Exposure to different cultures and ways of life helps people develop an awareness of others and of possibilities for the future, furthering their acceptance of differences and ability to pursue their full potential.
Particularly for young people in the American South, exposure to different kinds of people and life opportunities is often cited as an important factor in supporting them to realize their full potential.
At the community level, physical and social segregation based on race and class means many lack exposure to diverse people and groups — an issue that reinforces dependence on stereotypes about others and perpetuates unequal access to opportunities.
Research from Pew suggests that finding common ground may be key to improving race relations. More than half of Americans (55 percent) say that, when it comes to improving race relations, it is more important to focus on what different racial and ethnic groups have in common; 44 percent say it’s more important to focus on each group’s unique experiences. Asian people (58 percent), black people (54 percent), and Latino people (49 percent) are more likely than white people (39 percent) to say it’s more important to focus on the unique experiences of different racial and ethnic groups. Still, 4 in 10 or more of these racial and ethnic minorities say the better approach to improving race relations is to focus on what different groups have in common. Another recent study found that increasing interracial contact is best at reducing racial anxiety. And the American Psychological Association noted in a report that “one of the best ways to change attitudes is through intergroup contact.”
Attitudes are not simply about the way you think about a group; they are also about how you feel about a group. In America, white people have been able to change their minds about racism faster than they have been able to change their deep-seated, and often unconscious, feelings.
“There were no doctors in my neighborhood, no lawyers in my neighborhood, you know, everybody just kind of followed the same kind of model.”
— Black female, 31, Montgomery
“Most whites don’t necessarily have to deal with black folk on a daily basis. And so that in essence breeds this sense of racism because we don’t deal with each other, but it’s not always racism, sometimes it’s just, I don’t know you and I don’t deal with you.”
— Black male, 43, Knoxville
“Sometimes the way I talk or if I say certain stuff, or if I put emphasis on certain words she’s like, ‘Wow. You’re being really rude.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, no, I wasn’t being rude. I was just literally talking to you.’ Or like she doesn’t understand my hair and she like wants to touch it all the time, where she doesn’t understand that that’s kind of offensive.”
— Black female, 19, Charleston, WV
“Because kids will only become what...they’ll be what they see. And so if they only see their neighborhood and they only see drug epidemics, and then they go to the school and they are only around people who are dealing with the same thing, and then if they go to a house that their parents don’t necessarily own, there’s a lot of trauma in that of keeping the lights on.”
— Black male, 29, Charlotte