Survey on race and friendship in US highlights issue

Barack Obama believes racism is on the decline in America. Picture: AP

Barack Obama believes racism is on the decline in America. Picture: AP

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ABOUT 40 per cent of white Americans, and 25 per cent of non-whites, are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race, according to a survey.

The figures highlight how segregated the United States remains, in the wake of a debate on race sparked by last month’s acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of unarmed black Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. President Barack Obama weighed in after the verdict, calling on Americans to do some “soul searching” on whether they harbour racial prejudice.

According to the Ipsos poll, there are regions and groups where mixing with people of other races is more common, especially in the Hispanic community, where only a tenth do not have friends of a different race.

About half of those Hispanics who have a spouse or partner are in a relationship with non-Hispanics, compared with one tenth of whites and blacks.

Looking at a broader circle of acquaintances to include colleagues as well as friends and relatives, 30 per cent of Americans do not mix with others of a different race, the poll showed.

Kevin Shaw, 49, who took part in the poll, has experienced both integration and racial homogeny. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and attended a high school where he was one of only two white teenagers on a mostly black football team.

His wife, Bobbi, is Hispanic, and they have been married for 27 years. Eleven years ago, they moved to a mainly white district. “Soon after we moved in, my mother-in-law came to visit and a neighbour asked if she was my maid. It was just a matter of ignorance,” he said.

In the time he has lived there, the neighbourhood has become less blinkered, helped by the arrival of younger families.

As a group, Pacific states – including California – are the most diverse. By contrast, the South has the lowest percentage of people with more than five acquaintances from races that are not their own.

Some of this is down to precedent. “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, of the department of sociology at New York University, said.

“Hispanics and Asian Americans have traditionally had less strict lines about integrating.”

Two weeks ago, Mr Obama expressed optimism about the future, saying his daughters’ experiences showed younger generations had fewer issues with race. “It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But … they’re better than we are, they’re better than we were, on these issues,” he said.

Younger American adults appear to confirm this, according to the poll. About one third of under-30s who have a partner or spouse are in a relationship with someone of a different race, compared with one tenth of over-30s. And only one in ten under-30s say no-one among their families, friends or co-workers is of a different race.

“My Mom’s school, they 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,” Carlon Carter, 18, from Birmingham, Alabama said. “There’s a big difference now. We don’t see each other so much like ‘you’re white and I’m black’. If you like the same thing I like, that’s all that matters,” he said.

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