It’s been a joke that white people think that they can insulate themselves from charges of racism by saying, “some of my best friends are (black, Latino, Asian, etc).” But there’s a new study that shows it’s true – at least when they mention Asian friends.

The study was conducted by Australian researchers Michael Thai, Matthew J. Hornsey, and Fiona Kate Barlow. It was published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science. In the first study, half of the participants viewed a statement posted on a fake white guy’s Facebook page  in which he said either “so sick of Asians right now,” “Asians are annoying,” “can’t stand Asians,” or “way too many Asians around.” The other participants, used as a control group, viewed a statement in which he made similar complaints about squirrels. The participants rated the guy as more racist when he complained about Asians than when he complained about squirrels. And the participants who saw Miller posting anti-Asian comments rated him as less racist when his Facebook profile showed him surrounded by Asian friends.

The researchers’ follow-up study is even more interesting in terms of inculcating a person spouting racist comments:

In this second study, another group of 85 white Americans and 76 Asian Americans viewed a fake Facebook profile of a white man who made anti-Asian comments. The man preceded his comment with either “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 posted no such disclaimer.

The man was viewed as less racist when he mentioned having one or more Asian friends. The man was also judged to be more integrated with Asian people when he mentioned having one or more Asian friends. Unlike the first study, white participants were slightly less likely than Asian participants to rate the man as racist overall.

The researchers say they want to examine other minority groups, “to find out if any minority friendship effect may vary as a function of the disadvantaged group in question.”

You can read the study abstract here.