"Some of My Best Friends Are . . .":
The Relationship of Ethnicity to Close Friendship in Montreal
J. Barry Gurdin and Horst Hutter
"Some of my best friends are . . . " has become the classic
one-liner by which ethnic and racial minorities and liberallyminded individuals identify a prejudiced person who attempts
to deny his or her prejudgment. In its most classic form this
declaration precedes or follows a highly bigoted comment
about the group against which the utterer claims to have no
inherent bias, and it is often delivered in the presence of a
member of the group about which the declaration is made.
The emitter of this message asks its receiver to agree with its
content. A statement such as this with such a lineally-close,
glaring contradiction would not seem to be likely to evoke
the belief of its audience. Moreover, its dubious truth value
and anxiety-provoking quality have most probably been factors
in its institutionalization as a bittersweet joke, displayed by
gestures of the face and head and intonation of the voice.
Yet, routinization of this line as a marker of prejudice
has led researchers to shy away from a legitimate issue embodied
in the sentence, namely the reality and extent to which groups
cross ethnic, racial, and other social group lines in establishing
ties of close friendship. To look into this matter, we have
asked people in the general population of Montreal, a multiÂ
ethnic city, to report their own ethnicity and that of their
six closest friends. This investigation provides us with an inÂ
dicator of the extent to which this population crosses boundaries
in forming close friendship.
Some historical caution should be taken here in assuming
that people who are closed in their intimate relationships are
necessarily closed in their vision of society. Some groups that
have been highly particularistic in some segments of society
or culture, such as interpersonal intimacy, nevertheless have
contributed to greater degrees of pluralism in the polity.