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Lately, I have been hearing the argument "Oh, well I have Indian(Native American) in my blood, and 'redskin' does not offend me so why change the name?" coming from people who claim their great-great-great grandmother was from one of the hundreds of tribes from the area.

I know it's been an argument made before, and I've always found it to be silly. There are some obvious arguments to be made from that statement: They haven't experienced life the same way as someone who is 100% native american, or that one person from a large group is not a representative of said group.

But now that I am hearing this claim being made more and more, I was wondering what fallacy this would fall under? It seems to be similar to this argument, "I have X friends so I can't be racist against X people." But I feel it is a bit more than that?

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    It's important to remember that the biggest utility of identifying informal fallacies is to find common patterns of weakness in an argument. In a case like this, there's not one definitive answer, just a variety of approaches to take against a bad argument. – Chris Sunami Aug 24 '15 at 19:49
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This can be a case of the Cherry Picking fallacy:

Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.

The person making the argument picks a case which supports his point, ignoring the cases that don't support his point.

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In my experience, this is not a logical error, so much as an unarticulated moral premise.

The speaker holds an underlying assumption here that if it is possible not to be bothered by this kind of thing, one is morally obligated not be bothered by it, or at least to do one's best to not act upon being bothered.

Using himself as evidence this is possible, he is ashamed of the offended members of his group, who are not trying hard enough to get along with the rest of the world.

He is presuming the ultimate value of some version of democratic social harmony: non-interference in the majority's autonomy, 'Give the benefit of the doubt' or 'Go along, get along'. And this is in the foreground to a degree that he denies consideration to more important moral concerns.

You can tell the difference between this and suppression of evidence or 'cherry picking' because, if you render the argument statistical, it does not matter unless the numbers are hugely predominant, and often even then.

He is not unaware he is an exception, he embraces the exceptionality and considers it morally superior.

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    This is an interesting perspective. I think you are right on for some people, but I'm not convinced that is the majority of people who make statements of this type. In other words, I think such a person is more likely to be wrongly assuming herself to be representative of her putative group than a proud outlier from it. – Chris Sunami Aug 24 '15 at 19:44
  • Right, the test to separate the cases is right there. See if the numbers matter. My sample may be too biased. I tend to live among computing folks, science nerds, and professional writers -- folks unlikely to make outright fallacious arguments, but often quite oblivious to their own unexpressed biases. – user9166 Aug 24 '15 at 20:00
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On the face of it, this is an appeal to authority fallacy, where the person speaking is portraying himself or herself as a figure of authority empowered to make a definitive ruling on the topic. Whether or not it is actually a fallacy of this type depends, however, on the argument it is defending against. If the implicit original argument is that usage of racist terms is bad for objective reasons, then it really doesn't matter who claims to not be offended. In that case, appeal to authority is the correct diagnosis.

If, however, we are assuming that a term like "redskin" should be avoided entirely for the reason that people of Native American ancestry consider it offensive, then we are taking as accepted that persons of Native American ancestry are indeed the correct authority to make this particular determination. We could not then consider the original statement an appeal to authority. Instead, a better line of attack would be to demonstrate that the speaker's claim to authority is too tenuous. Having a distant Native American ancestor may not convey any sort of actual authority on a question of this nature if we assume that such authority is drawn from things such as significant cultural identification with Native Americans, first-hand experience of anti-Native-American racism, and so forth.

Interestingly enough, the speaker's own statement sets up an implicit hierarchy where his or her own statement is tacitly acknowledged as less definitive than the statement of someone with any higher percentage of Native American ancestry. Thus, one possible response would be: "Oh, and would your great-grandmother feel the same way?"

  • Thus, one possible response would be: "Oh, and would your great-grandmother feel the same way?" I had not thought about this response. But, would it not be a moot point to bring up? Neither person could truly imagine how a person long-dead might feel on a subject - and then there is always the chance that the speaker would say something akin to, "This name is honoring the Native American people, no one uses it around here to insult anyone!" I'm not saying that that statement isn't impossible to argue against, rather it attempts to assume a long-dead persons opinion, which could be abused. – Acorn Aug 24 '15 at 19:44
  • There's no guarantee the person would respond as you would hope, but it's an invitation for the original speaker to do the mental work of imagining himself in the position of someone of full Native American ancestry, as well as a subtle reminder how distant he actually is from the source of his putative authority. It's always best in a counter-argument to start from your opponent's own assumptions. In this case, the core assumption is that the great-grandmother is a source of authority --if the great-grandmother can be imagined as disagreeing, the argument collapses under its own terms. – Chris Sunami Aug 24 '15 at 19:57
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"Lately, I have been hearing the argument "Oh, well I have Indian(Native American) in my blood, and 'redskin' does not offend me so why change the name?" coming from people who claim their great-great-great grandmother was from one of the hundreds of tribes from the area."

Apart from all fallacies, it is a ridiculously weak argument - if one of 32 grand-grand-grand-grandparents was Native American and 31 were not then that person would have little reason to be offended. If you found someone saying "Oh, well all my ancestors were Native American, and 'redskin' does not offend me so why change the name?" that would at least make some sense as an argument, even though it is still a fallacy. Even if not a single person with one out of 32 ancestors being Native American was offended, it would still be meaningless.

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