Nearly 40 percent of white Americans only have friends of the same race and about 25 percent of non-white Americans have friends who are “exclusively” from their own race, an ongoing Reuters poll reports. When the poll considered a “broader circle” of acquaintances and coworkers, it found that 30 percent of Americans do not mix with those of another race.
I was startled but not so startled by the poll’s findings. I grew up in the Bay Area, a region known for its diversity. The Reuters poll notes that California and the Pacific states are indeed where people of different races are most likely to be mixed “when it comes to love and friendship.” My parents are both second-generation Chinese American: on my father’s side, almost everybody married someone who is Chinese or Asian. On my mother’s side, while a few relatives have partners who are Chinese or Asian, the majority are not. My husband Jim is an Irish American New Jerseyan.
In contrast to my experiences while living in California and now in New Jersey, Jim and I found ourselves being stared at when we lived in St. Louis, Missouri in the late 1990s.The Reuters poll found that some regions of the United States are more segregated by race, with the South being where the lowest percentage of people have more than five acquaintances who are of a different race than their own.
More than a decade after we lived there, St. Louis remains very segregated. A 2012 report from the Manhattan Institute found that it is one of the most segregated cities in the United States, with African-Americans and minorities living in different parts of the city and its surrounding areas than whites and facing wide disparities in education and economic circumstances.
With white Americans on track to become a minority in some regions (Hispanics are predicted to make up the majority of Texas’ population by 2020), the poll’s findings seem likely to change before too long. Reuters also found that one-third of Americans under the age of 30 are in a relationship with someone who is from a different race, while only one-tenth of Americans over the age of 30 are. Only one out of ten adults under 30 say they have no family, friends or co-workers who are of a different race.
Those figures are a sign of progress. Nonetheless, even in a diverse community, people of different races may only intermix to a certain extent. White students are in the minority at the school where I teach in Jersey City (but most of the faculty and administration are white, as is the case at most colleges and universities in the U.S.). But after the student newspaper ran a story on interracial dating last spring, I received a couple of queries from students who seemed to marvel at the fact that, yes, my husband is white and that I considered this no big deal.
As the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman more than revealed, race and topics like white privilege in our educational system and in the workplace remain highly charged. We’ve elected a black President twice but reports of racist remarks about him and “mock-lynchings” are sickeningly routine. Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, the U.S. remains significantly segregated along racial lines and still not sure how to reduce, and end, inequality.
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