Some of my best friends are white
A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 40 percent of whites and 25 percent of non-whites in America only have friends of the same race. When this survey of 4,170 respondents was announced, the focus was on the pockets of segregation in America. But another way of looking at the data is that most Americans have interracial friendships!
And while questions of race are often only talked about in terms of black and white in this country, only a tenth of Hispanics don’t have friends of other races. Half of Hispanics are involved in interracial relationships, compared to around 10 percent of blacks and whites. Hispanic and Asian integration traditionally hasn’t been fraught with as much peril as black and white.
I feel fortunate that I was raised in a military family. Since the armed forces were integrated long before the rest of American society, I grew up with white, Asian and Hispanic friends. Race was never an impediment to friendship in my family. When I was 4 or 5, I had a white girlfriend named Lisa. Yep, that little girl who used to bite me all the time turned me on to white women way back when.
It’s not surprising that the region of the country with the least amount of interracial friendships is the South, while California and the West leads the pack in terms of diverse relationships. Old traditions die hard.
Of course, someone not having friends of other races doesn’t make them racists. We tend to make friends in school, work, church and our neighborhoods. If you live in a community that’s racially homogenous it’s not going to be surprising if you don’t have friends of other races.
But a dearth of interracial friends does make it easier to indulge stereotypes. If the media and other people who also have no interracial relationships inform one’s opinions, the chance of prejudice running wild is certainly higher.
My sister-in-law grew up in an all black neighborhood with little concept of how their white counterparts lived. In that environment, it’s easy for misinformation to run rampant.
The internet, however, is a game-changer in that it allows diverse individuals, who may never have come into contact with each other, to develop relationships.
The coolest thing about interracial friendships is you have someone to ask those unsettling questions you always wanted to know the answer to. I have white friends who ask me privately about the so-called “N word,” why blacks cheered the O.J. verdict, why many blacks feel the way they do about the Trayvon Martin case and other racial issues. Years ago, I watched “Menace II Society” with a white friend, and the whole movie she’d lean over and ask me to translate the slang.
Having friends of other races and cultures can expand your culinary, musical and political outlook. (My friend Joeie’s lumpia makes your mouth orgasm and my buddy Jesse’s mom’s chicken enchiladas transports me to Puerto Vallarta!) Relationships with different people are what break down stereotypes. It builds tolerance. Not only has this benefited race relations in America, but also the same is true of the LGBT community. The more relationships people have with folks who are different, the more we see our common humanity.
Now I’m not one of those people who believes in a “post-racial America” or that says they’re “colorblind.” I don’t buy that. I don’t think it’s desirable. My blackness is part of who I am and I want people to see it but not penalize me for it. When I look at my friends I see white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, straight, gay, male, female, atheist, religious, conservative, liberal, old and young. I don’t’ have to erase their differences to embrace who they are.
And while the election of the first black President may have brought some folks’ prejudices to the fore, the good news is that according to this survey, most Americans have interracial friendships. So despite the vocal minority of prejudice and intolerance, the majority of Americans will keep us moving towards a more perfect union.