I've seen this happen quite a lot in arguments about sensitive topics, such as racism, sexism or homophobia.

When presenting a potentially controversial stance, someone might cushion the blow by saying something along the lines of:

"I am not racist, but..." (insert controversial statement here)

I don't have an issue with this, I'm interested in replies such as:

"You say you are not racist BUT... And that says a lot"

Now, this strikes me as a fallacy, but I'm not sure which one it is. The controversial statement in the first example might very well not be racist / homophobic / sexist / etc. at all once you examine it. Using that particular pattern doesn't change a thing about the statement, it might simply reflect that the speaker is aware that it is a controversial one and is wary about how it can be received by the audience.

E.g.: a certain ethnicity is overrepresented in the criminal population

"I'm not racist, but statistics show that race X is three times more likely to commit crime A"

"'I'm not racist, but...' you clearly are"

There are a number of valid objections that can be raised against the first statement, but such a reply attempts to defuse the sentence (and discredit the speaker) by simply appealing to form, igoring the content. And this tactic is often being used to silence someone without replying in the merit of their argument.

  • 2
    The template is a typical one of innuendo (unstated but implied rebuke), but whether it is a fallacy depends on what is insinuated after the "but". When the goal is to discredit the speaker by shifting the focus from the content to the person, the fallacy is called ad hominem. However, "I am not a racist, but" intro explicitly invites the shift, and so should be avoided in the first place if the focus on the content was the goal. – Conifold Feb 24 at 18:53
  • It's a form of implicature, but your examples are rather unclear -- especially the form of the reply -- to say more. "You say you are not racist BUT... And that says a lot" isn't exactly grammatical. Do you mean by that form that there's more stuff said in between "BUT" and "And that"? – Fizz Mar 6 at 16:11
  • Alice says "I am not racist, but French people are ignorant". Bob then replies by quoting Alice: "You say 'I'm not racist BUT...' and this is already enough for me. That's how racist people begin their remarks". My point here is that Bob ignores the content (French people are ignorant, which might or might not be a racist remark) and assumes it is a racist remark based uniquely on how Alice phrased the sentence. – vi3x Mar 7 at 21:00

If the first member of the sentence (let's denote it A) to which a reply is issued, does not follow from its second member (B), like in your example:

"I'm not racist, but statistics show that race X is three times more likely to commit crime A"

(symbolically: "A, but B"), a reply in the form of:

"You say you are not racist BUT you also say that statistics show that race X is three times more likely to commit crime A."

(symbollicaly: "You say that A, but you also say that B") is from the formal logic standpoint completely valid.

So no, it's not a logical fallacy, I think you're concerned about the

"And it says a lot."

part, and it's totally understandable, but it has nothing to do with logic. It's just an insult preceded by a quote (to make it look like some kind of reasoning, which it's not!). It's the same as:

You say that you like apples, but f*** you!

  • The question was not really focusing on the "I'm not racist, but..." statement, but rather on how the other person chooses to reply ("You say you're not racist but, and that says a lot"). I'm trying to decide if it's an ad hominem, as it pretty much sums up to "Only racist people use that phrasing; you do, therefore you are racist; therefore your remark is racist and I will not even bother discussing it" – vi3x Feb 25 at 7:29

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