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Troubled Sympathetic Bigot

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"Accept them? How can I accept them? Can I deny everything I believe in? On the other hand, can I deny my own daughter? On the other hand, how can I turn my back on my faith, my people? If I try and bend that far, I'll break. On the other hand... No! There is no other hand!"
Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof, deciding to disown his beloved daughter for marrying a man from another religion.

This character is genuinely sympathetic, but their opinions are not. This creates a tension that creates drama and angst. Such a character is often a walking debate/Aesop on whether Rousseau Was Right or not — can we rise above our petty prejudices?

They will be harmed by their own bigotry. And maybe others, too. However, they're unlikely to go so far as to engage in actual Honor-Related Abuse. Condescending Compassion might be generated, in either direction. They might be ashamed of their lack of bigotry, fearing that it will make them a traitor to their race, gender, religious group or whatever.

While a very different kind of character, Cerebus Syndrome may lead a Noble Bigot or an Innocent Bigot to become a Troubled Sympathetic Bigot. A Troubled Sympathetic Bigot tends to be neither heroic nor villainous — they're only a little human, struggling with their life.

Sometimes a Knight Templar, Heteronormative Crusader or Windmill Crusader can be a Troubled Sympathetic Bigot at heart. Nearly all Tragic Bigots are likely to also be this, but the same does not apply in reverse. All of these characters are likely to suffer from Internalized Categorism or be recovering from Black-and-White Insanity. A Politically Incorrect Villain who makes a Heel–Face Turn may have a transition period as a Troubled Sympathetic Bigot.

For characters who are destructive yet sympathetic - without having any internal conflict about their own bigotry - see instead Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa many of the AU versions of the characters that we've come to know and love have quite literally become Nazis. Quite sympathetic ones though.
  • In Code Geass Cornelia and Clovis have a particular hatred for the Elevens that goes beyond the belief in Britannian superiority over the numbers. This is because they believe that their beloved younger siblings Lelouch and Nunnally were murdered by Japanese people during the war.
    • However, to their credit, they do not let it get in the way of their duties as Viceroy of Area Eleven, although it is unsure as to whether this loss of his siblings is the reason Clovis was so quick to order a massacre of an entire Eleven ghetto to hide his secret when such lengths were unnecessary, and may have spared his life when Lelouch finally confronted him.
  • In One Piece, Fisher Tiger was this. He was fully aware that his Irrational Hatred against humans was just that- irrational, and strove to set a good example and not pass it on (i.e. freeing both human and fishman slaves). However, he himself had suffered so badly at human hands that he just couldn't love them any more, no matter how hard he tried. This eventually led to his death when he refused a transfusion of human blood. He was absolutely disgusted at himself for this attitude, but he found he couldn't overcome it. His crew chose to spread around the story that humans denied the transfusion.

    Comic Books 
  • In Johanna and Helena, Anna is stuck with her well-meaning but very religious parents who she assume will never accept her if they find out she's a lesbian. The parents eventually find out and politely disown her and her girlfriend. There is no malice in their rejection, and no sarcasm in their politeness. Only an overwhelming sadness.
  • Bitchy Butch is often portrayed this way, unlike her more genuinely unsympathetic counterpart Midge.
  • Magneto of the Marvel Universe has been very different characters under different authors. In some versions he was this trope, both as a villain and as a reluctant hero. In any case, his family was killed in the Holocaust, which left him with the belief that differences between humans could not be overcome, and that it was better for mutants to straight up conquer a world for themselves because regular humans wouldn't let them have it.
  • In Logicomix, Frege is totally honest and devoted to truth and logic. Sadly, this devotion combined with Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance leads to Black-and-White Insanity in the form of a Straw Vulcan despising of women and Jews. On the whole, this makes him a Troubled Sympathetic Bigot who is desperately trying to do the right thing.

    Fan Works 
  • Atonement has Cassie Herren, better known as the teenaged Empire 88 villain Rune. She grew up in such a racist environment that she never realized that it wasn't normal to hate minorities, nor was it acceptable to use racial slurs in everyday conversation. When Madison reaches out to her, she eventually proves to be a loyal friend and willing to try to change herself.
  • In the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, a girl arrives in Ankh-Morpork from that world's version of South Africa. As her country is firmly stuck in The Apartheid Era, she brings a lot of ingrained attitudes off the boat with her which she has to struggle to set aside. And at first she doesn't see why she has to shed some of her hitherto unchallenged assumptions about black people.
  • Draco Malfoy as depicted in The Rigel Black Chronicles is very much this way. With Hogwarts being pureblood-only, he doesn't have the same triggers as canon, nothing to really lash out against, leaving him generally amiable and a supportive friend, yet with ingrained prejudices whenever he does come across someone he's been raised to believe is inferior. Harry is saddened when she meets him in her true identity and sees that he's clearly uncomfortable being around a half-blood. To his credit, in third year, he does genuinely reflect on Professor Lupin's childhood and how he himself could easily have become a werewolf if he were unlucky enough to be bitten, although he prefers to shy away from the thought. He also doesn't want to give up "Rigel's" friendship upon the revelation that "Rigel" is a half-blood, although he's upset and confused by the deception.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In At Five in the Afternoon, the protagonist's father is a Taliban who wants women to be passive illiterates dressed in burqas. However, he doesn't really have any time oppressing his daughter, because he's busy trying to keep her and the rest of his family alive. He fails. The movie ends with his grandson and only male heir dying in his arms from starvation. He's heartbroken over the few small liberties she takes in his face, and because she loves him and doesn't want to break his heart further she keeps it secret from him that she's actually learning to read.
  • In Schindler's List, the protagonist wrestles with his conscience for quite a while before making the leap from being a Nazi slaver to being a subversive hero secretly saving thousands of Jews from the Nazis.
  • In Gran Torino, Walt is clearly annoyed that his neighborhood has been largely taken over by Hmong families, and isn't shy about throwing out stereotypes and racial slurs. He is further annoyed, after chasing away some gang-bangers who were harassing a boy in the Hmong family (he claims the only reason they did this was because they were on his lawn), when his new neighbors send him gifts of thanks and invite him over. In the end, he realizes how much he has in common with his neighbors and becomes genuinely close to them (except for the matriarch, who doesn't like white people). He ends up willing his classic Gran Torino to the boy after his Heroic Sacrifice.
    • It also becomes clear that most of his racism is for show: he intentionally refers to Thao as "Toad" and the Hmong as "Hamongs" or "gooks" to disguise his affection for them, even from himself. He's just as quick to trade ethnic insults with his white friends.
  • Easy A: Marianne seem to suffer worse from her own actions then it hurts Olive, and it's not from some kind of retributive Karma either. She seem to mean well, but is horribly misguided.
  • Matt Dillion's character in Crash. He's shown having a racist attitude towards blacks and even sexually molests a black woman. Yet we see that he really cares about his father who is dying and lost his business. Even later, he rescues the same woman he had groped earlier from a burning car, saving her life. It's hard to know if we should feel sorry for him or not. In fact, this trope is kinda the whole point of the film, really.
  • At the end of Do the Right Thing, the Italian characters express hatred toward blacks when they burn down their restaurant in a riot. Made all the more tragic by the fact they were friends with many of the African Americans who were rioting.
  • In American History X, the two main characters join a skinhead gang after their father was killed by an African American. The rest of the movie deals with their struggling with and eventually rejecting their bigotry.
  • In Hangman's Knot, Mrs. Harris is a Tragic Bigot who regards all Confederate soldiers as butchers because she lost her husband and her only son fighting for the Union in the Civil War. However, she starts to see the similarities between the New Meat Confederate soldier Jamie, who joined up after seeing his family killed and their farm burned to the ground during Sherman's March to the Sea, and her son. By the end of the film, her attitdes have changed, and she and her father offer Jamie a place on their property if he wants it, saying no one who is looking for him will ever find him there. Jamie accepts, vowing to return once he has officially surrendered and discharged himself for the Confederate army.

  • In Les Misérables, Inspector Javert starts out as a regular lawman, but is gradually shown to suffer from Black-and-White Insanity. In the end, he's quite sympathetic as he struggles with his worldview, and ultimately, after the reformed criminal he's been trying to catch spares his life, Jarvert is unable to reconcile this with his rigid beliefs and kills himself.
  • In a weird example, Vimes from Discworld is treated like one, but it's a mostly informed characteristic — he never actually says anything especially racist. Of course, since he thinks equally badly of all Discworld species, he probably doesn't exactly qualify as "bigoted" anyway, and is more of a Troubled Sympathetic Misanthrope. He loves the city and will fight like hell to keep it in order, but he doesn't think well of the actual people. Thud! showcases Vimes's internal conflicts best, but most of the City Watch books are driven by Vimes's fight to protect and serve a bunch of assholes he doesn't care about.
    • It's clearer in Men at Arms, when the Watch gets a troll, a dwarf, and a werewolf as new recruits. From there on, it gets a passing mention as he reflects that more non-humans are entering the Watch and comes in really strong in Thud! when he's forced to take on a vampire.
    • With regards to vampires Vimes is certainly a bigot, and refuses to permit any into the watch until forced by Vetinari. He is shown in Men at Arms to hate vampires because of their stereotypical links to aristocracy. Snuff deals very heavily with the idea of prejudice (particularly towards Goblins who are not considered citizens and ergo, have no rights even when they're the victims of murder) and shows Vimes to have grown quite philosophical about his earlier prejudices. His comments about another character finding redemption through his treating all thinking beings as equals say a lot about his Character Development.
  • Huckleberry Finn's fundamental goodness eventually wins out over his ingrained racism, and he decides to help fugitive slave Jim escape, despite doing so being entirely contrary to what he thought of as moral: All right then, I'll go to Hell.
  • In The Pillars of the Earth Prior Philip, one of the main protagonists, causes many troubles to the other protagonists because of this trope. The worst part is him forcing Jack to become a monk when he is really not fit to be one.
  • Protagonist Okonkwo from Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is a curious example, a fiercely traditionalist Ibo tribesman in pre-colonial Nigeria. Many tropes in the book that would seem familiar to a Westernized audience, particularly Noble Savage and Good Old Ways are rightly turned on their heads.
  • This is Severus Snape's backstory in the Harry Potter books. In his youth, he resented his abusive Muggle father and, by extension, Muggles and Muggle-born wizards and witches in general. The situation got worse when Snape became an outcast at Hogwarts; the only kids who accepted him were a group of even worse bigots who would eventually grow up to join Lord Voldemort's Death Eaters (as would Snape). Snape's bigotry drove a wedge between him and his Muggle-born friend Lily Evans, but he didn't see the light until his boss Voldemort murdered Lily. After this, Snape became a spy for Dumbledore and abandoned his old bigotry out of respect for Lily, the only friend he ever had.
  • Caliphate:
    • John Hamilton despises Muslims due to being raised in a society that teaches its people to hate their religion and those who practice it, as well as spending his military career fighting against terrorists which ended up causing the death of his girlfriend.
    • Besma bint Abdul to a lesser extent than Hamilton. While she is nice towards her Christian handmaid Petra whom she treats as a little sister, she loathes "American devils" forthe same reasons as Hamilton does with her people.
  • Lincoln Rhyme: Italian prosecutor Dante Spiro in "The Burial Hour" has a deep grudge against Americans due to his grandfather being an Allied soldier who was mistaken for an Axis one by Americans and put into a prison camp with Nazi soldiers who saw him and his unit as traitors and tortured most of them to death while the guards stood and watched. The fact that the senior American officers responsible for the mistake refused to apologize didn't help. The lingering stress of this incident hurt his mother's mental health. Spiro himself admits that while he knows his resentment for Americans isn't entirely rational he has a hard time getting over it.
  • Near the beginning of The Mouse Watch, we learn that Bernie Skampersky is a Tragic Bigot who wants to join the titular Heroes "R" Us organization because she saw a rat kill her brother, causing her to hate and fear the entire species. When she's teamed up with another rookie, a rat named Jarvis Slinktail, she alternates between repeatedly accusing him of being a spy and starting to like him in spite of herself. When she learns that the actual traitor is another mouse, she has a Jerkass Realization, apologizes to Jarvis, and accepts him as a friend and partner.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Archie Bunker from All in the Family has shades of this (as well as most tropes related to bigotry), as one of the main themes of the series is how lost he feels in a modern world that constantly challenges his prejudices. This is most notable in "Stretch Cunningham Goodbye", one of the series' best episodes, where Archie is invited to give the eulogy at a close friend's funeral, not knowing that the man was Jewish — after struggling with the idea, he comes to deeply regret all the antisemitic things he said to Stretch, gives a heartfelt eulogy, and caps it off with a respectful "Shalom".
  • The Sopranos: When Tony Soprano finds out one of his top lieutenants is gay, he spews a lot of homophobic slurs but, when pressed, admits he's actually a lot more ambivalent about it than he lets on, and struggles to find a way to keep him in the fold when so many of his subordinates are far more homophobic. He ultimately caves on this point, but Phil Leotardo makes the point moot before Tony can carry out his decision anyway.
  • Pierce Hawthorne on Community can come across as this. Pierce's inappropriateness, overzealous creativity, and pathological need to be accepted at all cost are all rooted in frustrations getting attention from his father and his fear that his age is now isolating himself from the rest of the study group. He also looks much better when compared to his father, who is aggressively and meticulously racist.
  • King Uther from Merlin. He hates all magic because of his wife's death, and genuinely believes that he's doing what's right when he commits genocide against those that practice magic. He's also a Hypocrite considering he seeks out magical help when he's really desperate (thus indicating that he knows magic can be used for good), and ultimately his actions cause his illegitimate daughter to turn against him, something that drives him to his death.
  • Downplayed with Jay from Modern Family, who struggles with homophobia. While he loves his son Mitchell, his sexuality continues to make him uncomfortable, which eventually comes to a head during Mitchell and Cameron's wedding. However, Jay does ultimately put his issues aside to support his son, and he generally remains sympathetic because it's clear that he's doing his best to overcome his prejudice, which is mostly caused by him growing up in a less progressive time.
  • Cold Case often explores how regressive past attitudes contributed to the murder of the victim, indirectly or otherwise, and how the people who held those attitudes felt enormous regret later on. In "Boy Crazy", the father of the victim-a girl who was persecuted for acting like a boy-dumped his own daughter into an asylum, and in his old age, has come to regret it.
  • Star Trek: Picard: Captain Liam Shaw of the USS Titan-A is prejudiced against the Borg and xBs (ex-Borg) too. He insists on calling his XO "Commander Hansen" despite "Seven" being her chosen name. And despite all that Picard has accomplished, Shaw can't forget that Picard was Locutus of Borg, who was responsible for tens of thousands of lives lost at Wolf 359. Shaw himself was "some dipshit from Chicago," who still doesn't know why he lived and all but 10 crewmembers of his ship are dead.

  • In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye is constantly struggling with his belief in tradition versus his three daughters' yearning for liberation. He manages to accept the first two of them (who want to chose their own husbands on their own terms, but within their own religion), but draws the line with the third (who falls in love with a Christian and converts in order to marry him). He does reconcile with her during what will likely be their final meeting, as the Russian Christians force the Jews out of their homes, and Tevye takes the rest of his family to America.
  • Nellie Forbush and Lieutenant Cable from South Pacific. Nellie is in love with Emile but tearfully leaves him when she finds out he was once married to a "colored" woman, and has two half-Polynesian children. Cable is in love with Liat, but refuses to marry a Tonkinese woman. Cable's song "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" is a self-loathing explanation of how he and Nellie acquired such deep-seated prejudice. Nellie eventually overcomes her prejudice and learns to love Emile's children, but Cable is killed before he has a chance to reconcile with Liat.
  • In Abie's Irish Rose, Abie and Rose Mary know that Abie's father, Solomon Levy, wouldn't stand for his son marrying anyone but a Jewish girl, and that Rose Mary's Irish-Catholic father, Patrick Murphy, feels similarly about her marriage prospects. The ruse by which they get parental consent from both of their families is acrimoniously exposed once Solomon and Patrick meet, but eventually the fathers reconcile with each other and accept their children's marriage thanks to a third-act Contrived Coincidence.

    Video Games 
  • Ghost of Tsushima: Jin Sakai's uncle, Lord Shimura, is a very honorable man who is a paragon for what a samurai should be and raised Jin as though he were his own son after Jin's parents died. However, Shimura is also rather classist; even though he considers it a Samurai's duty to protect the people of Japan, he tends to look down on actual commoners. When he thanks Jin and his cohorts he recruited for saving him from the Mongols part way through the story, while he is very polite towards Ishikawa and Masako, both being nobles, he is contemptuous towards Yuna who is a lowborn thief, despite the fact that she was the one who originally saved Jin in the first place.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel :
    • Machias Regnitz is an example, being a commoner who assumes all nobles are pompous and elitist snobs at the start of the first game. His backstory reveals the reason he despises the nobility is because his cousin fell in love with a noble, but that the man's family didn't approve of their marriage because she was a commoner, and started harassing her so they would call it off. She was eventually Driven to Suicide as a result of the harassment she endured. After revealing his past to some of his classmates, he admits his hatred towards the nobility was blind prejudice, with him admitting he needed something to lash out at in response to his cousin's death. His Character Development throughout the games involves him abandoning his prejudice towards the nobility.
    • Introduced in the third game is Juna Crawford, a citizen of Crossbell who is initially untrusting towards Erebonians because Crossbell ended up getting annexed by Erebonia at the end of the second game. However, as she interacts with her Erebonian classmates, she starts to abandon her prejudice towards Erebonians.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY's Weiss distrusts all Faunus and outright hates the White Fang, a Faunus rights group. This is largely because her family's company is the White Fang's biggest target (due to her Corrupt Corporate Executive father exploiting the Faunus, which Weiss has no part in). She accepts Blake (a former member of the White Fang) as a teammate after several days, but still struggles to respect Faunus when extenuating circumstances don't force her to do so.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In Thunder Cats 2011, Claudus is a stern father to Lion-O, a very narrow-minded king who genuinely believes cats are the Superior Species. He believes his people's Fantastic Racism is justified. Despite all his flaws, deep down he's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who only wants what's best for his people and his son.
  • Steven Universe: "Gem Harvest" has Steven meeting Greg's cousin Andy, a cantankerous conservative stereotype whose initial reaction to the Gems is to angrily dismiss them as a bunch of "illegal immigrant Martian hippies" (to be fair, two of them had moved into family property and rearranged the place without his say-so). Turns out most of his hostility is because after Greg left home, the rest of his family drifted apart, and he was too set in his ways to reach out to them, and he eventually warms up to the Gems, and to the nephew he never knew he had in Steven.
  • Ben 10: Alien Force has "Reiny" the Highbreed, whose species believe themselves to be the Master Race and the first sapients to inhabit the universe if he is to be believed. When he and Ben end up trapped on a desert planet, the two end up becoming friends. Realizing that he's lost the ideal that his kind is superior to all other lifeforms, (and that he's spliced his DNA with one) he allows Ben to go home and stays on the planet in self-imposed exile for losing the core ideals of his race. Much later, Reiny's entire race is revealed to be this. Azmuth explains that their ideas led to inbreeding and several other strange customs to the point that the entire race is sterile, resulting in their Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum.
  • Later episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic reveal Chancellor Neighsay to be this. His first appearance has him firmly in the role of villain, having Fantastic Racism to non-ponies be the cornerstone of his argument against Twilight's school but never-the-less raising valid reasons to not accredit the school, while later episodes show his interest in protecting Equestrian citizens and children is genuine and he's at worst a Noble Bigot with a mean streak with him finally warming up to non-ponies quite easily when he's finally shown he was wrong about them and that his way of thinking had allowed a villainous pony to nearly conquer Equestria. His argument that the non-ponies are a threat is somewhat understandable as non-ponies have been consistent threats to Equestria for quite a while, with Twilight befriending them being a very recent development, and even when he believes he's caught the non-ponies red-handed as those responsible for Equestria's loss of magic the worst he intends to do to them is call their parents and send them home.


Adolf Hitler

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