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Americans: Still Unable to Befriend People They Don’t Look Like

• August 08, 2013 • 11:54 AM

(PHOTO: KURHAN/SHUTTERSTOCK)

All of my best friends are white.

In your not-totally-surprising news of the day, a lot of white Americans are still only friends with white Americans. Yes, in a nation that was founded partially on the idea that a certain color of your skin made you less human, in a nation that stole land from and systematically destroyed the culture of the original inhabitants of this country, in a nation that forcefully re-located its own citizens for “being Japanese,” racial divisions are still an issue!

According to a Reuters survey: “About 40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of non-white Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race.” If you extend that circle beyond friends to also include co-workers, then 30 percent of Americans are still only surrounded by members of their own race.

If you zoom the focus in a little bit more, things are still not-very-surprising:

As a group, Pacific states – including California, the most populous in the nation – are the most diverse when it comes to love and friendship. By contrast, the South has the lowest percentage of people with more than five acquaintances from races that don’t reflect their own.

There is maybe hope for the future, though!

About one third of Americans under the age of 30 who have a partner or spouse are in a relationship with someone of a different race, compared to one tenth of Americans over 30. And only one in 10 adults under 30 say no one among their families, friends or coworkers is of a different race, less than half the rate for Americans as a whole.

Go, millennials! Could our self-centeredness be blinding us from racial prejudices of the past as we focus only on immediate gratification regardless of the skin color of the person who’s providing said gratification? Who knows! But with post-racial society still a sad and naive myth, it’s time to re-read (or just “read,” which, stop right now and go do that if you haven’t) Devin Friedman’s GQ feature from 2008, “Will You Be My Black Friend?” As Friedman wraps up the piece:

Sure, it’s scary at first. White people aren’t used to being outnumbered, so if you’re white that’ll take some getting used to. White folks might wonder: Will they be angry at me? (No.) Is it okay if I ask to touch their hair. (No.) What should I do when it comes time to shake hands? (This is a serious fucking question and is harder than winning a game of rock-paper-scissors.) Will I always feel comfortable and able to say whatever comes to mind? (Nope.) But relax. One of the most hopeful results of this experiment: No one punched me in the face, whatever faux pas I committed. In fact, to the person, everyone I asked to participate in Operation Black Friend agreed. There is a tremendous amount of goodwill out there. All you need to do is turn off the Radiohead and walk out the door.

One day: Some of my best friends are black, white, Hispanic, Asian-American, and etc.

Ryan O'Hanlon
Senior Digital Editor Ryan O’Hanlon joined Pacific Standard from Outside, where he was an assistant online editor. He is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, and his writing has appeared in Deadspin, Grantland, The Awl, New York, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @rwohan.

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