Angelo: ...So what's his problem?
Dolores: A toon killed his brother.
The Tragic Bigot is a character who has developed an Irrational Hatred
of a demographic, race, species, subculture, etc., as the result of a traumatic and tragic incident involving that group in the character's past. This typically manifests as the death of one or more of the bigot's loved ones, the utter ruination of the bigot's life, or something similarly horrible. As a good rule of thumb, the Tragic Bigot would be a straight-up woobie
if they had come out of the incident without holding it against their tormenter's kind.
This doesn't justify the Tragic Bigot's bigotry; the Tragic Bigot is still a bigot, and their hatred is still irrational. However, when this Dark and Troubled Past
is revealed, it quite often causes their peers (and the audience) to think better of them as a character, or at least not hate them as much. It often paints their bigotry in a different light, portraying it as one of the personal demons that an otherwise good character has to fight (or else succumb to entirely, if they're a villainous example).
And this is likely why this is such a common trope for bigots: compared to a regular bigot, the Tragic Bigot has a far
higher capacity to be a good person underneath it all, and thus any non-villainous bigot in a story has a very good chance of being this trope. After all, straight-up bigotry is widely seen as a villainous trait.
This also, however, can make a Tragic Bigot far more hurtful. Since the Tragic Bigot is often an otherwise good person, this gives their remarks far more sting because the characters who are the subjects of their bigotry can't simply dismiss them as a Jerk Ass
and a lost cause they should just ignore. In fact, depending on how tragic the Tragic Bigot is and just how many of that group took part, it can sometimes cause characters in that group to doubt themselves and maybe even fear that the Tragic Bigot could be right about them. Unless said demographic is humans
, however, this rarely if ever lasts very long.
Another important distinction of the Tragic Bigot is that they aren't likely to resort to bullying or mockery like a standard bigot would. The Tragic Bigot doesn't see their hated demographic as inferior, but as evil.
Finally, the Tragic Bigot has a very high chance of redeeming themselves. One very popular method is that the Tragic Bigot runs into their old tormentors during the course of the story and defeats them this time around. If this happens, expect the Tragic Bigot's bigotry to rapidly disappear.
Of course, a Tragic Bigot can still be a villain, and when they are this trope has some serious
overlap with the Tragic Villain
and Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds
Compare Freudian Excuse
, which is what the Tragic Bigot's backstory is. Also see Troubled Sympathetic Bigot
, which a Tragic Bigot is quite likely to also be (though the reverse isn't necessarily the case).
Anime and Manga
- One Piece
- Many fishmen, such as Fisher Tiger, hate humans because of how humans have treated them—they made him a slave, and it is implied that most fishmen hate humans for this reason. This is subverted when Hody Jones, the Big Bad, describes what humans have done to him (personally) to make him hate them: "Nothing." He has, however, witnessed everyone he cares about being mistreated and decided to style himself as the spirit of Fishman Vengeance, lashing out against not only humans, but even fishmen sympathetic to humans.
- Jinbe and Hatchan think Nami is this, since she has a bad childhood with Arlong (their former comrade). However, thanks to Hatchan's general kindness and Jinbe's story (as well as the incident in Sabaody involving Camie the mermaid), Nami has lost any kind of bad opinions towards fishmen. She still hates Arlong, though and the likes of Hody for their personal actions and not because of their species.
- Pretty much everyone who hates humans in Rosario + Vampire has had a tragic encounter with them in one way or another. The biggest example is probably Ruby, whose tragic backstory (her parents both dying in a car crash with a human truck driver), while tragic, didn't reflect overly poorly on humanity (who else would there be to crash into, exactly?). However, she remains sympathetic because her Tragic Bigotry was actually nurtured and encouraged for her entire life by her psychotic witch mentor who wanted to use her in her plan to kill as many humans as possible.
- Eddie Valiant from Who Framed Roger Rabbit used to love Toontown and the toons who lived there until a toon killed his brother, which left him bitter and resentful towards toons in general, especially since he never found out which toon it was until Eddie finally confronts and defeats him at the end of the movie.
- In Team America: World Police, Chris harbors a deep distrust of actors because he was molested by the cast after a Cats performance.
- The Searchers: While Ethan Edwards is basically a Jerkass to everyone, he gains a little sympathy over his hatred of Comanches since a group of them killed his family and took his niece to live as one of them.
- Derek from American History X became a neo-Nazi after his father, a fireman, was murdered by black drug dealers when he tried to extinguish a fire. Although the end of the movie shows that dear old dad was already planting some racist thoughts in a young Derek's mind prior to dad's death. These were far less racist and hurtful things than what Derek later wound up swallowing wholesale from the neo-Nazis, but nonetheless...
- Ending up far worse than Derek was Remy, the Anti-Villain (and, believe it or not, one of the three protagonists) of John Singleton's Higher Learning (1995). At the start of the film, he's actually the most sympathetic character (largely because of his Woobieness), but after too much bullying from the black kids in his college dormitory, and then nonstop taunting from fellow skinheads who mock him for constantly ranting about doing something to avenge the white race but having never even fired a gun before, he buys a sniper rifle and murders three students, the last of which is himself. Remy never even believed in white supremacy (and how could he have, using himself as an index?); he just wanted to live in a fantasy world where his otherwise irrelevant existence automatically had meaning.
- One of the female jury members from the first John Grisham novel A Time to Kill. Her boss is black, and unfortunately, he's a Bad Boss and a Pointy-Haired Boss. No wonder she's a hopeless case. Then again, the protagonist still wins the case.
- Averted with Ciaphas Cain: He claims his parents were killed by kroot, to a kroot's face, but doesn't bear them any more ill-will towards them than the other xenos species. Of course, it's entirely possible he was lying.
- Rene Vorbretten in A Civil Campaign hates Cetagandans for killing his father in battle only to find that one of his ancestors was a Cetagandan.
- Tragic bigotry toward Cetagandans is not an uncommon attitude in Barrayar because of the brutal occupation and because bigotry is a common vice(if less fashionable in Gregor's reign then in earlier times) among Barryarans anyway. Komarrans are often bigoted toward Barrayarans for conquering them as well.
- Dungeons & Dragons Ravenloft setting. In Rudolph van Richten's Back Story his son Erasmus was kidnapped by a Vistani clan and sold him to a vampire. Van Richten tracked down the Vistani and (with a little help) killed all of them in a rage. When he found Erasmus, he learned that his son had been turned into a vampire and killed him. He hated all Vistani for years thereafter but eventually learned that not all Vistani are evil.
- Redcloak from The Order of the Stick. Initially he hated both humans (especially Paladins) because his village was wiped out by a group of Lawful Stupid paladins (since they were mechanically an Always Chaotic Evil race and literally only existed to serve as a source of XP) and Hobgoblins (because he and other goblins were bullied by their more martially inclined brethren). He has since gotten over the latter, but not the former, as a result of this, he declares himself not a racist, but a "Specieist" since he hates all races of humans easily.
- Jamie from Khaos Komix is first introduced as a homophobic Jerkass, and although he shows some Hidden Depths in later appearances, he still comes across as a bigot. It's only in his own POV chapter that readers find out ''why'' he acts like that.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender , the Fire Nation has waged a century-long war against the Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom, committed genocide against the Air Nomads, and has implemented a brutal occupation of all foreign lands they have conquered. Try to find a single person in the initial series or the subsequent comics who hates firebenders and isn't this trope. You will fail.
- In a Courage the Cowardly Dog episode called "The Mask," a cat called "Kitty" hated all dogs because a domestic abuser of her friend Bunny is a dog.
- In one episode of Futurama The Professor leads a group of protestors against Proposition Infinity, which would legalize Robosexuality. It turns out he hates Robosexuals because he used to be one before his robot girlfriend cheated on him with another robot, causing him to take his heartbreak out on all robots with an interest in humans.
- The Legend of Korra has Amon, who claims to hate all benders because a firebender murdered his family. It's a lie, but he still came to hate benders because his traumatic childhood convinced him that bending was evil.
- Hiroshi Sato also turns out to be one of these, surprisingly enough; it's because his beloved wife was murdered by firebenders.