In trying to explain why white Americans don’t see racial issues in Ferguson, Missouri, one writer points to this: white Americans tend to interact largely with other white Americans.
Drawing on techniques from social network analysis, PRRI’s 2013 American Values Survey asked respondents to identify as many as seven people with whom they had discussed important matters in the six months prior to the survey. The results reveal just how segregated white social circles are.
Overall, the social networks of whites are a remarkable 93 percent white. White American social networks are only one percent black, one percent Hispanic, one percent Asian or Pacific Islander, one percent mixed race, and one percent other race. In fact, fully three-quarters (75 percent) of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence. This level of social-network racial homogeneity among whites is significantly higher than among black Americans (65 percent) or Hispanic Americans (46 percent)…
For most white Americans, #hoodies and #handsupdontshoot and the images that have accompanied these hashtags on social media may feel alien and off-putting given their communal contexts and social networks.
If perplexed whites want help understanding the present unrest in Ferguson, nearly all will need to travel well beyond their current social circles.
This is a good use of social network data. We know that who people interact with and who they are connected to matters. Want more evidence in a pretty easy read? Read Connected, which I have my Introduction to Sociology students read. If I remember correctly, that book addresses all sorts of areas where social networks matter – health, economics, politics, emotions, etc. – but doesn’t address race. Yet, this all makes sense with what we know about how easy it can be for whites to ignore race in America since they aren’t always personally confronted with race or live in places where race is consistently a social issue. And, interacting with people you know like family or coworkers or neighbors matters a lot more than getting more impersonal information from the media which some whites argue is always talking about race.
One other thought: social networks are also related to where people live. Given the propensity of white Americans to move to places that are largely white, residential segregation plays into this.