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Scary Minority Suspect

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When a crime happens, ranging from a petty theft to murder, who's the first person everyone blames? The Token Minority character, of course—they just seem to have an evil look about them! This can be because their demographic is stereotyped to be full of criminals, they're seen as foreign and therefore untrustworthy, they're suspected of harboring racial resentment toward others, or they simply look strange and intimidating. If they're the sole minority character in the main cast, it'll often turn out that they're Wrongly Accused and they were innocent all along—a Red Herring that's also designed to teach a Prejudice Aesop about the dangers of accusing people based on incorrect or outdated stereotypes.

From the start, they may vocally assure others of their innocence from the get-go—which only serves to cast further suspicion upon them. Are they truly innocent and simply decrying the stereotype? Are they guilty and trying to misdirect people? Are they invoking this trope so anyone who accuses them will be Mistaken for Racist?

Very much a Dead Unicorn Trope, and it's been seen as such for a long time. In 1928, Fr. Roland Knox wrote the "Ten Commandments" of the Fair-Play Whodunnit, and Number 5 was "No Chinaman must figure in this story." Outdated racial terminology aside, it's a condemnation of stereotypical Yellow Peril villains like Fu Manchu, who were always responsible for the crime because they're Inscrutable Orientals with devious minds. Nowadays, it's almost impossible to find this trope played straight—mainly because creators want to avoid the Unfortunate Implications of frequently depicting minority characters as villains.

Compare The Butler Did It and Only One Plausible Suspect. Compare and contrast Flawless Token. Often overlaps with Scary Black Man, Middle Eastern and South Asian Terrorists, Ruthless Foreign Gangsters, Yellow Peril, and Roguish Romani.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Case Closed inverts this. Whenever an American suspect is brought up, He/she is immediately the most suspicious, and when one is found innocent, people are surprised.
    • In at least one arc, all the suspects were American, and the culprit turned out to be the one who was the most American. (Sometimes that meant the one who couldn't read Kanji, sometimes that meant the one who didn't know a certain Japanese custom, etc.)

  • Patrice O'Neal had a bit where he discusses how this trope makes him afraid when a white woman walks by him:
    "Oh Jesus, I hope nobody kills this white woman because I'ma get blamed for it."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Desolation Williams at the beginning of Ghosts of Mars. It doesn't help that he's a wanted murderer.
  • Very little is known about the defendant in 12 Angry Men except that he's some kind of ethnic minority. Despite this, most of the jurors are eager to say he's guilty and get the trial over with, although only the most vindictive juror admits to outright racism.
  • Inverted in White Man's Burden. Since the entire movie is a race flip, the whites are the scary minority suspects. The protagonist finds himself on the wrong end of it when two black cops harass him because he "fit the description" of another suspect. Another white man notes that black cops are scared of white ghetto people because they think they look like ghosts at night.
  • An example that occurred from Real Life is shown in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Bobby Seale had absolutely no association with the white defendants accused of inciting the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention and wasn't even in the city long enough to be caught up in them. But he was the co-founder of the Black Panther party, so the Justice Department threw his case in with theirs to make it appear that the protesters were affiliated with those scary Panthers.

  • Discworld:
    • Inverted in the book Jingo. After an assassination attempt on a major Klatchian official, Commander Vimes of the Watch immediately suspects everybody except the Klatchians, who turn out to be behind the murder attempt after all. They planted evidence to make it look like a hamfistedly racist frame job because they knew Vimes would "see through it."
    • Coalface in Men at Arms is the Fantastic Racism counterpart; a dwarf was killed, he's a troll, as far as Mayonnaise Quirke of the Day Watch is concerned, you don't need any more evidence than that.
  • Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird. Although Tom is a very nice man who isn't scary in the least, and of course, is completely innocent. However, most of Maycomb assume he is a scary minority suspect who did rape Mayella because of the prevailing racist attitudes of the time. Even after ample evidence and testimony is submitted that proved that not only was Tom innocent (and in fact unable to do it since the bruises were done by someone left handed, and Tom doesn't have the use of his left hand), it was Mayella's own father that beat her after he caught her coming on to Tom, the jury finds Tom guilty. And Atticus suspects that most of the 'deliberation' was the rest of the jury browbeating the Rogue Juror into submission.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Pretty much every episode of Law & Order will have either him or one or more High-School Rejects as their first suspect of interest.
  • Mocked on The Wire. When a white man is giving a description of Omar Little to Bunk, he describes Omar as huge and so is his gun. Bunk and another black detective share a chuckle over their in-joke: BNBG - Big Negro, Big Gun.
  • Subverted in one episode of CSI. While the Scary Black Man the CSIs first suspect didn't actually kill the murder victim (the murder was actually done by the white pedophile who offered his services as a "consultant" to Grissom), he did viciously beat the victim and his friend while he was babysitting them, which made them run out of the house until they were picked up by the real killer. He's arrested on assault and battery charges; it's noted that he'd indirectly contributed to the boy's death even if he didn't actually kill the kid himself.
  • Seen several times on The Good Wife; season 1's episode "Conjugal" and season 2's "Nine Hours" are good examples. Both are death row cases to boot.
  • Castle doesn't typically go for this, but it had a heck of a Lampshade Hanging in one episode. A juror died in the middle of a trial, and another juror immediately skipped town, making himself look guilty. When they bring him in, he explains that he saw a "big, scary black guy" glaring at him as it happened and figured that meant he was next. Said big, scary black guy thus becomes a suspect but is quickly cleared.
  • Criminal Minds episode "The Fox" features one in the form of a victim's abusive ex-husband.
    • On the other hand, the show usually subverts the trope. Police officers that the agents are giving their profile to, are often surprised (and sometimes not very happy) to hear that the suspect is probably white.
    • Played with in "The Tribe". The FBI is called in on the assumption that a single Native American suspect murdered several people in an abandoned building (and thus that this person is extremely dangerous). When the FBI arrive however, they very quickly realize that there was more than one suspect. They also end up determining that the suspects were not Native American at all, but a weird club/cult of students who were framing the local tribe.
  • Cold Case often featured suspects who flat out admitted that they either fled from or refused to cooperate with the police, knowing that they'd be the prime suspect simply for being a black man in the vicinity of the white victim.