Some of My Best Friends Are…

what white people likeFYI, that’s not a picture of my family. It’s a picture that I cut and pasted off the site Stuff White People Like that seemed appropriate given the following bit of news.

A recent Reuter‘s report indicates that about 40% of whites and 25% of non-whites don’t have friends of other races. That’s a lot of people, but it also means that 60% of whites and 75% of non-whites do have friends of other races. I would have guessed that more than 40% of whites lived totally segregated lives so I actually thought this story was a mixture of good news and bad even if on the balance it still tells a discouraging story about how segregated we continue to be in the U.S.

But then I noticed that the research lumped all people of color together, making it far more likely that whites will know a person of color because of the relative integration of Latinos and Asians. If the research had looked specifically at whether whites know a black or Native American person, my guess is that far less than 60% of whites would report knowing someone of either group. But those are just hunches.

Then, I started playing with the numbers. Here’s what I found.

First of all, there were something like 223.5 million white people in the U.S. in 2010. 40 percent of that number is about 89.4 million. That’s how many white people don’t have friends of other races if what the Reuter’s survey is suggesting is an accurate reflection of reality.

There were about 39 million black people in the U.S. in 2010. Asians numbered around 14.7 million, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders came in at around 540,000, and Native Americans and Alaska Natives were at about 2.5 million. Altogether, that’s like 56.6 million people. But that’s just those who reported only one race. A bunch more reported more than one race, and there were still more lumped into the category “some other race.” So, I added those groups to the 56.6 million people who reported that they are mono-racial and non-white and got to a grand total of 84.7 million, give or take a couple of cruise ship passenger lists.

Of course, the census doesn’t group Hispanics/Latinos as a race, so they’re not included here. If they were, these numbers would skew a little more toward people of color, though the majority of Latinos actually identify by race as white so these numbers are still indicative of the general dynamics.

That means that the total number of white people of only one race who don’t mix with people of color is likely larger than the total number of those in our society who do not identify as white, including those reporting two or more races or “some other race.” That’s a big finding. Even as the racial demographics of the U.S. tilt toward people of color, the minority of white people in this country who don’t have friends of color is still greater than the total number of those who identify as non-whites in general. And that means whites with no non-white friends have more political influence than everyone who doesn’t identity as white…combined…not to mention more elected representatives, guns, real property, and money, just sayin.’

And that’s just the ones who don’t want to be friends. I remind you, Paula Deen is in the larger group who do have friends of color, like her special friend Hollis Johnson who she paraded in front of an audience as evidence she’s not racist…after talking about the sadness of her great-grandfather who couldn’t run his plantation after the Civil War because he no longer had “help.”

scott nakagawa

Now, lest we despair, there is some hope on the horizon. For one thing, younger people are more likely to have integrated friendship circles than older people. And the younger you go, the more integrated American lives become. Moreover, the younger you go, the more racially progressive people seem to be. So the Reuter’s findings may be leaning against the tide of history.

But regardless of what lies ahead, for now at least, this is America.

Scot Nakagawa
Racefiles

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on August 15, 2013
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About Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa got his first job as a community organizer in 1980, and since then has worked in organizational management, social research, public policy analysis and advocacy, and philanthropy. He also has a background as a teacher and a service provider working with low-income communities to create accountable organizations that are responsive to community needs. Before forming ChangeLab, Scot served as the Field Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Associate Director of the Western Prison Project (now the Partnership for Safety and Justice), Interim Executive Director of Social Justice Fund Northwest, Executive Director of the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, and as Education Co-Coordinator of the Highlander Research and Education Center. Scot’s primary work in progressive social change has been as a social movement analyst with a particular emphasis on analyzing and creating strategies to counter rightwing movements. His current blog, Race Files, addresses race and racism in U.S. politics and culture.