Racism continues to be a major problem around the world, even though it is formally outlawed in the constitutions or other laws of a large number of countries. This is above all expressed in the spreading of stereotypes about a particular ethnic group or nationality, or the encouragement of hostility towards immigrants and people from different cultural backgrounds.
So when public figures and celebrities mistakenly, or sometimes even intentionally, make racist comments, it makes it all the more difficult to overcome the problem. After all, these are people who are frequently seen as role models who can have a significant influence on how people lead their lives and behave, especially the younger generation.
The following list shows that such racist statements can emerge in many different ways. There are of course some individuals who bluntly declare their views, no matter how backward. In other cases, it can be an inadvertent comment or action by an individual that reveals underlying racist assumptions or beliefs. Still, others have fallen victim to situations where they thought that what they were saying was private, but it later became publicized or was overheard. Combining all of these scenarios, let’s take a look at ten examples of celebs who got into controversy with their racist remarks.
10 Walt Disney
He may have been responsible for helping to create some of the more memorable characters from our childhood, but all indications are that Disney was not shy when it came to making racist statements. According to a biography of Disney, he once described the seven dwarfs as a “n****r pile.” Then there was the controversy produced by the film Song of the South, which was perceived by many to have strengthened racial stereotypes of black people. Despite being aware of the potential for the film to lead to trouble, Disney went ahead and released it anyway, even though a promised meeting with the NAACP never took place. Belatedly acknowledging the character of the film, the Disney company has reportedly locked it away in a vault. There have been other critics who have pointed to a number of instances in Disney films where black people or the color black was depicted in a bad light.
9 John Wayne
Despite his carefully cultivated image as a typical American hero through his appearance in many classic westerns, Wayne’s views on race were far from moderate. In an interview in 1971, he suggested that black people were underdeveloped and incapable of assuming leadership positions when he described them as “irresponsible.” He went on to declare that he supported white supremacy, and opposed attempts to increase diversity in Hollywood. He justified this latter stance by saying that not enough African Americans had achieved the skills to work in the technical aspects of movie production. While accepting that a certain percentage of the population was black “or whatever they want to call themselves,” he argued that Hollywood was taking its “tokenism” a little too far.
8 Charlie Sheen
Sheen launched a volley of abuse at his ex-wife Denise Richards, in a voicemail leaked on the internet in 2008. The main part of this that caught everyone’s attention was when he called Richards, a Caucasian woman, a n****r. Sheen quickly released an apology, noting that the voicemail had been recorded three years previously to it being released when the couple were going through a divorce and apologist for the choice of words. He said that he had an African American best man at his first two weddings, trying to prove in this way that he was not a racist. Yet, insulting someone in that way is hard to explain away, and the general reaction to his words was an angry and offended one.
7 Mel Gibson
The difficulty with Gibson is deciding which racist or anti-Semitic outburst to pick from the long list of incidents. Perhaps the most memorable occasion came in 2006, when he was apprehended for drinking and driving and launched into an anti-Jewish tirade which was later widely circulated. Jewish groups responded angrily, not only to Gibson’s comments, but also to his portrayal of Jews in his 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ, which documents the last hours of Jesus’ life with extreme brutality. Later, in 2012, accusations of anti-Semitism were once again raised after Gibson pulled out of a film project called The Maccabees. The writer of the film accused Gibson in an open letter of using insulting language when referring to Jews.
6 Alec Baldwin
When news broke that Baldwin’s wife was being sued by one of her Yoga students for causing an injury, photographers came to Baldwin’s apartment building in New York. G.N. Miller, the photographer for the New York Post, claimed that Baldwin targeted him with a barrage of racist abuse and filed harassment charges against him. Baldwin sought to justify what he said by saying that he was assaulted by Miller, an ex-police officer. But in remarks to the Post, Miller insisted that Baldwin had been motivated by racism. “He was saying some serious racist stuff. He could have said a lot of other stuff. But he used all of the stereotypes associated with black people,” Miller stated.
5 Floyd Mayweather
The spectacle of boxers verbally berating their opponents is not unusual, but Mayweather crossed the line when describing the seven-time Philippine titleholder, Manny Pacquiao. Mayweather referred to him as a midget and after blurting out a number of racial slurs, vowed to beat him when they next met. Mayweather acknowledged in a subsequent interview that he “defended” black Americans first, claiming that this legitimized his views on Asians which he had so forcefully expressed. However, his racist tirade was remarkably not mentioned at all in the interview, which was broadcast on HBO.
4 Paris Hilton
Paris Hilton has confronted allegations of racism on more than one occasion. The first was when a video surfaced with her dancing to a Notorious BIG song with her sister, and using racially abusive language. In a book published in 2011, she was also accused of describing black men as “gross” by a journalist. She responded to the charges in the book by firmly rejecting them, and her lawyers launched proceedings to clear her name. However, there have been a number of reports from friends and acquaintances who have asserted that she has used racist language on various occasions. Seeking to counter these claims, she interviewed Lil Wayne in March 2011, just days after the allegations broke.
3 Prince Harry
The British Royal was caught describing an Asian member of his army unit as “our little Paki friend” in a video diary about his time in the military. His racist remark was made all the worse due to the reputation he had previously built up for controversy. In another incident, he was pictured at a party wearing a swastika armband and the evidence was leaked to the press, provoking outrage among Jewish groups. This made it even more difficult to downplay Harry’s comments as a slip of the tongue or a poor choice of words, which was what St James’ Palace attempted, claiming that Harry had used the word without malice to a friend. The army issued a statement strongly condemning the remarks, and they were joined by politicians and Muslim groups.
The rapper didn’t even have to say anything to raise suspicions of his racism, because his statement came from an item of clothing he wore. At a Basketball game in Brooklyn last year, he wore a medallion with a symbol on it associated with the black supremacist group the 5 percent Nation. According to this group’s doctrine, white people are the devil and black people are physically and intellectually superior. Asked if the symbol on his chain meant anything to him, Jay-Z replied “a little bit.” On two other occasions, he had also been seen wearing this symbol. This fuelled speculation that Jay-Z was a member of 5 percent Nation, even though the organisation denied any association with him.
1 Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber came under fire when videos leaked on the internet showing him making racist jokes when he was a teenager. He accepted in a statement of apology that his choice of words had been inappropriate and that he had not fully realised the power of racist language at such a young age. The general consensus among other music artists was that Bieber was not a racist because he had grown up since the videos were made. Usher, who introduced Bieber to the music world in 2009, noted that while Bieber had made some wrong decisions in the past, he had now matured and should not be considered racist. Usher described him as a naive child when he spoke on the video. But he made a point of publishing a picture of himself with Bieber on his Twitter account to indicate his full support for Bieber.