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John Stewart: It's an honor to fight beside you.
—Justice League, "Legends, part 1"
In some shows, ethnicity is mentioned so little that we could almost say the characters were colorblind. Then, out of the blue, someone will make a "racist yet not racist" remark to the Token Minority. The audience blinks, even if no one else on the show does. Sometimes, this is used to establish a character as a racist, but it's often used to mean the character has a blunt but honest personality. Often the character is an Innocent Bigot who sincerely has no idea that what they're saying could be considered offensive.
Statements like these are often seen as racist because they imply a position of authority of one race over another. It is widely considered patronizing to imply that one race has the right to judge another race, even if that judgment is favorable. It also implies that an individual's actions are a reflection on his or her race, whether those actions are good or bad. This article analyzes such statements in detail.
In stories where themes occasionally toe the line of political correctness, the phrase is sometimes used with as much dripping sarcasm as humanly possible when someone does something incredibly stupid.
Anime and Manga
- In Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Nazi officer Stroheim goes to a group of Jewish prisoners and makes them choose which one of them will be sacrificed to the "man in the column". One boy stands up to offer himself to save the rest, and Stroheim is so impressed by his bravery that he chooses to spare him and kill the rest.
- Black Lagoon has the old SS officer Albert complement Dutch with this after Dutch and Revy kill an entire shipload of neo-nazis who had failed him. He explains that although (the African-American) Dutch is an "inferior race" and that he sincerely hopes "his kind" will one day be exterminated, he's still quite impressed that they managed to defeat the entire crew and that he'd award Dutch an Iron Cross if he was white. Dutch retorts that he wouldn't have wanted it anyway and that he sincerely hopes the old cracker "rots in hell".
- From Top Ten: (the black) Det. Corbeau is stuck in a gladiator tournament on a parallel world where the Roman empire never ended and most "Nubians" are slaves. The announcer introduces him and his opponent, a robotic dinosaur, as: "John 'King Peacock' Corbeau of Precinct Ten, a credit to his race, and Delta 'Technozoic' 2401 of Precinct Seven, a credit to his manufacturers."
Films -- Live-Action
- Underworld Rise of the Lycans—7 minutes in. "You are a credit to your race," said by Viktor to Lucian. Probably done deliberately to highlight Viktor's "racism" against werewolves.
- The 2009 Star Trek Movie has Spock welcomed into the Vulcan Science Academy in such a manner. "You have done exceptionally well despite your disadvantage […] Your human mother". Spock declines the offer (reminding them that by their own metric, their perfect record of accepting the offer to join among Vulcans still stands, as he is a "half-human" instead) and then turns it back on them with a viciously subtexted "Live Long and Prosper" that sounds like a Precision F-Strike.
- Brilliantly paraphrased by someone as "Live long and prosper... and the horse you rode in on" or "Live long and suck it!"
- The main character of the World War II film A Soldier's Story is a black Army Captain (not to be confused with a Captain in armed anarchist groups during the Russian Revolution), which at the time was utterly unheard of, as the Army was still segregated at this point. He was sent to an base in Louisiana to investigate the murder of a black sergeant. The Colonel of the base clearly doesn't want him there, but has orders to comply and gives the captain this speech before he begins his investigation:
Colonel: Remember, you're the first colored officer most of these men ever seen. The Army expects you to set an example for the colored troops... and be a credit to your race.
- As mentioned above, in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Watto describes Anakin as a credit to his species. Of course, most humans can't do what Anakin can.
- Spoofed in the Woody Allen flick Scoop; Allen's character says those exact words to so many people he meets it's practically his Catch Phrase, never mind that all of those people are white, British aristocrats.
- In The Patriot, Capt. Wilkins and Tavington.
- Happens to black Yo-less in Johnny and The Bomb. It's to be expected in World War Two era England, though.
- In A Conspiracy of Paper, the protagonist is Jewish and one scene has him conversing with several intellectual friends, all of whom are presented as enlightened people. They are all of the opinion that Jews are basically Exclusively Evil and view the protagonist as one of the few exceptions.
- Slughorn in Harry Potter seems to honestly realize that prejudice based on blood purity is wrong, but still seems surprised that Lily was so talented and naturally assumes that Tom Riddle is from some old, noble family.
- Well, technically he was... on his mother's side at least.
- It might be more accurate to say that Slughorn sensed which way the wind was blowing and decided he didn't want to burn too many bridges by continuing to being casually bigoted, but it's become such a habit that he does a poor job covering it up. He doesn't seem to have many strong feelings on the matter one way or the other.
- He clearly invokes this for Lily, though, and possibly also for Hermione.
- Sadly, this attitude is quite common in real life even after the civil rights movement, especially among the elderly. Many (maybe even most) people have accepted that the actual value and rights of all individuals should be equal regardless of race, but remain unaware that many of the stereotypes and expectations they hold are actually rather racist or demeaning.
- In Discworld book Jingo, this comes up a few times. For example, Sgt. Colon says that a fellow who runs a Klatchian takeaway is "not bad for a raghead." (This may be Pretend Prejudice, though, because Sgt. Colon eats there regularly anyway and while he believes absurd things about Klatchians he doesn't actually mistreat any.)
- In Malevil, Emmanuel makes a comment concerning his foreign lover Birgitta. He "complements" her work ethic as "not being backwards" before stating Germans have no real sense of direction or motivation.
- Done frequently in Hilari Bell's Trickster's Girl. The shapeshifter Raven has a very poor opinion of humans, but thinks well of Kelsa. Whenever he lets her know she's too offended by his opinion of humanity to care that she's being complimented.
- During "Spin the Bottle", a fourth season episode of Angel, the principal characters botch a spell which causes their memories to revert to the age of about 15. As Angel himself was sired as a vampire in 18th century Ireland at age 26, his 15-year-old personality comes across with a rather biased world view, typified by this exchange spoken while Wesley and Gunn were grappling each other.
Cordelia: Aren't you going to stop them?
- Jerri Blank says exactly this to her friend Orlando in an episode of Strangers with Candy, where he is frequently one of the countless racial/ethnic/sexual/religious minorities she will offend in the course of the day (or would offend, if any character in the show were capable of being offended by anything):
Jerri: You're a credit to your race, simian.
- On WKRP in Cincinnati, Mr. Carlson almost called Venus a credit to his race, but caught himself and awkwardly changed it.
- Papa Titus from Titus was created as being so far beyond being un-P.C. that his comments turn right around and could almost be considered compliments.
Ken Titus: What's the hurry? Your fifteen kids will still be waiting for you when you get home!
- Also when Titus introduced Ken to his new black friend Roger who just moved to the neighborhood, Ken politely greets him, then adds, "This is the first time I ever saw a black man move a TV into a house."
- From Star Trek TOS episode "Who Mourns For Adonais," Apollo has this to say of the archaeology and ancient culture expert of the Enterprise crew:
Apollo: You seem wise, for a woman.
- May come across as ironic depending on how it's interpreted. On one hand, his own sister, Athena, was the goddess of wisdom. On the other hand, goddesses are not considered "women." They are a separate order of being.
- Also in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Favor the Bold", when Damar asks Quark to taste his kanar, to show that it isn't poisoned.
Quark: Poisoning customers is bad for business.
- Deconstructed in That Mitchell and Webb Look. Jesus delivers the parable of the Good Samaritan, which his disciples find offensive as it implies that goodness in a Samaritan is uncommon enough to be worthy of note.
- Parodied in an episode of The Muppet Show. Statler and Waldorf are commenting on one of the guests, and one of them comments on the performer being a credit to their race. The other asks "What race is that?" and the reply is "The hundred-yard dash." Dohohos follow.
- Subverted in Doctor Who, in the Jon Pertwee storyline "The Green Death". When the Doctor meets Dr. Clifford Jones, he mentions that he read one of Dr. Jones' papers, saying that it was "brilliant for his age". Subverted in that the Doctor didn't mean Dr. Jones' physical age, but the age in which he lived(early 1970s).
- The Minbari Proud Warrior Race Guy Neroon in Babylon 5 complements the human Sinclair (who belongs to a species he had once tried to genocide, and dismisses as inferior) in this way when Sinclair makes a profound speech about his dead war leader.
Neroon: You talk like a Minbari, Commander. Perhaps there was some small wisdom in letting your species survive.
- In GURPS Alternate Earths, one of the alternate timelines is dominated by Muslims. In this world, "Muslim" is seen as a synonym for "civilized", and if a Muslim calls a Chinese or European "almost Muslim", we have this trope.
- In the famous Warcraft III custom map Defense of the Ancients, Kardel Sharpeye the Dwarven Sniper is said to be "a testament to his name and race".
- The Vasudan officer debriefing you in a mission from Freespace2, when you're in an officer exchange program, compliments you this way. To be fair, the two races had fought a 14-year war since their first contact, which was ended (and turned into an alliance) to face the Shivans, and they've come a long way since then in a mere 32 years. Despite the lingering stereotyping, racism, etc, this case is actually more along the lines of a very high military award. Heck, many such awards in today's militaries are worded along the lines of "your actions reflect great honor upon your unit and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Navy." However, there are a few other times in the game where this happens, but they're always genuinely well-meaning compliments. This is not quite the case in the first game.
- In Deus Ex Human Revolution, Brent Radford is quite possibly the most vocal anti-aug in the game, and will keep hurling insults at Jensen even if he tries to save his life. The closest thing to a compliment you can get out of him (and only if you go through the right dialog path) is when he claims Jensen has "a lot of heart...for a robot".
- In Mass Effect 1, Garrus can tell Wrex that he's been raised to see the krogan as savage thugs, but Wrex has surprised him. "You are different." Wrex is about as impressed as Spock, and suggests Garrus go back to the ship, lest staying in the real world force him to actually learn something.
- Fallout: New Vegas. If you get the Boomers' respect, they start being impressed at how competent you are "for a savage" (i.e. a non-Boomer). Some of them even try to correct themselves from calling you "savage" and call you "outsider" instead.
- Similarly, the Brotherhood of Steel can be quite (unintentionally) patronizing towards you as well, even if you have a high standing with them.
- A woman courier gets the same treatment from The Legion, who are staggeringly sexist against women and yet have to pin all their hopes on one.
- Minsc in Baldurs Gate 2 will openly praise Mazzy Fentan for being such a good warrior despite being so short. Subverted in that Mazzy realizes that Minsc isn't racist but just very earnest and used to saying things outright without social context. Minsc also apologizes once Boo points this trope out to him.
- In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Imperial Agent can be played to be quite a bigot towards aliens and can quote the trope name verbatim when prompted, Kaliyo (and most of your crew for that matter) dissaprove of this bigotry.
- The above Justice League quote. The Streak, a World War II superhero who is an Expy of the Golden Age Flash...and his attitude would probably be progressive for the era, as he's being completely sincere; John (who is black) is polite enough to take the condescending "compliment" in the spirit it was intended, although he does sound a mite frustrated at the same time.
- It also means two things; one, he's a credit to the black people, and two; he's a credit to the heroes of his alternate-Earth.
- Hey Arnold!, "Phoebe Cheats": It is suggested to Principal Wartz that he honor Phoebe, one of the few Asian characters in the show, since she just won a poetry contest.
Principal Wartz: We're proud of our multicultural students here at P.S. 118. Where do you come from, Phoebe?
- In a bizarre response, he fails to realize Kentucky is a state, and pronounces it in an exaggerated "Asian" manner.
Principal Wartz: Well, Phoebe, let's make Kentuckay proud on Thursday with a prize-winning poem.
- Subverted in an episode of Teen Titans, when Noble Bigot guest hero Val-Yor turns out to be offensively racist towards Starfire's Tamaranian species. As expected, Starfire eventually saves his life, and Val-Yor learns his aesop... that Starfire is obviously one of the "good ones". Neither Starfire nor her friends are impressed, and Val-Yor takes this as a reason to disregard everything he had learned during the episode.
- In The Venture Brothers, original Team Venture member Col. Horace Gentleman, a decidedly "old-school" Adventurer Archaeologist, introduces the Venture brothers to teammate Kano, an Asian Warrior Poet, and tells them "Despite his racial handicap, Kano here is a crackerjack pilot."
- Which itself is a reference to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
- A humorous subversion/inversion from Futurama, when Fry thinks he's a robot and saves everyone.
Bender: You're a credit to my race!
- In the memoir It's Hard not to Hate You, the narrator's elderly aunt has a habit of implying this. The implications grow more and more obvious until . . .
Aunt: Really, he's a credit to his . . .
- Subverted by sports journalist, Jimmy Cannon, who wrote: "Joe Louis is a credit to his race--the human race."
- Joe Biden infamously remarked that Barack Obama is a "...mainstream African-American who's articulate, clean, and bright". Now Biden is Obama's Vice President.
- In 1940, when Hattie McDaniel won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for playing Mammy in Gone with the Wind, she stated in her acceptance speech that "I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry."
- It Makes Sense in Context. This was back in the days when it was "appropriate" behavior for blacks (and to a lesser degree, whites) to consider themselves separate races.
- Used completely sincerely by General George Patton when addressing a colored unit: "You guys are a credit to your race. You're here because I asked for the best. Now go out there and kick some Kraut ass."
- Used by Adolf Hitler early in his life. His mother, to whom he was devoted, was dying of breast cancer when Hitler was still a teenager. Struggling financially, he begged her incidentally Jewish-Austrian doctor to help his mother, who then did most of the medical examinations and assistance for reduced prices or pro bono. Although his mother did die, he granted the doctor eternal gratitude, describing him as an Ehrenjude ("noble Jew"). It's a historiographically contested issue whether Hitler had already decided on exterminating the Jews at this point in his life, but by that time he had already been violently hostile towards them in general for several years. When the Nazis' persecution of the Austrian Jews began in 1938, he placed the doctor under SS protection and allowed him to emigrate from Germany after Bloch contacted him. This ability to allow for exceptions to his violent racism only serves to make him an even bigger bigot.
- Hitler also gave the title of Honorary Aryan to some Jews, such as World War I veterans, and to the entire Japanese nation. He also once expressed admiration for the Chinese.
- In addition, to honor the fact that Field Marshal Erhard Milch, who was a Jew, was one of his favorite minions, Hitler issued Milch a "German Blood Certificate," and had Nazi propaganda master Hermann Göring rewrite Milch's family tree, while stating "Wer Jude ist, bestimme ich" ("I decide who is a Jew").
- Ann Coulter once claimed that "To become a black Republican, you don't just roll into it. You're not going with the flow...and that's why we have very impressive blacks in the Republican party. (...) And that's why our blacks are so much better than their blacks".