Sorting Out Friendship

Sorting Out Friendship.jpg

The shootings and protests in Ferguson, Missouri, have reminded us that racial divisions remain. New research shows the divide between white and black Americans is wide and personal.

The Public Religion Research Institute released a study showing an average black American has far more friends of a different ethnicity than an average White American.

The Washington Post's Wonkblog illustrated the gap with a chart.

If an average black American had 100 friends, 83 would be black and the rest of other ethnicities, eight of whom would be white. The average white American would have 91 white friends and only one black friend.

The survey suggests as many as 75 percent of white Americans may not have any black friends. The number of black Americans without white friends is lower, but not much.

Peter Jones of PRRI, who wrote about the study for The Atlantic, says the results show that most white Americans are not "socially positioned" to understand how black Americans view the world, based on their history and experience.

This sorting by race means there can be kindling for a racially charged fire in almost any community where blacks and white live side by side, but apart from one another. 

Blacks and white co-exist and inter-marry, but apparently seldom mingle as friends. They tend to see each other through stereotypes or caricatures — and from a distance. When an event occurs that sparks protest, stereotypes are magnified. Blacks and whites can easily slip into postures where they see one another as enemies.

Recent polls reflect the divide, showing sharp differences in perspectives on events by blacks and whites. It shouldn't be surprising, since they are in effect looking at the world from two very different sides of the street.

Making new friends can be extremely rewarding. Making an even wider and more diverse circle of friends could be more rewarding — and revealing.