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What logical fallacy is the argument "I have a RACE friend, so I can't be racist"?

For example, some people will make this point when trying to defend a comment they made:

PERSON A: "I think all black people are worthless individuals!"

PERSON B: "Well that's actually quite racist.

PERSON A: "Well actually, I have black friends, so I can't be racist."

What kind of logical fallacy is this? Is it just a flawed argument?

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    Non sequitur? en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/non_sequitur – Quentin Ruyant Jan 19 '15 at 13:00
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    Consider that some people are unjustly accused of being racist. Since being racist or not is something hard to see from the outside, they will point out something obvious, like having a friend who is black. In reality, being accused of racism is often a vile ad hominem attack. – gnasher729 Jan 19 '15 at 21:59
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    @gnasher729 You don't have any context, yet you're drawing upon my question and assuming my response is a vile ad hominem attack. Now that's biased. – yuritsuki Jan 19 '15 at 22:44
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    The conversation above probably wouldn't happen. Someone who actually utters the phrase "I think all black people are worthless individuals!" isn't going to care about your calling them racist (let alone try to plead it away), not least cause they've explicitly told you as much. You might want to pick a more realistic example. – cHao Jan 20 '15 at 6:01
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    @cHao that's actually a paraphrase portion of an interview with an internet celebrity who made that sort of comment – yuritsuki Jan 20 '15 at 6:06
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I see this argument as a version the Straw Man Argument.

The accusation: Person A is a "racist," i.e. they hold (and potentially act upon) unfavorable views concerning people XXX ethnic background.

The rebuttal: Person A claims to associate with at least one member of XXX ethnic background on a regular basis.

Their rebuttal reinterprets "racism" into being completely incapable of interacting with people of XXX ethnicity, which is an extreme exaggeration of the original accusation. It is well documented that general racial prejudices often do not translate to individuals encountered regularly. Of course, one might also be conveniently expanding the definition of "friend."

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I think this is another good place to remind ourselves that not all bad arguments are textbook examples of fallacies. There's more to good reasoning than just learning a list of informal fallacies!

Here's a perfectly valid argument, which I presume is the kind of argument that people who make claims like this mean to suggest:

  1. I have a Chinese friend.
  2. No one who has a Chinese friend is racist against Chinese people.
  3. Therefore, I am not racist against Chinese people.

(1)-(3) form a perfectly valid argument. If (1) and (2) are true, (3) has to be true as well. (It follows by universal instantiation and then modus ponens.) Still (1)-(3) is not a sound argument because one or more of its premises seems questionably true. Is it really true that your Chinese "friend" is a friend and not merely an acquaintance? Further, it doesn't seem obviously true that a person who has Chinese friends can't be racist against Chinese people in general. I might think of my friend well of my friend Ling, but dislike other Chinese in general. That seems psychologically possible.

Since the diagnosis of what's wrong with this argument doesn't turn upon some informal fallacy, to show a person what is wrong with the argument, you need to show why at least one of those two premises are false.

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It depends on what racism is supposed to mean in such cases. For example, it would be racist to say that all blacks are/do x, with x often being something that is bad.

'My friend is black and all blacks steal' is no contradiction, so for now you could say racist things and still have a black friend. But I think the idea behind such statements is that they would want to add another premise, namely: 'I am not friends with people who steal/do bad stuff'

Now consider the argument again. If you are not friends with people who steal, then all your friends do not steal. So you can't truthfully utter something like 'All blacks steal' while having a black friend. Thus, as long as friendship excludes the bad stuff and if you take racist statements to be universally quantified, this tactic works. But neither the former nor the latter have to be true. (Although racists could think they are true).

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To me the fallacy is special pleading. Person A sees self exempt, as if being black justifies the exemption.

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It's a case of equivocation, and / or an inductive fallacy like cherry picking.

In the first instance, the not a racist is saying that racism involves being unfriendly to a race. The opponent may argue that isn't what is meant by "racism", but not treating people the same / different / etc.

In the second instance, the not a racist is saying that because they aren't racist to their friend, they aren't racist to anyone of that race.

In conclusion, I think the fallacy is too informal to have a name.

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Seems to me that when choosing friends, race is unimportant, leading to the statement "I'm not racist because some of my friends are of X race".

However if the 'dumb statement' (I assume a racist generalisation like 'all people of xx race smell of lavender') is based purely on the race, then they're including their freinds in that.

Effectively, it's a double standard. Either:

a) All people of race x smell of lavender, except their friends (so it's not true: not all people or race x smell of lavender)

OR

b) All people of race x smell of lavender, including their friends (so they are being racist)

either way, something is wrong : they're ignoring the overlap (in sets: the intersection) in their statement and their group of frinds of race x.

A racial generalisation is poor logic anyway. It's the same as:

I saw a man with a briefcase barge into an old lady

therefore

all men with briefcases barge into old ladies

Even if you see this a few times, it's blatantly not safe as a truth.

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This is actually an appeal to authority. The black friend is presumed to be an authority on racism by virtue of his color, and his friendship is an implicit testimony that the person is not racist.

Part of the reason statements of this form stand out is because the appeal itself betrays a racially questionable assumption --namely that the opinion of one black person should be a stand in for the opinion of all black people.

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