Dear readers, can I make just the mildest, most polite suggestion? You may want to consider widening your social circle a wee bit. I just found out that 40 percent of white Americans have no friends of color. Not a one. We are that segregated. But it's not really that surprising, when you think about it, sadly.
So I admit, my first response to this news went something along the lines of: Whaddaya mean you don't have any non-white friends?!? That's pathetic! Do you live under a rock? Go outside your house and find some damn people of color. Jesus, it's not that hard -- we're all over the place. But hold on, I know it's more complicated than that.
First of all, I think this explains why we were so divided over the Trayvon Martin case. Just as knowing a homosexual personally changes our opinions on same-sex marriage and other rights, I think having friends of a different race or ethnicity helps you empathize and see life through a different person's perspective. If you're missing out on that experience, it's going to be that much harder for you to imagine what life really is like for a person of color. And it may not ever occur to you that anyone can have different take on reality than your own.
Okay, so fine. You get it. We all benefit from having friends of other backgrounds. The thing is, it's not just our social circles that are segregated. It's often our communities. I take diversity for granted because I live in New York City. But wow, when I visit my family in Utah, one of the first things I notice is the relative lack of diversity. A lot of Americans really are living in our own little cultural pods.
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And then there's the fear that if you do try to befriend a person of color, you'll look like some doofus engaging in token friendships. You know, "Hey, look at me and my one black friend -- I'm so cool now!" It takes social courage -- but it also takes a genuine curiosity. You make friends with people because you think they're interesting, so show that by asking about their day, their weekend plans, their hopes and dreams, and then listen.
Meanwhile, we people of color could stand to expand our social circles as well. The same study shows that 25 percent of non-white Americans spend all our time with people of our same race or ethnicity. Of course, institutional racism could have a lot to do with that -- believe it or not, we are still feeling the effects of legally-enforced segregation. But still, that openness goes both ways.
Things are changing around us. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, white non-Hispanic babies were in the minority for the first time in the census's history. (Obviously this was not the case in the year 1492.) About half of married or partnered Latinos are in a relationship with a non-Latino. Maybe, someday, none of this will matter at all. But in the meantime, it sounds like a lot of us could stand to do a little social stretching.
How diverse is your circle of friends?
Image via Scarleth White/Flickr