Description: As a rhetorical tactic, Some of My Best Friends Are is to attempt to refute an accusation of bigotry or prejudice against a group by claiming to have a positive relationship with a member of that group. As a fallacy of reasoning, the error is to infer that such an alleged relationship proves that a person is not bigoted or biased against that group. The generic form of the fallacy is as follows:
Premise 1: Person A says or does X, which seems to be bigoted or prejudiced against Group G.
Premise 2: Person A claims they have a positive relationship with a member of Group G.
Conclusion: Person A (or X) is not bigoted or prejudiced against Group G.
This is fallacious because even if a person does have a positive relationship with a member of a group, it does not follow that they, what they said or what they did is not prejudiced or bigoted.
Probably the best-known use of this fallacy is when someone responds to an accusation of racism against Black people by asserting that some of their best friends are Black. This fallacy is also used in cases of sexism, such as when a man claims that they, what they said or what they did cannot be sexist because they have a daughter, a wife, or a mother that they love. Naturally, it would also be a fallacy if a woman asserted that they, what they said or what they did cannot be sexist because they have a son, a husband, or a father that they love.
Since this reasoning lacks logical force, it relies on psychological force. This fallacy can easily occur in good faith when a person honestly believes that their positive relationship with a member of a group means that they are not prejudiced against that group. In such cases, a person might do or say something that is bigoted out of ignorance. While sorting out the ethics of such ignorant and unintentional bigotry is certainly worthwhile, it is still bigotry. As such, the fallacy would still occur in such cases.
This fallacy is also used in bad faith in varying degrees. People are complicated and a person can sincerely have a positive relationship with a member of a group while also being prejudiced against that group. Slave owners often claimed to love or care for their slaves, and some of them might have been sincere while also seeing the slaves as property. A sexist can love their spouse while also thinking of them as inferior. People can, of course, also lie about such relationship being positive and thus engage in multiple acts of bad faith when using this fallacy. But whether the claim of a positive relationship is sincere or a calculated lie, the reasoning is still flawed.
Defense: To avoid inflicting this fallacy on yourself, the main defense is to be aware that even if you do have a positive relationship with a member of a group, this does not entail that you cannot be or do or say something bigoted. In this case, honest assessment is the best defense. To avoid falling for the fallacy when it is used against you, the main defense is keeping in mind that even if a person does have a positive relationship with a member of a group, this does not entail that they cannot be a bigot or that what they said or did is thus not prejudiced.
As always, sorting out whether the person using the fallacy is acting in bad faith can be useful is reducing its psychological force. This involves assessing whether they do have such a positive relationship and whether or not they are knowingly using this tactic.
Governor: “I know those college photos of me in blackface look bad, but I assure you I am not a racist. I grew up in a diverse town and had black friends as a kid. When I went to college, I had black friends. I have black friends now and many of my fellow Democrats are black.”
Reporter: “Senator, there are critics who say that your bill is sexist and will hurt women in many ways.”
Senator: “Name one way this bill will hurt women.”
Reporter: “Well, the critics say it cuts funding for programs like WIC and redefines sexual harassment so narrowly that…”
Senator: “Well, I say to my critics that I love my wife and two daughters. How could a man who loves his daughters so much be a sexist? Or do anything to hurt women?”
Reporter: “Well, your critics say you could do that by passing this bill.”
Senator: “You lame stream media are the real problem.”
Dionysus: “That seems a bit prejudiced.”
Diocletian: “Nonsense! Some of my best friends are Christians. In fact, my favorite slave is a Christian.”
Dionysus: “So why remove them from the army?”
Diocletian: “All part of restoring the glory of the empire.”