By BELINDA KUO
Everybody has heard the phrase “choose your friends wisely.”
As our reliable advisors and unwavering supporters through life, friends play an important role in developing our character. Yet, in many schools and workplaces, anyone can see that most people choose friends of the same race. So, why are interracial friendships so uncommon in a society that praises diversity?
Although interracial friendships may appear uncommon, race does not and should not influence people’s choice of friends. Even without regarding race, we tend to befriend those who have gained our trust over time and consistently validate our self-worth. And clearly, race should not determine our perception of one’s trustworthiness or compatibility.
Rather, we develop our own judgement about others through interaction and experience. Though certain demographic groups may be predominant in a school or city, interracial friendships can form and thrive with mutual understanding and effort. For instance, I found that I normally spend more time at school with Asians, but some of my best friends from childhood or other schools are of other races. While my Asian friends and I share a cultural background, I can still relate to my friends of other races due to our similar interests in clothes, school and music. In fact, the difference in cultures may even strengthen interracial friendships as we celebrate and develop an appreciation for our friend’s culture. For example, when I was invited over to my friend’s quinceañera, I was able to learn more about the Spanish heritage, foods and customs while also sharing a precious moment with my friend.
However, people often associate those of the same race with familiarity and comfort. This can especially be seen in Facebook groups such as Subtle Asian Traits, which are such big hits because the posts resonate with many people of the same race. Moreover, according to a 2013 University of Michigan study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, students in diverse schools are more likely to befriend people of the same race than students in smaller communities where the pool of potential friends is more limited. In fact, a Brown University study found that interracial friendships are no more common in the United States than they are in post-apartheid South Africa, resulting in the rise of the term “American apartheid” to describe the residential hypersegregation of blacks across large metropolitan areas in the United States.
Nonetheless, other studies illustrate that race may simply be a trivial factor in determining people’s choice of friends. For instance, researchers from Harvard University and the University of California at Los Angeles tracked the Facebook profiles of 1,640 university students to determine how they picked friends, and concluded that the students were more likely to befriend peers they see often, are from the same state or who attended similar types of high schools than peers who simply shared their cultural background. Therefore, race may not play as significant a role as we think it does in relation to common interests.
For a more diverse friend group, people must step out of their comfort zones and connect with people outside of their social circle. This starts with involving yourself in social events in unfamiliar local areas or other communities. With a diverse friend group, we build higher levels of social competence and self-esteem, as well as greater cultural awareness in a multicultural society.
Ultimately, interracial friendships are made by heart and not by skin color. Instead of passing down the notion of “birds of a feather flock together,” we should break down the barrier between “them” and “us”. As we continue to meet new people in college or at jobs, it is important to have an open mind. You never know who your next best friend could be.