Can a Typeface be Racist? - Coherent Creative
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Can a Typeface be Racist?

I was surprised to read recently about the furore over a merchandise range introduced by the rapper Chet Haze (aka Chet Hanks, son of the actor and all-round nice guy Tom Hanks). The comment I initially read was “the font looks a bit racist”. Hmm. Can a font be racist?

My initial reaction is a firm NO. But after looking at the merchandise (one item of which is pictured below), I get it. I get that one of the fonts has been nicknamed “Racist Sans”.

As with so many things, it’s about context. If the type had been been a different colour* (hot pink on baby blue say), and with different words, I doubt anyone would bring it up. White type, on a black background (or even the reverse) and the words “White Boy Summer”, is ill-advised. So not so much a “Racist font” more the whole package.

So I don’t know if the type is racist – but I could certainly see this merchandise being worn by racist types

There’s no such thing as a bad typeface, only inappropriate use.

As I was typing this, I was thinking, nope, that’s wrong. There are, of course poorly designed typefaces available. One of the things that elevates a great piece of design is the correct use of a well-designed font, and if the target audience doesn’t even notice your typeface, so much the better – after all, it’s old cliché that “good design should be invisible”.

I was prompted to write this as a response to one of the comments I got, privately (a good friend checking in that I was ok and I was sure I was making the right choices on my April Fools rebrand!) – “Certain things really are questions of taste – if you like comic sans, so be it” I completely agree – and if you love comic sans, and you want to use it – fine – unless, like the example below, it is totally inappropriate…

Perhaps the worst example I’ve seen;

What were they thinking? To be charitable, perhaps, “we need something friendly, informal and non-officious”. Unfortunately, it comes across as “we’re not taking this seriously”.

You of course, CAN choose to use Comic Sans (or Papyrus). Just be aware that it comes with some “baggage”, and there will be a whole swathe of “armchair typographers” who will judge you for it. If you’re ok with that, and either don’t care, can back up your choice – or maybe you just relish the attention – Go for it!

As a logo designer, I’m always wary of creating an “accidental swastika” in my designs – it happens more times than you would think – the human brain is also were adept at making random designs that can accidentally look like inappropriate parts of the human body. Avoiding these “unhappy accidents” is all part of the branding process – just one of the myriad ways you can screw things up with even the best of intentions. Using the colour palette Red, Black and White, for instance. Depending on your design, it can be fine, or just look completely Nazi. For examplrye, the Coherent Creative brand colours are Red, Black and White. And it’s never looked the least bit Nazi. But whack a swastika made out of question marks on the page, even with the best of intentions, and that may throw the whole website off… It’s a worry!

It may of course be that you are a racist, and that’s exactly the message you want to convey. In that case, and you wanted to use my services, I’d politely tell you to fuck off.


I read the original story of the Racist Typeface on The Guardian, here.

*Despite my 1st of April post, I will not be using the American spelling of Colour anytime soon. Unless, of course, any of my materials will be used ‘across the pond’, where it will be totally appropriate! 




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