Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post, August 25, 2014
“All my black friends have a bunch of white friends. And all my white friends have one black friend.”
That’s the memorable punchline of a Chris Rock bit from 2009 on interracial friendships. And according to some recent number-crunching by Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute, there’s a good deal of truth to that statement.
Let’s consider the average American white American and the average American black American, and let’s say, for simplicity’s sake, that each of them have 100 friends. If you were to break down their respective friend networks by race, they would look something like this.
In a 100-friend scenario, the average white person has 91 white friends; one each of black, Latino, Asian, mixed race, and other races; and three friends of unknown race. The average black person, on the other hand, has 83 black friends, eight white friends, two Latino friends, zero Asian friends, three mixed race friends, one other race friend, and four friends of unknown race.
Going back to Chris Rock’s point, the average black person’s friend network is 8 percent white, but the average white person’s network is only 1 percent black. To put it another way: Blacks have ten times as many black friends as white friends. But white Americans have an astonishing 91 times as many white friends as black friends.
There are a number of factors driving these numbers. Simple population counts are one of them: there are more white people than black people in the U.S., so it makes sense that the average American is going to have more white friends than black friends.
To be fair, the numbers suggest there is plenty of racial self-selection in black Americans’ friend networks too. But focusing solely on black-white relations, there’s a pretty big difference between having only one member of a given race in your friend network, and having eight of them.
In fact, PRRI’s data show that a full 75 percent of whites have “entirely white social networks without any minority presence.” The same holds true for slightly less than two thirds of black Americans. [Editor’s Note: This means that two thirds of blacks have all black social networks. The figure is 46 percent for Hispanics.]