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Is the phrase "I'm not racist, but ..." more common in Australian English than other dialects? The phrase is used as a prefix to something that's likely to be interpreted as racist, probably because it is. Urban Dictionary entry, Things Bogan Like entry.

Both "I am not racist but" and "I'm not racist but" flatlined when looking at "American English" in Google NGram, but "I'm not racist but" got a graph when looking at "British English", which may suggest its usage varies.

If it's uncommon in American English, what are some more common phrases in American English? I wouldn't use it to preface something, but more to draw an analogy about someone who says that he or she isn't prejudiced against (some people), but ...

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closed as not constructive by Mitch, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, FumbleFingers, Robusto, Hellion Jan 18 '13 at 20:16

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At least in my circles, here in the US, we either don't feel a need to preface a potentially "racist" comment with a disclaimer or we keep those politically incorrect opinions to ourselves. Either way, I don't hear that expression used at all. –  Kristina Lopez Jan 18 '13 at 10:47
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It's not always wise to draw interpretations from nGrams. They are best as accessories to research. –  Kris Jan 18 '13 at 13:32
    
This seems akin to such comments as, "I'm not trying to be rude, but...", or "I'm not saying you're a liar, but..." As an American, I suppose I don't hear your expression very often, but it's ethos is certainly expressed in similar circumlocutions. –  tylerharms Jan 18 '13 at 14:28
    
This question is more on the side of sociology than sociolinguistics. Even though it is ostensibly about corpus probabilities, it will most likely only attract sociological responses. –  Mitch Jan 18 '13 at 15:31
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The problem with researching this question using Google Ngram Viewer is that it draws on a corpus of published works. The phrase being asked about is informal and likely to be primarily a spoken expression. Therefore it can be expected to be underrepresented in the Google Ngram Viewer results. –  MετάEd Jan 18 '13 at 17:50
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3 Answers 3

It might be a generational thing as Bill Franke suggests, but I certainly recognize "I'm not a racist, but..." (Canadian, mid-40s). The unspoken continuation of the phrase is always "... but here's the evidence that I actually am racist."

"Some of my best friends are (insert ethnicity)" is also recognizable at least on this continent. (I'm not sexist, some of my best friends are women; I'm not an anti-Semite, some of my best friends are Jews.).

I would say that it is widely understood that both of these constructions are recognizable, laughable and transparent covers for bigotry.

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The most common "I'm not a racist" equivalent phrase in American English is "Some of my best friends are [ethnic group name]". I think Kristina Lopez is probably much too young to have been around during the 1960s and 70s when this phrase was in vogue and the obvious "I'm a racist but trying to deny it" statement. I have no idea whether "I'm not a racist" is more or less common in Australian English than in other brands. Today's American racists say things like "It's time to take our country back".

Although I agree with Kristina that more "average" Americans are liable to keep their politically incorrect (PI) opinions to themselves in public, American politicians seem to have declared open season for the past 4 years and can't stop themselves from saying what they honestly feel, even if it is in code sometimes.

If you look at the reader commentaries in The Washington Post, you'll see lots of right-wing anti-Obama Americans refer to the President as "Barry" (that's one of the nicer names they use) and a host of other disrespectful and nasty epithets that they'd more than likely deny were racist if pressed: They'd claim that they're just exercising their 1st Amendment rights to be disagreeable about the government by expressing their purely political opinions. They're lying, of course. But anti-Bush left-wingers were no better during that guy's 8-year crusade. They were just as disrespectful. But they weren't particularly racist.

My opinions above are based only on what I read on the Internet, what my American mother who still lives there says to me when I can't prevent her from talking to me about US politics, and what I hear from my American friends and acquaintances here in Taiwan (they go back to the USA every year. I don't).

(DISCLAIMER: I don't live in the USA, so I don't get involved in its politics and have no preferences about who runs the country. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter which party's "in power". The major corporations and the lobbies with their money run it for their benefit, which is what happens everywhere else in the world, so why should it be different in the USA?)

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So, your mother lives on the Internet? –  jwpat7 Jan 18 '13 at 16:41
    
@jwpat7: Oops. She used to, but she just cut AT&T off, so now she lives only on the telephone. –  user21497 Jan 19 '13 at 0:14
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Many of the cases collated by the YesYoureRacist twitter account are from the US. Quite a few are from elsewhere.

The group it is rare among, is people who aren't actually racist. Sadly the sort of racists who would make the sort of statement that required such a disclaimer, are to be found everywhere.

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