While the average Black American has eight White friends, White Americans only have one Black friend. Research by the Public Religion Research Institute finds that 75% of White people have “entirely white social networks without any minority presence.” Researcher Robert Jones argues the lack of diversity amongst White social networks has a negative impact on civil society. White people lack a personal connection to Black history and culture because they don’t receive adequate formal education on these issues, and because they do not know many Black people. As a result, they are not forced to see and recognise the marginalisation that Black people go through. As such, Jones argues, White people are not “socially positioned” to understand the significance of events at Ferguson and other civil disputes.
These data is backed up by a recent Pew Research study which finds that only 37% of White Americans think Michael Brown’s death and subsequent events in Ferguson raise important issues about race, in contrast to 80% of Black people who do see the connection to racism.
In sociology, we use the concept of homophily to explain the structure of social networks. This word literally means “love of the same.” In sociology, this concept measures how little people mix outside their groups, and the consequences of this lack of intermingling. On the outside, friendship groups seem diverse because we tend to think of relationships in reference to individuals. For example: I have a friend who is outgoing and likes horror films and manga comics; I have another friend who’s quiet and likes 70s rock music; another friend likes going to the art gallery and reading Margaret Atwood books; and so on. The fact is, that most people tend to know people similar to themselves where it really counts: along racial and socio-economic lines.
Research shows that lack of diversity in White people’s friendship circles has a societal impact, in that it stagnates social change. White people share the balance of social power, whether they like to admit to it or not. People of colour find ways to connect with White people, but the reverse is not true of the majority of White people. Friendships don’t just “naturally” happen; they aren’t even the strict outcome of personalities or personal preferences. Social relationships are one clear way that power and the status quo are maintained.
Credits & Learn More
Information on race in social networks and graphic via Washington Post: http://buff.ly/XUw3oz
Pew study: http://buff.ly/XUw3oA
A classic study: http://buff.ly/XUw5wS
Broader impact on social organisation: http://buff.ly/XUw5wT
Race & impact on elite structures in society: http://buff.ly/XUw5wU
#sociology #socialscience #ferguson #michaelbrown #racism