Inter-Racial Friends.

Here’s something interesting  (via Pew Research Center):

My first thought was: I wonder how people are defining “friend?”  If we’re talking about friends in the casual sense – someone you work with, someone you occasionally chat with – then these results are basically on point.  Most people interact with someone of a different race on a fairly regular basis (if not daily), and accordingly, people build relationships of varying degrees.  But, if you’re defining “friend” as something deeper – someone you invite over for dinner, a close confidant, or even a lover – then this survey probably exaggerates the extent to which most people have those relationships with someone of the opposite race.  Indeed, if you’re defining “friend” in the latter sense then judging from most American’s inability to discuss race in any rational way, these survey results can’t be correct, since they would suggest that most Americans are very comfortable with people of other races.  Which, you know, isn’t really the case.

I don’t really have much else to say, I just thought this survey was interesting.

(Cross-posted from U.S. of J.)


Jamelle Bouie is a writer for Slate. He has also written for The Daily Beast, The American Prospect and The Nation. His work centers on politics, race, and the intersection of the two.

You can find him on Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram as jbouie.
  • shani-o

    I think you’re right, Jamelle. It’s got to be the loosely defined “friends” you work with/go to school with.

  • I don’t know what you guys are talking about.

    I think we all know a “friend”. I have one “friend” in the office. He speaks so well.
    Never had him over for dinner or anything, but by golly I don’t have a problem with socializing with “friends”. They really are good people.

  • Scott

    As an aside about the definition of “friends”, I have to go to my state agency’s physical security briefing every year where they tell you to lock the doors and not to let strangers into the office. The gist of this was to keep you and your “work family” (your fellow co-workers) safe. Several people commented on the term “work family” because it seemed so odd at the time.

  • Winslowalrob

    From now on, should we preface our racist comments by stating the percentage of friends we have of other races or the total number? I think “I am not a racist! I have %39 interracial friendships with just a few people!” sounds wayyy better than “I am not a racist! My best friend from accounting who I never see outside of work Chuck is Asian!”

  • i hate these kinds of surveys – they bring up all sorts of questions that simply point to the inadequacies of our society.

    what i think really gets to me is that we assume, based on skin color, what someone’s race is – obliterating the fact that they may be of mixed heritage, and “race” is not a simple yes or no category. i don’t think that it can be distilled down to our assumptions of what we perceive to be another person’s race. of course if we’re talking about an actual friend, then we (should) know some of their heritage and history, and can probably more readily recall the race that they primarily identify as. but “friend” as in co-worker or acquaintance? i think that requires some gross assumptions and i’m just not willing to go there.

  • I used to work as a research assistant at an institute that regularly surveyed thousands of college students across the country. In order to gain an understanding of interracial relationships, the survey designers asked about behavioral aspects. Who do you eat with? Who do you study with? Who do you go to parties with? And so on. That tells me a whole lot more than who are you “friends.”

  • Most people have about 3-5 really close friends (people you can guarantee will be there when you marry/remarry in 15 years time), about one or two dozen or so people they socialise with at pubs/clubs, and maybe another few dozen who they know through work etc. and are unlikely to talk to once they leave their current circumstances.

    I at least can say that one of my 3-5 is non-white, but that’s because I lived overseas for a long time.

    PS – There’s no such thing as the ‘opposite race’