According to a new poll from Reuters, four out of 10 white Americans surround themselves exclusively with white friends. The poll also found that "25 percent of non-white Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race" and that, in all, "30 percent of Americans are not mixing with others of a different race, the poll showed."
Geographically, the poll found that California and the Pacific states are where people have the most diverse social circles, while people in the South were the least diverse in choosing their buddies. And when it comes to race, Hispanics have the most diverse friendship circles, with 90 percent of those polled saying they had a friend of a different race. "Hispanics and Asian Americans have traditionally had less strict lines about integrating," a sociologist explained to Reuters.
Clearly, segregation still exists, even if it's not intentional — and it still matters in the way we relate to each other. After all, the biggest news story this summer has been whether or not race played a part in George Zimmerman's acquittal in the Trayvon Martin shooting and how fraught dark skin remains in America. In the folds of that bigger story, there were talks of "reverse racism," as well as unrelated news items like the fake racist pilot names of Asiana Flight 214 and the "white riots" in Huntington Beach, Calif. late last month.
Friendship with people of different races can help counter prejudice, as can having friends or family members of a different sexual orientation (see: Obama, Barack; Portman, Rob). There are data that back that up. According to a Pew report in June, 87 percent of Americans know someone who is gay. And that affects how they think about gay marriage. Pew explains:
The link between these experiences and attitudes about homosexuality is strong. For example, roughly two-thirds (68%) of those who know a lot of people who are gay or lesbian favor gay marriage, compared with just 32% of those who don’t know anyone."
In a similar vein, having an Asian-American friend to consult could be helpful when, say, you're thinking about using a "Chink in the armor" headline in a story about Jeremy Lin or, say, trying to verify the names of pilots on Asiana Flight 214. And, perhaps, having a best friend who is black might have made someone think twice before creating an "Angry Trayvon" video game.
At the very least, young people are getting it. Reuters explains that segregated friendships are seen more often in people over 30:
Younger American adults appear to confirm this, according to the poll. 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.
So, it looks like a lot of us still need to make new friends — ones who don't look like us.