Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, Jul. 19
More than nine out of 10 white Britons have no or hardly any ethnic minority friends, according to a poll that reveals the continuing gulf between races and religions more than 40 years after the UK became a multicultural society.
The Guardian has seen details of the survey, to be released this week by the Commission for Racial Equality.
It shows that a majority of white people do not share the bonds of close friendship with their fellow black, Asian or Muslim Britons, meaning they may lack the empathy that close contact can bring. The CRE warns this leaves swaths of the population open to believing the worst of different ethnic and religious groups.
The poll found that 94% of white people say most or all their friends are of the same race, while 47% of ethnic minorities say white people form all or most of their friends. More than half of white people, 54%, said they did not have a single black or Asian person they considered a close friend.
More than eight out of 10 white people have no friends who are practising Muslims, and only one in 10 white people was close to a Hindu or Sikh. Pollsters YouGov asked 2,065 white and 808 ethnic minority people aged over 18 for details of their closest 10 to 20 friends in an internet survey.
Peter Kellner of YouGov said: “It is unusual for white Britons to have any close friends who are from the ethnic minorities.” He said this had an effect on the knowledge the majority white com munity had of their ethnic minority fellow citizens. “There is an empathy born of experience. With a great number of white people there is not that empathy born of experience.”
Around two-thirds of all ethnic groups believe that ethnic minority Britons too often live apart from the rest of society, but they diverge over whether tackling inequality or achieving integration is more important.
The poll found that 54% of white people have no friends at all from the ethnic minorities, with 46% saying they have at least one. Three in 10 of ethnic minority people surveyed said all or most of their friends were Asian or black.
The CRE chair, Trevor Phillips, said: “It surprised me the extent to which the majority community still does not really know minority communities.” He said the lack of close knowledge could lead white people to believe lurid tabloid headlines and racist propaganda. “When it comes to race and religion this clearly demonstrates we are dealing with a difference of which most people in this country have no first-hand experience, and therefore it is not surprising that they can be misled about blacks, Gypsies and Muslims, and it’s not surprising that for no apparent reason they can become hostile and racist.”
Mr Phillips said integration could not be left to chance. He believed the government should fund US-style summer camp places for 16-year-olds where they can take part in activities with teenagers they would otherwise not meet: “In Britain we still don’t know each other. We are not like Ameri cans who do know each other but have made an active choice to live in a segregated society.”
The survey indicates the situation may be worsening. While younger whites mix more than older ones, the reverse is true of some ethnic minority communities.
The friends of 60% of white people over 50 are of the same race as them, compared with 43% for white people under 30. But while 19% of ethnic minority Britons over 50 have friends who are almost exclusively from ethnic minority communities, that rises to 39% for those aged 30 or under.
YouGov says: “We cannot tell from a single survey whether this is mainly a cohort effect [as people get older, their circle of friends widens] or whether this reflects an enduring generational difference, with some younger non-whites less willing than their parents’ generation to mix with white friends.”
In January, a Mori poll found that 41% of white people and 26% of ethnic minority people surveyed wanted the races to live separately.