Black & White: Are Social Networks Divided Along Racial Lines?

Black_and_White_on_Facebook A fellow author whom I respect said to me today, “Despite everything, whenever I imagine a character who hasn’t been fully described in a book, I see him or her as a Caucasian.”

That set me wondering. Is that a touch of racism that he’s admitting to? Or is it simply human nature, to imagine people as being like ourselves?

Then, he went even further. He asked me to look at my social networks, at the profile pictures associated with the thousands of “friends” and “likes” of my various pages and profiles.

I was surprised. Among my social network connections who have an actual photograph rather than an avatar or symbol for their profile pic, the vast majority are white or pale skinned. Not that it’s all vanilla, but the handful of Blacks, Asians and such were so sparse that they seemed to be the exceptions that defined a rule.

My friend’s explanation for it is that we have become more and more tribal as a culture and a country, that everyone tends to congregate with “their own kind.” Then, he added, “It’s true even for those of us who prefer diversity, not out of any intellectual moral stance, but because variety is much more interesting that sameness.”

I could see his point about the problems we’re having with divisiveness socially and politically. But in my social networks, I can’t imagine how such an imbalance could have developed. The filters we use for connecting on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn have much more to do with interests than family background. Baseball fans or history buffs naturally fall into the same conversations. Right? In my networks, we talk about photography, art, literature, culture, publishing and science/technology. We share cartoons that make us smile, aphorisms that make us think and, of course, pictures of cats and dogs. Where in that formula is there a racial dividing line?

Am I being naïve? Are there really different Facebooks for each tribe? For whites and blacks? Gays and straights? Conservatives and liberals? Intellectuals and good-ole-boys? If so, how can we cross that divide, and develop new dialogues?

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