Ain't Right" in a flashback.
    • Inverted in the episode "Door to Door":
    Phil: Okay, huddle up everybody. Your mother's right. She's the quarterback of this family and we need to protect her like Blind Side did.
    Luke: She just said that mom was Blind Side.
    Phil: She's confused. Blind Side was the black kid who played Tight End.
    Alex: Offensive line.
    Phil: Sorry, African-American kid.
  • One of the more recent Jonathan Creek episodes has this happen to his American friend as a running gag. Helped along the way by his assistant digitally editing (or possibly just making sure that its easy to edit) his various acts and apology videos.
  • This exchange from Corner Gas:
    Davis: [after losing the Grey Cup tickets] Well, I'll have to go to a scalper.
    Karen: Isn't it weird for you to go to a scalper?
    Davis: Why? Because I'm a Cree man? I resent that!
    Karen: Because you're a police officer and scalping tickets is illegal.
    Davis: Oh yeah.
  • One episode of Yes, Minister is about the state visit by the new head of an African country. Sir Humphrey says "the only thing we know is that he's an enigma" - which gets him a reproachful "oh, Humphrey, I don't like that word" from the minister.
    • Later when they meet with the African leader, who happens to be an old college friend of Jim's, he plays this tactic to unsettle them during negotiations:
    Jim: Charlie, long time no see.
    Charles: You don't have to speak pidgin English to me Jim.
    • After Charles make them an offer that basically boils down to extortion of the British government:
    Sir Humphrey: Blackmail.
    Charles: Are you describing me or my proposal?
    Jim: Your proposal obviously. [Sir Humphrey and Jim laugh] No, no not even your proposal!
  • On one episode of Bones the socially challenged Bones compares the tune of rap music in a club to tribal music she heard in Africa. Two black women hear her and one accuses her of racism while the other one understands what she means. A near brawl ensues with the three women.
    • Another time Bones continually asks a black intern to continue doing research in a field. Sarcastically the intern uses a Southern accent asking her if there is "any more work she wants done on the plantation". She says no and asks whats wrong with his voice.
  • In an episode of King of Queens, Doug and Carrie want to sell their house, but decide against it at the very last moment. The problem is that two potential buyers, who happen to be a black couple, are already inspecting the house, and like what they see. After a while they notice that Doug and Carrie are suddenly very reluctant to sell them their house, think this is because of their ethnicity, and are of course quite offended.
  • In the first season finale of Boardwalk Empire, the various sleazy politicians are talking about how to win an election by encouraging voters and one comments about getting the spooks to vote. This gets an angry reaction from the black gangster Chalky, who is in attendance. The speaker hastily clarifies that he meant spooks in the sense of ghosts and was talking about having the dead "vote".
  • On Party Down, at Constance's wedding to a Jewish man, Kyle's band performs a song he wrote for Constance. He sings about how he and Constance, with their blond hair and blue eyes, are special and should rule the world, but a conspiracy of money-grubbers tries to hold them down. Then the song ostensibly describes the path to stardom as "a midnight train" to a place where they "brand you with a star" and "give with a number". Does This Remind You of Anything?? The song is also called "My Struggle". Constance has to interrupt him and force him off stage as the Jewish guests are horrified.
  • Pierce from Community actually is pretty racist, but in episode Basic Genealogy, he makes an innocent mistake for once with his attempt to draw a windmill turns into a swastika while playing Pictionary.
    • In a hilarious turn of events, when a fight breaks out and the police get involved, one officer remarks "This is never going to stop until Pictionary finally bans the windmill."
  • Yet another "you people" example in True Blood when Arlene is referring to religious people.
  • JAG: Commander Sturgis Turner is accused of racism against Koreans in the season nine episode "Close Quarters", when investigating rescued North Koreans, by Lieutenant of Korean origin in Naval Intelligence. The charges are eventually dropped.
  • There's an episode of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret in which Margaret, an American in Britain, is convinced to show his love of British culture by wearing a shirt promoting the British National Party.
  • In a Saturday Night Live skit, Keith Olbermann (played by Ben Affleck) "proves" that George W. Bush is racist by playing a clip of him in which he says "to find those folks". When it's pointed out that Bush was referring to Al-Qaeda, "whose members are entirely Middle-Eastern", Olbermann replies "so we have a president who is not only a racist, but also an imbecile".
    • The phrase "that one" briefly became the focus of attention during the 2008 election when John McCain used it to refer to Barack Obama (although the people who objected were divided on whether they thought it was racist or just kind of weird and rude). Facebook instantly picked up on this with "I'm Voting For That One" groups.
  • In an episode of My Name Is Earl, one misdeed of the week involved making a man so obsessed with golf that his girlfriend left him. To win her back, he gets the golfer to hold up a radio playing a silly love song as his golf clubs burn in front of her apartment. The man who lives below her is black, and thinks they're burning a cross on his lawn because of the way the clubs have accidentally been arranged. Earl kicks the bag of golf clubs over when he realizes this, and this happens:
    Katie: What are you doing?
    Scott: I'm proving my love for you!
    Katie: By burning a Swastika on my lawn?
    • And then when Earl goes to stamp out the fire, his boot catches fire, and he kicks it off, right into the black neighbor's window.
    "We're not moving!"
  • "Mistaken for homophobe" version shows up in Supernatural, when Dean has his first encounter with The Fair Folk, and then mistakes a (completely human) gay dwarf for one of them and beats him up while yelling about "tiny fairies."
    Officer: I'm just trying to understand just what kinda hate crime this even was.
    Dean: It wasn't a hate crime.
    Officer: I mean, if this gentleman were a full-sized homosexual, would that be okay with you?
  • In Coronation Street in 2013, Paul Kershaw is mistaken for a racist when he utters the phrase "play the white man" to Steve McDonald during a game of darts; Lloyd Mullaney and daughter Jenna overhear him. Paul is reluctant to apologise to Lloyd since he doesn't believe the phrase is offensive, and him feeling that if he did apologise it would confirm Lloyd's accusation of racism.
  • Referenced in an episode of Law & Order: SVU. The victim of the week tells police that she went out of her way to avoid looking racist when a Black man got into the elevator with her and offered to help her with her groceries. He then promptly pulled a gun and raped her.
  • Subtle example in Star Trek: Voyager: The crew is stranded on a primitive planet without their technology, and Tuvok, the Vulcan tactical officer, fashions several crude weapons including a bow and arrow (which is obviously a stereotype of Native Americans). First Officer Chakotay, who is of indigenous South American or Meso-American descent, politely thanks Tuvok but says "That's thoughtful but my tribe never used the bow," figuring Tuvok had maybe watched one too many westerns and had the wrong idea about Native Americans. Tuvok gives Chakotay a different weapon and says something like, "The bow is mine; I used to teach archery science on Vulcan." Almost a Lampshade Hanging on this trope, given bows were invented independently by dozens of cultures.
  • The IT Crowd: In "The Internet is Coming", a strange chain of events conspire to make the internet brand Jen as a female misogynist who hates the homeless, and Roy as bigoted against little people. Their attempts to fix matters only make things worse. Roy does not help by continually pointing that he cannot be racist against little people as little people are not a race.
  • A Moody Christmas. In the first episode an unfortunate comment about boat peoplenote  leads many to beleive that Dan is racist.
  • On The Thin Blue Line, when the Mayoress orders Raymond to arrest an illegal immigrant, she forgets to give him a description of what the man looks like, so he and his officers just arrest the man who opened the door. Unfortunately, he not only isn't the illegal alien, he's also black and the European Commissioner for Human Rights. Learning of the man's real identity, Raymond is horrified: "A Frenchman? In my station?!"
  • Orange Is The New Black (in addition to characters who actually are racist or homophobic, which makes it seem that much likelier to be racist) has this exchange:
    Healy: Which lesbian is that?
    Pennsatucky: With the fat stomach and the haircut.
    Healy: Black? She’s, like, the worst one.
    Pennsatucky: No, she’s white. You know you can’t say that shit around here. Trust me—
    Healy: No, no, no, no. You’re talking about Boo. ‘Black’ is her last name.
  • Community - in "Biology 101" Jeff, getting unhinged after being separated from the study group, spots what looks like conspiratorial evidence of a photo of Pierce with Professor Kane (black, ex-con) and grabs it, confronting Pierce with it, who points out it's a photo of him with a famous rapper.
    Jeff: But...but they look alike!
    Troy: Uhh, I guess they share one important feature in your eyes.
    Jeff" But that's not fair! Look, I - I was standing far away and I saw the prison uniform!
    Shirley: Oh, Jeffrey!
    Jeff: Oh, come on, obviously, I don't mean all black people are in prison-
    Group: [gasp] - Oooooh! - Damn!

    Newspaper Comics 
  • During one of Jesse Jackson's runs for President, a Bloom County arc centered on Binkley's father scared to death that people would think he was racist because he didn't think he could vote for Jackson. Finally Oliver Jones' father (who is black and moderately conservative) assured him, "On behalf of all black people, we do not, repeat, NOT, hate you!"

    Music 
  • There was a rumor in the 90s that 311's name was related to the KKK (K is the eleventh letter of the alphabet, 3 K, get it?). They actually named themselves after Omaha police code for indecent exposure (a friend of the band's was arrested for skinny dipping). People who bought into this rumor were either unaware of or just flat-out ignored the fact that one of the band members is Mexican (which the Klan probably wouldn't take kindly to), not to mention all of the black artists they've worked with.
  • Country artist Brad Paisley and LL Cool J wrote the song "Accidental Racist" centrally about this phenomenon, using the image of Paisley being mistaken for a racist by a black man while wearing a t-shirt with a Confederate flag emblazoned on it, and attempting to collaboratively overcome the US's race problems. Of course, irony of ironies, upon release the song was attacked by numerous critics for its pronounced Unfortunate Implications and extremely naive, misguided treatment of its subject matter.
    • Many critics seemed to think the Unfortunate Implications were entirely intentional when it is very apparent to most people that it was just an awkward fumble, at worst an example of innocent bigotry and more likely just naive oversimplification.
  • The refrain of La Marseillaise ends with a line that can be roughly translated as "so that our fields can be watered with the blood of the impure!" Yeah... In context, "impure" means the Evil Reactionaries who ruled France at the time, not those of mixed race.
  • The German metal band Rammstein has, throughout their career, had to fight off accusations that they are Nazis. The accusation seems to stem from the fact that they're German and sound angry, as opposed to anything more substantive.
    • The original cover of Herzeleid featured the band (all Caucasians) standing shirtless in a row - this was taken by critics to be a "poster for the master race." The band eventually changed the North American version of the cover to show just their faces.
    • Added Irony: Some of the band members support communism and the hammer and sickle has shown up more than once in their music videos.
    • The band got so fed up with these accusations, they eventually wrote a song - Links-2-3-4 - in response. The lyrics of the chorus, in part, translate to "My heart beats on the left."
  • An odd case is the Danish children's song "Jeg har set en rigtig negermand", where only the first verse is commonly known (It essentially goes: "I have seen a real negro man / His head is as black as a bucket of tar / He said a lot of strange things / And in his nose he had a great big ring"). However, after several more verses in the same vein on the various races, the final verse of the song sees the protagonist call for everyone to be painted blue, so that we can all live in a world of harmony and togetherness. The Celebration saw the first verse being sung, with a party guest telling her (black) partner that it's a racist song.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Muhammad Hassan would very often accuse the fans and the other wrestlers of being against him solely for being Middle Eastern. Despite John Cena claiming that "We don't hate you because you're Arab-American, we hate you because you're Asshole-American!", he was not exactly far off the mark with his claims.
    • The wrestler himself was an Italian-American.
  • Happened during a feud between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin & Faarooq:
    Austin: It's not a black thing, it's not a white thing; it's a me kicking your ass thing!
  • Bad News Brown would often accuse white opponents of being racist against blacks like him. In one infamous spot, Roddy Piper showed up to their match with half of his body painted black and declared that color doesn't matter.

    Theater 
  • In Avenue Q, Kate Monster getting offended when Princeton asks if she and Trekkie Monster are related is the lead-in to the song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist". Kate herself and two other characters say things that would qualify for this trope if they didn't all end up agreeing that they are racist.

    Webcomics 
  • Penny and Aggie, in the storyline appropriately titled "The Race Card." Aggie publicly accuses Penny of blowing off a blind date with Duane "because he's black." In fact, Penny had simply assumed his love letter came from another guy with the same vague description.
  • This little gem from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.
    Audience: The president is a racist! Bigot!
    President: No! Wait! I said chiggers! Chiggers!
    [beat]President: I hate black people and CHIGGERS!
  • This is essentially the sum of Kris the Koala's character in Acorn Grove, to the point where other characters refer to him as "Kris the Racist Koala".

    Web Originals 
  • Richard Herring's As It Occurs To Me podcast. Richard describes how twenty years ago he was playing a skinhead in a play and was turned away from a Pizza Hut because they assumed he was racist. He then told of how he was recently given bad service in a branch of Pizza Express because he has a Hitler moustache (which he had because for his stand up show Hitler Moustache). He said there should be a campaign against people who aren't racist being discriminated because people think they're racist (although he admits that he is probably the only person with that problem).
    • Funny, considering that a major percentage of skinheads are decidedly anti-racist, and hold special loathing towards those who mixed the neo-Nazi and skinhead subcultures together.
  • Rhett & Link knew that their Red House Furniture Commercial would create controversy, but it has no touches of racism in it. In fact, it is the exact opposite. It may only include blacks and whites, but they made it very clear that persons of all races are welcome at The Red House.
  • On one story on Clients From Hell, the designer accidentally printed a publication with a black cover when the client wanted a different one; the client asked if they could take the misprints but get a discount. Leading the designer to say to his supervisor "They (i.e. the client) want a discount because they (i.e. the documents) are black." The client in question was an African-American church group. Hilarity did not ensue.
    • A lighter example: one client complained about a presentation slide that depicted a black person on a phone, telling its designer to get rid of "those black things." Indignation ensued until the client remembered that the "black things" are called BlackBerries.
  • Tobuscus makes a Running Gag in his various vlogs and gaming commentaries of saying things that can be taken as racist (or sexist, species-ist, or anything else ending in -ist), noticing, and then doing a Verbal Backspace or trying to dig himself out, frequently punctuated with That Came Out Wrong and Freudian Slippery Slope.
  • In True Capitalist, this is subverted. Ghost goes on about the trolls making 'false indictments' of his racism, yet Ghost makes fun of minorities and stereotypes all the time.
  • In the Rooster Teeth Short "Pongo", Joel is repeatedly being labeled racist when he comments on the new intern, who happens to be a puppet.
  • Yahtzee Croshaw anticipated this response to his Zero Punctuation review of 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, and spent a good minute of the review in question explaining in exhaustive detail that he is not, in fact, a racist, all while the words "UNFUNNY SOAPBOX BIT" scrolled behind the animation in the background. And then he finished the review with this line:
    Yahtzee: Maybe if the world was a little less prejudiced and little more accepting then people might see that we all have the potential to be so much more and then we can all work together to build a better world for everyone. Not that they'd know anything about work, the lazy ni- *credit sequence*.
  • One episode of The Strangerhood parodied black-and-white detective films, with everything changing color in shades of grey. Sam refers to the color scheme as black and white, which causes Chalmers, the African resident, to think Sam has issues.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Battlefield Friends episode, "Recon C4," the Noob says that he'd expect the Medic (who is black) to steal his C4, leading to this exchange:
    Medic: The fuck is that supposed to mean!?
    Noob: You know what it's supposed to mean!
    Medic: No, I don't! Tell me!
    Noob: You're always stealing my kills with your overpowered rifles!
    Medic: ...oh... Oh, I thought you were s-... never mind.

    Western Animation 
  • King of the Hill: Hank is thought to be subconsciously Afrophobic after his dog attacks a black repairman. It's later revealed the dog attack stems from his innate dislike of repairmen, irrespective of ethnicity.
    • The Church's less than subtle approach of convey the "racism is bad", culminating in a group of church goers and the female Priest singing on Hank's lawn with a big cross, points out the hypocrisy of condemning racism yet taking a similar attitude towards those who don't share the same view point.
    • In an early episode, Hank doesn't want to go to his new Laotian neighbor Kahn's barbecue because Kahn had been nothing but rude and insulting to Hank (calling him a "stupid redneck" and so on). Peggy demands that Hank go, otherwise they'll look like racists. Hank is frustrated, "I don't care about his race, he's a jerk. What kind of country is this where you can only hate a man if he's white?"
  • A Robot Chicken sketch has Batman and Robin playing checkers, with the latter stating his distaste for playing the black side. Unfortunately, The Falcon walks by just as Robin yells out "I hate black!", leading to some awkwardness, to put it mildly.
    • Another sketch has a little boy getting amazed when a black stallion starts talking to him. The stallion, talking in an African-American accent, angrily accuses the boy of assuming he was dumb just because he was black. The boy tries to explain that a horse doesn't normally talk, but this just makes him angrier.
  • Randy Marsh of South Park, after he uses the n-word on television in "With Apologies to Jesse Jackson", thinking it was the answer to a Wheel of Fortune bonus puzzle.
    • It didn't help that the topic was "People Who Annoy You," and currently the parts he had solved spelled out N_GGERS. Even the black audience members came to the same conclusion. To anyone wondering, the right answer was Naggers. Stan later defends him saying his father isn't racist, just stupid.
    • This trope was played with (somehow) in "There Goes the Neighborhood", where the townsfolk get upset at the town being filled with...rich people (all of whom happen to be black). They try several things that could be seen as racist (burning "lowercase Ts" for "Time to leave", dressing like "ghosts" that more than resemble KKK members), but the "richers" all see these as exactly what they were intended to be. At the end of the episode, after the rich people have left, the townsfolk plan to sell all of the rich people's houses and become rich themselves. When someone points out that means they would become what they hate, Mr. Garrison remarks "Well, at least we got rid of those damn n-" *episode ends*
    • At the end of "Summer Sucks", an attempt to make the world's biggest ash-snake covers everyone with soot. Chef drives up and, assuming they're in blackface, tells them all to line up for an ass-kicking.
    • In "Cartman's Silly Hate Crime 2000", Cartman is sent to prison for committing a hate crime when he threw a rock at Token for completely unrelated, but still stupid, reasons.
    • And there's "Chef Goes Nanners" where Chef lobbies to have the town's flag changed, as it depicts four white men hanging a black man. To Chef's indignation, Stan and Kyle claim to not see what the big deal is. He's completely convinced that they're racists...until he realises that they were so entirely not racist that they didn't think of the men on the flag four white guys and one black guy. They thought of them as five guys.
      • In the same episode, Jimbo and Ned, who aren't racist but are against having the flag changed for the sake of preserving history, sneak into a KKK meeting dressed as Klan members in order to convince them to switch sides, since they know nobody will vote for whichever side the KKK supports. When they sneak out of the meeting, they remove their hoods, only for Chef to drive by at that exact moment.
  • In The Venture Bros. the Alchemist, remarking upon Jefferson Twilights' outfit, says "black is slimming". Cue a stony-faced expression from the African-American Jefferson.
  • Family Guy
    • Brian gets it from his father. It's a Running Gag, and in at least one episode the full attempts to prove "not racist" backfiring is shown.
    • Another one has Peter shouting to a Million Man March that they're a disgrace and should be ashamed. He was actually talking about all men, having gotten into women's lib.
    • And:
      Brian: Where'd you get crack?
      Peter: From Black's.
      Brian: What?!
      Peter: I got it from behind Black's Hardware Store. There's a white guy selling it.
    • In the banned episode "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein", Peter thinks that being Jewish automatically makes you intelligent (after befriending a stereotypically savvy Jewish financial planner) and takes Chris to get bar mitzvah'ed. When Lois goes to stop them, she talks about how wrong it is, but the people in the synagogue mistakenly think she's a self-hating Jew and chase the Griffins out.
  • In the episode "Romeo Must Wed" from The Proud Family, Penny developed a crush on Kwok while rehearsing for their school's production of Romeo & Juliet. After a while, Kwok's parents, the Wongs, politely asked Penny's parents, Oscar and Trudy, that they not allow Penny and Kwok to see each other anymore. While Trudy remained civil in her inquiry, Oscar immediately jumped to conclusions, thinking that the Wongs didn't approve of their son having a relationship with Penny because she wasn't "good enough" for them. This prompted both Oscar and Mr. Wong to imply the other was a racist. It turned out the real reason was that Kwok had an arranged bride, who was coming to town for a visit.
  • An episode of Stripperella: A female supervillain called "The Bridesmaid," driven mad by winding up "always a bridesmaid, never a bride," kidnaps several bridegrooms and announces her intention to murder them all. She points her gun at one of the grooms and tells him that he will die first - and because this particular groom happens to be African-American, he accuses her of racism for it. The Bridesmaid concedes the point and opts to start with one of the other grooms - but, in a sort of inverted case of Genre Savvy, they all catch on and reveal to her their status as members of "oppressed" groups so that the Bridesmaid will not be able to kill any of them either (including one groom who conveniently "remembers" that he has a "Native American grandparent").
  • The Simpsons:
    • White-on-white example: In a "future" episode, Homer and Bart horrify Lisa's British fiancé by accidentally setting the Union Jack on fire.
    • Another white-on-white example (actually a subversion, in that the victim really does have negative attitudes):
    [Krusty the Clown has just learned that he never had his bar mitzvah.]
    Krusty: I thought I was a self-hating Jew, but it turns out I'm just a plain anti-Semite.
    Rainier Wolfcastle: [sympathetically] We have so much to discuss...
    Krusty: KKK? That's not good!
  • At one point, in Metalocalypse the crew of Dethklok was accused of being racist, and so decided to hold a community outreach concert to prove otherwise. Unfortunately, due to Toki's revenge meddling, they joined his special "Special Persons Invites Club", and showed up wearing his special club outfits (white robes and hoods), in front of a model of the club logo (a white letter T, for Toki).
  • On American Dad!, Steve had his black lab partner over at the house and Francine made her leave, explaining that she didn't feel comfortable with "her kind" in the house. It turns out that she actually noticed that the girl in question was left-handed, which turns out be a base of Boomerang Bigotry.

    Real Life 
  • The so-called Water Buffalo Incident, in which Pennsylvania University student Eden Jacobowitz was charged with violating the school's racial harassment policy when he yelled "Shut up, you water buffalo!" out the window of his dorm to a noisy, mostly black crowd of students. Ironic in the fact that Jacobowitz was Jewish, and his usage of "water buffalo" was a rough translation of the Hebrew "behema", referring to a noisy, rowdy person.
  • Bert Newton once famously said "I like the boy!" when referring to Muhammad Ali, who didn’t take it that well. Bert was making a Call Back to a recurring comedy routine in which he impersonated Colonel Sanders — unfortunately in America, boy can be considered a racist insult ("No matter how old he is, a black man is always 'boy'"). Luckily, Muhammad Ali did quickly get over it.
    • It should be mentioned that "boy" is a common term of address in the American South, as in the phrase "good old boy." It's often condescending, but not necessarily racist.
  • The term "black hole" has been mistaken for racist at least twice.
  • Here: white man David Howard used the word "niggardly" (which means "miserly", and has a completely different etymology from that other N word) when talking about the budget, which was interpreted by a black man as being the other word. Howard resigned from his job because of this, but later took another job in the administration.
    • The incident led to something of a clash of beleaguered minorities, as Howard was a gay man and his resignation (widely believed to be forced) was roundly protested by gay-rights activists. Howard's boss, Anthony Williams - a black man and then-mayor of Washington, D.C. - later conceded that he "acted too hastily" in accepting Howard's resignation.
  • The expression "To call a spade a spade" dates back to Plutarch in Greek. The ethnic slur dates no earlier than the late '20s.
  • An ancient Roman text describes a visiting African man as "someone you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley at night." This is because the Romans believed ghosts were black, like living shadows; the white bedsheet look is much more recent. Still possibly racist or at least offensive (like comparing a very pale white person to a modern ghost, maybe), but for an unexpected reason.
  • The (African-American) chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, was being interviewed on a news show when this exchange occurred:
    Reporter: What is it that you people want?
    Steele: "You people"?!
    Reporter: Yeah, Republicans.
    Steele: Oh! [chuckles] I thought you meant ...
  • Due to the popularity of neopaganism among white supremacists, bands like Týr and Moonsorrow have had to release video statements in order to convince the public that they were in fact not neo-Nazis.
    • Swastikas are a common element of some neo-pagan symbols, and some (like Thor's hammer), distinctly resemble swastikas. Most neo-pagans avoid them for this reason, or find alternatives.
  • In 1992, Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot was raked over the coals when, during an address to the NAACP's national convention, he twice referred to the audience as "you people." He was so shaken up by the resulting controversy that he dropped out of the race (although he got back in a couple of months later).
  • In one episode of The Apprentice, one of the contestants used the phrase "The pot calling the kettle black" when referring to one of the other contestants, who then took it to be a racist comment.
  • On the reality web series Strip Search, Alex designed a t-shirt with a crest featuring the initials of the show. The judges cautioned him on this subject, noting that there were inherent problems with a military-esque symbol with "SS" in the middle, and that even if he didn't think of that, "someone will".
  • There's a hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts called Cooley-Dickinson, but locals tend to abbreviate it to "Cooley-Dick" and on at least one occasion this has been mistaken for a racial slur when referring to the interns as the hospital, many of whom are Asian-American.
  • Famously occurred with the casting of the first season of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers where Thuy Trang and Walter Jones, of Vietnamese and African descent respectively, were cast as the Yellow and Black Rangers. The was unintentional and the creators made good about not repeating it. (They did put a Native American as the Red Ranger in Power Rangers Zeo, but that was because the character was already the Ensemble Darkhorse and production wanted to promote him to The Hero and team leader, who wears red by default. There was also another black Black Ranger in Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, but suit color was the least of the character's Unfortunate Implications.)
  • More than one prominent politician, including former presidential candidates John Kerry, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, has been accused of racism for using the phrase "tar baby". Many assumed it was a racist slur; in actuality, it refers to a problem that only gets worse the more heavily you get involved in it (the original reference came from the Uncle Remus stories). Most politicians now use the less-charged terms "quagmire" or "the third rail", depending on the context of the issue.


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