Decades after the Civil Rights Movement, some Americans continue to remain segregated by choice: 40 percent of white Americans have no friends of other races, and 25 percent of non-whites surround themselves solely with people of their own race.
The surprising figures shed light on race relations in the US after last month’s acquittal of George Zimmerman led to a nationwide debate on racial prejudice. Overall, 30 percent of Americans do not have friends of other races, according to an ongoing Reuters/Ipsos poll released Thursday.
The numbers vary by region, with the American South having the lowest percentage of people with diverse friendships. States along the Pacific coast, including California, are the most diverse in terms of love, friendship, and acquaintances.
“This country has a pretty long history of restriction on inter-racial contact and for whites and blacks, even though it’s in the past, there are still echoes of this,” Ann Morning, an associate professor in the sociology department at New York University, told Reuters.
About 90 percent of Hispanic poll respondents said they had a
friend of a different race, marking them the group with the most
diverse friendship circles in the country. Thirty-six percent of
non-whites said they have five or more friends of a different
race than theirs. But the picture is different for white
Americans: only 20 percent of whites said they had several
friends of other races.
The divide is greatest between whites and blacks, which University of Pennsylvania professor Camille Zubrinsky Charles considers an indicator of the work that still needs to be done.
“There has been some progress, but whites and blacks in particular tend to live in separate neighborhoods,” the professor, who teaches sociology and Africana studies, told NBC.
Older generations of Americans were also more likely to show signs of racial prejudice and have fewer friends in other groups. Carlon Carter, an 18-year-old athlete from Birmingham, Ala., said that his “mom’s school… had ended segregation, but she told me there was still basically one side of the road for whites and one side of the road for blacks.”
The poll is based on the responses of more than 4,000 Americans who were surveyed since July 24. Gallup asked a similar question in 2004, to which more than 80 percent of respondents said they had close personal friends of other races. Comparatively, US friendship circles are now more segregated than they were nearly a decade ago.
The poll results were gathered in wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a Florida-based neighborhood watch coordinator who was accused of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. After the not guilty verdict was announced, protesters held race rallies in at least 100 cities across the US, calling for justice for the unarmed African-American teen. President Barack Obama responded to the uproar, stating that “Trayvon Martin could have been me” and encouraging all Americans to do some “soul searching” on whether they harbor any racial prejudice.
Although friendship circles can often depend on the diversity of the region where people live – and could be unrelated to racial prejudice – the divide between whites and minorities shows just how much Americans remain segregated, whether by choice or by circumstance.