Saturday, 10 September 2016

None of My Best Friends Belongs to a Minority

     You frequently hear said by people wishing to appear tolerant, that "Some of my best friends are [insert name of appropriate minority]. But I don't believe them. No, I am not saying they are liars; they merely suffer from a deficit in logical expression. What they really mean to say, I suspect, is: In my daily life I deal with a lot of different people, many of whom belong to [such-and-such minority], and I get along well with them all. To illustrate my point, let me analyse the first statement.
     Friends. Some people are more amiable than others, and make lots of friends. Also, they often use the term loosely. I, personally, make a distinction between my acquaintances: the people I interact with regularly and on good terms, and my friends ie the much smaller group of people whose company I actively seek out because I like them. But perhaps not everybody makes that distinction.
     Best. This surely represents a small, select group. If you class more than (say) six people as your "best friends", I would suggest that one or both of those words are being misapplied.
     Some. This is an indefinite term; it implies that you don't know the exact number. But if (say) two of the six people you hang around with most belong to a different race, you wouldn't say, "some of my best friends"; you'd say "two of my best friends".
The author and visitor, 1973
Can you guess which is which?
     Minority. By definition, minorities are small groups. Here, in the northern suburb of Brisbane where I live, racial and religious minorities are thin on the ground. I meet them, but the chances of one of them turning up in the select group of my best friends is rather low. Exceptions occur, of course, in the case of large minorities. For example, I see from the New York Times Almanac of 2010, that the state of Mississippi is 60.7% white and 37.2% black. Thus, even allowing for major self-segregation, a white person would have to make a special effort not to include any black person in his circle of friends. On the hand, the population of Maine is listed as 96.5% white, 1.0% black, and 2.5% other race, or mixed race. A white person would hardly be racist if he had no other friends but fellow whites.
       And me? Well, during my early 20s I belonged to a club for young adults one of whose most popular members (and popular with me) was half Aboriginal. I then moved to a residential college where approximately a third of the residents were exchange students from Africa, India, southern Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific Islands. I got on very well with all of them, and with some I became firm friends. Alas! We have all since gone our separate ways. However, I shall always treasure their friendship, and would be delighted to re-establish it should the opportunity arise.
     But right now none of my best friends belongs to a minority.