Monday, July 1, 2019


The anniversary party I mentioned yesterday was held at a Portuguese club in Mountain View. Did you know there are actually two Portuguese clubs in Mountain View? And the invitation originally went out with the address of the wrong one? Somewhere along the way I'd overheard there was a problem here, and got the right address by pinging G's local son; but one person didn't, and I heard he'd gone to the wrong one, found nobody there, and gone home.

But why were we at a Portuguese club? B and her siblings are of generic English/German ancestry. But G's husband, M, is of Portuguese descent (part Portuguese, part Spanish, I believe), and therefore so are their children, and they're happy to acknowledge that. A common Portuguese surname doesn't hurt.

Some years ago, at Wiscon, I attended a "how to be a good ally" panel, and one of the suggestions made was that, if someone says to something, say, about Hispanics being lazy, make something up and say, "Gee, my Hispanic brother-in-law is a hard worker." And I realized, I don't have to make it up. I do have a Hispanic brother-in-law, and he is a hard worker. M. had a long and successful career in engineering before his retirement, and for relaxation he loves to tinker with old cars. He put all four children through college, and they're now all fabulously successful in highly technical careers.

I told this story recently at a gathering of Jews, the committee that runs our synagogue library, and one of them remarked that saying "My Hispanic brother-in-law is a hard worker" is like saying "Some of my best friends are ..." I thought about this, but I don't think they're the same. If you say, "Some of my best friends are," you're defending yourself; but if you say "My Hispanic brother-in-law is ...", you're defending him. That's quite different. The point of his being your brother-in-law is that you have close personal experience of him; this isn't something you've vaguely heard somewhere; your testimony about him carries weight.

But the real reason that "Some of my best friends are ..." is a hollow argument is not due to a flaw in the reasoning. It's that self-declared friendship is cheap. There have been far too many examples of people making that declaration who are also prejudiced. Most gentiles with Jewish friends are in fact not prejudiced, but enough are; it carries no weight. If, instead of saying, "Some of my best friends are Jewish," you had said, "I hid Jews in my home during the Nazi occupation," that's the same form of argument - you're citing your behavior as a bona fide - but this time it carries weight, because actions, unlike calling someone your friend, are not cheap, and because these actions carried serious personal risk.

That's just how I contemplate this point.

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