How do you feel about the "many of my best friends are _________." statements being used as a defense by someone claiming not to be prejudice?

these statements aren't only made by potential racist, but also by people claiming not to be homophobic, or against people belonging to a certain religious group (among other things).

an overly defensive little girl made the comment on another question asked by someone about race issues and I assumed she was joking/being sarcastic because ever since that guy from seinfeld said it it's been laughed at whenever anyone else says it. after I joked with her about her statement she became very defensive toward me. I definitely wasn't expecting that...

here's a quote from an article I just googled after her unnecessary hostility towards me: "friendship with black people does nothing to change racial bias." I assume the same goes for being friends with any other group of people.


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Most Helpful Guy

  • I think the issue here is that bigots of any sort don't perceive their friends as a mere personification of a specific trait they are (black, gay, etc.). Sounds a bit strange perhaps, so let me give you an example:
    Jack is a conservative and he absolutely hates muslims. He likes to say to his friends how "muslims are the worst people ever". Yet, down the street from where Jack lives, a Turkish guy named Erdan has a little store. Jack and Erdan are great friends. Jack loves to shop in Erdan's shop because it's just so much nicer, fresher and more practical than going to Walmart. Besides, Erdan makes the best Kebabs Jack has ever eaten and he's generally a really fun guy to be around. Now, here's the thing: Erdan is a muslim. Not an extremist, just a normal muslim like 98% of muslims. How is this friendship possible? Doesn't Jack hate muslims?
    The answer is: he doesn't perceive Erdan as a muslim because he's got a personal relationship with him. He shops at his store. Maybe they go for a beer together once in a while, maybe they go jogging together or maybe Erdan even babysits Jack's kids once in a while. Jack doesn't even think about the religious beliefs of Erdan because his friend is much more to him than just a certain type of religiosity. "Muslims" on the other hand are a dark, scary, anonymous mass of monsters for Jack. He doesn't know them, all he knows is that he hates them for being muslims.

    This behavior is quite human and we can see it in all kinds of instances. Take myself: I'm almost completely blind. For people who get to know me, I'm just "that blind guy". However, for people such as my girlfriend who've known me for a very long time, my disability is only a minute part of my whole personhood. My best friend sometimes tells me "sometimes I completely forget that you're blind". To people who've never dealt with a handicapped person, this might sound strange but it isn't. As soon as you REALLY get to know a person, you see behind their most obvious features (being disabled, being black, being muslim etc.) and you start to see the PERSON.
    This is also by the way the reason why somebody like Schindler took the risk of saving hundreds of jews. For most Germans of that time JUST LIKE for many Americans of today (in the case of muslims), jews were just some sinister threat. A jew was a guy with a crooked nose that steals your money. Schindler worked with jews, he saw them in their every-day life, he talked to them, he laughed with them...

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    • ... so for him it was obvious that these people are people just like himself and that therefore, they don't deserve to be abused and killed.

      This is why saying stuff like "I'm not a racist, I have a black friend" doesn't really mean anything. Just like fictional Jack in my example, you might see your black friend as a great buddy but you still have some deep fear or anger against black people.
      And here comes my political statement: I deeply believe (and I'm pretty sure one could prove this) that liberals on average have more empathy. This doesn't mean conservatives are not compassionate people but it does mean they don't have the ability to emphasize with other people as much and step in their shoes. Because the moment you step into somebody's shoes and start to see him/her as a PERSON instead of a "muslim" or "a refugee" etc, you can't be a bigot anymore. Having a black friend doesn't mean anything. What matters is the understanding that ALL black folks are just that: people.

    • very well put. I have actually heard people make silly comments about so and so not being like most... people and been amazed at their complete seriousness. I never thought of them seeing that particular person in a special way merely because they were their own friends. that's what you're saying with the jack example, correct?

    • Yes basically, but I wouldn't say that we look at our friends in a "special" way. I would say that we look at our friends as HUMANS like ourselves. We don't just seem them as a word ("black", "muslim" etc.) with a skin around it. We see their personality, their character, we see that they have the capacity to be happy and sad like ourselves and so forth. When we don't know people on the other hand, it's much easier to de-humanize them. For example when right-wingers talk about the refugees from Syria, they find it easy to throw them all in the same pot and insult them as terrorists and lazy beggars etc. because they can't emphasize with them and step in their shoes. It's hard for racists to understand that these refugees are just like ourselves. They have wives and husbands that they love, they've got children they need to care for, they want to work in a job that makes them happy... they speak a different language but they're humans just like us and many people don't see that.

What Guys Said 1

  • it depends on how it is used, but it can have merit.

    if I, for example, have friends who are black, who are not treated as lesser to my other friends, and who i really do like and respect, if i say something and someone claims I am racist against black, I think "I have black friends" is a good defense against that.
    after all, why would I tolerate black people near me, let alone openly proclaim I have friends who are black, if i were actually racist against black people?

    calling someone a racist, a homophobe, a bigot, etc? that only works if the person is not those things, because they hate those things, and are afraid to be called them because they don't want people to think they are.

    people who are those things? they don't care if people know it. calling a KKK member "racist" is not going to hurt his feelings or shut him up.

    so people who counter with "i can't be because i have friends who are X," while maybe guilty of something insensitive, are most likely NOT guilty of what they are accused of being, and are desperately looking for a way to prove that they are not.

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    • many people who are racist, homophobic/sexist, etc don't want to be called it. true a kkkkkk member might be proud to have everyone know, but that doesn't mean a regular joe, especially in the public eye would be fine with everyone knowing. plus, many people are prejudice without being quite kkk extreme

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    • you're confusing discrimination, which is really just another word for preference, with prejudice.

    • "a person who feels the need to defend themselves, in this way, comes off suspicious."
      to me, it comes off more as desperate.
      and even if something is suspicious, when you look at it further, you might realize there is nothing actually wrong being said or done.

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