The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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August 12, 2013

Separating ourselves into information tribes

Nonwhite Americans are much more likely than white Americans to have a friend of a different race, a new poll finds. As a black American, I find that to be sad but understandable. After all, when you are in the minority, you are easier to avoid, whether people want to avoid you or not.

The poll released by Reuters/Ipsos on Thursday found that about 40 percent of white Americans say they only have white friends. Only 25 percent of nonwhite Americans said they only have friends of their own race.

That makes an unfortunate amount of sense. Despite our tremendous intergroup progress since the “Mad Men” era, we Americans still live significantly segregated lives, especially outside of the classroom and the workplace.

We usually think of “cultural deprivation” as an affliction of the poor, alienated and disenfranchised. But even the well-heeled and well-connected are more deprived of valuable insights about their fellow humans than we often realize.

Even in our advanced media age, the best way to get to know other groups is through personal relationships. We don’t need scientific studies to tell us that, although many do.

A 2008 study at the University of California, Berkeley, for example, found that pairing up white and Latino students who had been prone to racial-ethnic biases reduced not only their prejudices but their classroom stress, too. Studying is easier, I suppose, when you don’t constantly feel like looking over your shoulder.

The poll comes at a poignantly significant time, between the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman tragedy and the 50th anniversary on Aug. 28 of Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Remembering Dr. King reminds us of how far we have come in overcoming our racial differences. The fallout from the Zimmerman trial reminds us of how far we have to go.

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With the Clinton County Justice Coordinating Commission and the Clinton County Board of Supervisors discussing proposals to construct a new jail, do you think the time has come for Clinton County to construct such a facility?

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