In grad school a guy told me (with a completely straight face):
Well, black people are more likely to steal.
I countered that with “are white people more likely to be serial killers?” to which he replied (still straight-faced):
Black people are probably too stupid to be serial killers; they probably get caught before they have a chance to kill more.
That was not a productive conversation.
Another guy told me:
You’ve got to admit that black people are pretty violent.
Yet another guy told me that he had driven by some black people “in the hood” one day and that they seemed pretty hopeless and what Black People could use most was
Someone to motivate them and give them hope and not tell them that the man is out to get them like you’re doing.
There are entirely too many instances in my life of these types of conversations to recount. But this is always the point in the conversation where I want to do the following:
*yells* “YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ANY BLACK PEOPLE,”
Who are these violent, thieving, hopeless black people? I wonder. Where are they? How do you know them?
I find these conversations particularly mind-boggling because they generally happen in some place where we are surrounded by white people. (i.e we live in predominantly white neighborhoods and work in predominantly white environments-with the exception of yours truly). The conversation with the guy from grad school happened in Monterey, CA which has a 3% Black population. I was literally the only person of color in this guy’s social circle. Dude, you don’t even know any black people. I am the Black People that you know.(Trust me, I understand that you don’t have know black people to have stereotypes about them but still.)
This Public Religion Research institute survey from two years ago created lots of conversation and follow-on articles about white people’s mostly all white social circles. From Christopher Ingraham’s article at the Washington Post
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 eight percent white, but the average white person’s network is only one 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.
In my own life, in several of my social networks, particularly the ones that originate from work or college, I am the Black people. Literally. I have attended numerous family, work, and social events where I am the black person in the photos. I am that Black Friend that people claim to have.
And I don’t say that to knock my friends who are white — we’re friends for reasons that have nothing to do with race . But as I’ve grown in my own consciousness and understanding of racism in America, what that has meant for me is that it’s important that I share that knowledge with people who might not hear it otherwise.
It’s conversations like these that make me think of Intergroup Contact theory — the idea that extending contact between conflicting groups can reduce prejudice.
If they knew more black people, would they think differently?
Perhaps. From an empirical standpoint –based solely on my life experiences –I would (hesitantly) say that yes, deep and meaningful relationships between people of different races can reduce prejudice. But I would caveat that with about a million things that would take me far off topic so I will sum it up by saying:
Broadening your social circle, deepening your community network –to not just people from different races – but people from different classes and sexual orientations and religions, can deepen your understanding of and love for humanity and it can help you to understand your cultural blindspots.
At least that’s been my experience.