White People’s Friendships are Racially Limited

While the average Black American has eight White friends, and Latin people in the USA have an average of 19 White friends, the typical White American only has one friend each from Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, and other racial minorities.

Drawing on a nationally representative dateset (the 2013 American Values Survey, N=2,317 people), research by the Public Religion Research Institute finds that finds 91% of White people’s friends are White. On average, the rest of their friends include only 1 Black person, 1 Latin person, 1 Asian person, 1 mixed race person, 1 other race person, and the rest are unsure. In contrast, 83% of Black people’s friends are Black, and 64% of Latin people’s friends are Latin, and both Black and Latin people have more racial variability amongst the rest of their friendship networks.

Looking deeper at close friendships where people discuss important matters, 75% of White people have “entirely White social networks without any minority presence.”

Researcher Robert Jones and colleagues argue 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 engage adequate information on these issues. As a result, they do not fully recognise the marginalisation that Black people experience. As such, Jones argues, White people are not “socially positioned” to understand the significance of events at Ferguson and other racial justice and civil disputes.

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Social Justice in Ferguson

Over 1,400 sociologists have signed an open letter protesting police brutality in Ferguson, USA. The letter includes practical measures to address the killing of Michael Brown and mistreatment of protesters in Ferguson. Coordinated by Sociologists for Justice, the letter shows that systemic racism needs to be addressed as well as wider socio-economic and political issues to ensure effective change is enacted.

The book The New Jim Crow outlines how the criminal justice system in America is affected by systemic racism. Additionally, decades of sociological research shows that police officers’ decision-making is affected by racial stereotypes and that better training can address this bias (more links below). Effective change in community policing begins by understanding the effects of the victimisation of people of colour and by addressing the institutional practices that lead to excessive policing of people of colour. Below are the suggestions outlined in the open letter, but I urge you to read the letter in full as it summarises sociological research on race bias in policing. You can also add your name to the open letter, as I have done.

Social Justice for Michael Brown and Ferguson
We are troubled by the killing of Michael Brown. We are troubled by the excessive show of force and militarised response to protesters who rightfully seek justice and demand a change in the treatment of people of colour by law enforcement. – Sociologists for Justice.

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