Research reveals that using the phrase “I have Asian friends” makes a person’s comments appear less offensive and protects them from being called a racist.
A study published early this year in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science discovered that people viewed a white man who made disparaging remarks about minorities as less prejudiced if he mentioned having minority friends.
Australian researchers Michael Thai, Matthew J. Horney and Fiona Kate Barlow had 203 white American and 254 Asian-American participants judge a fake Facebook profile belonging to a white man named Jake Miller. Miller’s profile photo either showed him surrounded by many, a few or no Asian friends.
Half of the participants viewed a statement that disparaged Asian people posted on the Facebook page. The statements included “so sick of Asians right now,” “Asians are annoying,” “can’t stand Asians,” and “way too many Asians around.” Participants in the control group were given similar statements that replaced “Asians” with “squirrels.”
Not surprisingly, subjects rated Miller as more racist when he commented about Asians than when he did about squirrels. However, they rated Miller as less racist when his anti-Asian comments were accompanied with a Facebook profile surrounded by Asian friends. There was no significant difference between how white and Asian subjects rated Miller’s racism.
In a second follow-up study, researchers wanted to test whether having Miller verbally reference Asian friends had the same effect. The researchers surveyed a group of 85 white Americans and 76 Asian-Americans and had them view a similar fake Facebook profile of a white male.
This time the man preceded his comments with “one of my best friends is Asian, but,” “some of my best friends are Asian, but,” “most of my best friends are Asian, but” or no disclaimer. Similar to the first study, the man was considered less racist when he was affiliated with Asian people. However, white participants were a bit less likely than Asian participants to rate the man as racist when compared to the first study.
Thai and his colleagues wrote of the study:
“This article is the first to examine whether minority friendships actually protect majority group actors from observers’ attributions of prejudice. We demonstrated that they do, albeit not fully.”
For future research, the team hopes to examine other minority groups such as black Americans in similar contexts.