I have a friend who happens to be white. I love him, with extreme sincerity. He’s been there for me so many times. I admire his maturity, his brilliance and above all, the sincere love we have. I must say that I also value him deeply because he is white. I must confess, I don’t have many white friends and in this world many would take that to mean I’m a racist. Thing is, between East Cleveland and the east side of ATL, there wasn’t much opportunity growing up to befriend others of a lighter hue. In undergrad, I did an entire project studying people’s social networks in college and found that, with very little exception, people tend to reproduce the type of social networks they had growing up, until the age of 15 or so. Over time, people tend to replicate the social networks they had as children and perhaps this is what I’ve done.
This reminds me of a joke Steve Harvey once told. He recalled an occasion when a reporter asked him whether he had any white friends. Ultimately, Steve’s answer was no. Yet he insisted that he was not a racist. In his words, he knew “millions of black people but ain’t but four of them my friend. I know 52 of ya’ll…ain’t none of you made the buddy list yet.” Steve’s point was that the word friend is a strong one and his selectivity disadvantages whites greatly simply because he had fewer opportunities to interact with them. Just as in sales or anything else, the more contact you have, the greater your likelihood to convert. In this case, more contact with people increases the chances of making friends. In that we still live in a very segregated society, this is an obvious obstacle for blacks and others alike to make friends across the racial spectrum. One has to be extremely intentional in this world and depending on your neighborhood and/or socio-economic status, you might have to sincerely plan a military strategy to cross the lines.
As far as I know, there’s never been a sociological study that revealed a willingness on the part of whites to move into a neighborhood over 10% black. Perhaps as a reaction to racism or simply by mere choice, blacks largely tend to reside in predominantly black neighborhoods. So we are socialized largely to be monolithic and as adults, either in college or in the workplace, expected to naturally make friends with all others. Not an easy task for everyone, particularly those not naturally sociable. The task is particularly complicated for blacks. Having been explicitly told for generations you are not welcome, it’s certainly not natural to be intentional about seeking relationships outside the race. Indeed, it can often be frightening, as history, images from television and even life experience continually reinforce the need to be circumspect and leery when it comes to others- whites in particular.
So then, we are set up for failure- all of us. We’re nurtured in environments that are segregated, then expected to magically have multicultural social networks as adults. To accomplish this requires being intentional but we often find not the motivation to do so and indeed fear and mistrust can stifle us all.