With so much racial unrest going on in America these days, it can be hard for people to understand the "other" side. Maybe it's because white Americans never walked a mile in a black friend's shoes -- or maybe because they have no black friends to begin with.
Public Religion Research Institute found that whites' social networks are 91 percent white. Even more alarming, 75 percent of whites have a totally white social network.
For a nation that prides itself as a melting pot (or perhaps salad bowl), it's shocking that so many people could have so little racial diversity in their friend group.
Imagine a white person with 300 friends, about the size of a healthy Facebook friends list. Of those, the institute's research shows about 273 friends will be white, three will be black, three Latino, three Asian, three multiracial and three of an "other" race (and nine with an unknown race).
It's not much better for black people. For a black person, that same Facebook friends list would be made up of about 249 black people, 24 whites, six Latinos, nine mixed race, no Asians, three "other" race and 12 unknown.
Public Religion Research Institute's Robert P. Jones decries our tendency to "self-segregate" in a piece for The Atlantic.
"Widespread social separation is the root of divergent reactions along racial lines to events such as the Watts riots, the O.J. Simpson verdict, and, more recently, the shootings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown," Jones writes. "... If perplexed whites want help understanding the present unrest in Ferguson, nearly all will need to travel well beyond their current social circles."
Whites alone aren't guilty of a monochrome social network. While three-quarters of whites have an all-white network, 64 percent of blacks and 46 percent of Hispanics have social networks made entirely of their own race.
The unrest in Ferguson has poured salt in long-festering wounds in our country. It's often been difficult for the various groups involved to see eye-to-eye.
But we'll never make any lasting changes unless different racial, social and religious groups make a serious, sustained effort to leave their insular communities and forge real relationships. We can't call America the great melting pot if we're not even willing to get close to each other.