Why Interracial Friendships Are Rare Among Both Children and Adults

Research reveals most whites don't have black friends

Interracial friendships don’t receive nearly the amount of press that interracial romances do. Just because these relationships lack the sexual component of interracial romances doesn’t mean they’re any less interesting. Interracial friendships reveal a great deal about U.S. society and culture.

For interracial friendships to flourish, the parties involved typically must address racial stereotypes and expectations from others about the company they should keep. And while cross-race friendships aren’t nearly as taboo as interracial marriage remains, they occur infrequently in the United States, according to numerous studies.

Why is this and how can those who desire to diversify their social circle successfully start a cross-race relationship? This overview provides some guidance and examines how race affects children’s friendships as well.

Friends Embrace
Friends Hug. Z S/Flickr.com

Whenever prominent people become mired in a racial controversy, they’re likely to declare that “some of their best friends are black.” In reality, most whites don’t have black friends. They may have black coworkers or black acquaintances, but research on cross-race friendships has found that genuine interracial friendships are uncommon.

One study measured how frequently interracial friendships exist in the United States by examining more than 1,000 photographs of wedding parties. The researcher used this method because people typically reserve a space in their wedding parties for their true friends. The study revealed that while whites and Asians are equally as likely to have each other in their wedding parties, blacks are far more likely to include whites and Asians in their wedding parties than the inverse.

This signals that anti-black racism certainly plays a role in the development of interracial friendships or lack thereof. Another barrier to cross-race friendships is that Americans as a whole report having fewer confidants than they did in the past. Minorities in particular are less likely to have wide social networks than whites are. The good news is that the General Social Survey of 1,500 reveals that Americans are six percent more likely in the 21st century than they were in 1985 to have at least one good friend from another race. More »

Tips on Forming Cross-Race Friendships

Women drinking
Girlfriends share a drink. James Palinsad/Flickr.com

The fact that the United States remains a racially stratified society may make it more difficult for the public to form cross-race relationships. Even those Americans who crave more diversity in their social circles say it can be hard to connect with individuals from different racial backgrounds. What’s to blame for this?

In some cases residential segregation makes it unlikely that people will even spot anyone of a different racial background in their community on a routine basis. Others may work in an environment that’s racially homogeneous. Although these obstacles exist, they can be overcome.

If you’re serious about developing an interracial friendship, be proactive. Try to deepen the relationships with the acquaintances you already have who don’t share your racial background. Consider attending a gala, literary function or art opening in a more diverse neighborhood than yours. Join a group that you know has a diverse membership. Once you’ve jumpstarted these relationships, be sure to be culturally sensitive and treat your new friend as an equal. Nothing is more likely to kill a cross-race friendship than engaging in racial stereotypes.

Interracial group of boys
Interracial group of boys. Josué Goge/Flickr.com

The misperception that children don’t see race is pervasive, but it’s simply not true. Researchers have found that even preschool-aged children notice racial differences between groups. There goes the theory that kids are colorblind. Not only do children see race, they also use race to rule out potential peers as friends. While younger children do have a more positive outlook on cross-race friendships than older children do, across the board children are far more likely to develop intra-racial friendships than interracial ones.

A CNN report called “Kids on Race: The Hidden Picture” found that white children tend to view cross-race friendships more negatively than black children do. Only white children enrolled in majority black schools were likely to view interracial friendships in a positive light.

White youths in majority white schools or racially mixed schools felt differently, with some admitting that they thought their parents would disapprove if they brought a friend from another race home. Despite the stigma that surrounds cross-race friendships, research indicates that white, black and other children who partake in these relationships are likely to exhibit high levels of self-esteem and social competence. More »