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You’ve probably seen it play out. A white cop harasses a black person, a celebrity says something racist, a white woman insists that she is black. People are rightfully furious, and take to whatever social media outlet they can to spread the word and talk about why this is wrong. And yet, from white people, radio silence.
A new Pew study confirms what most people of color have probably noticed anecdotally: White people are far less likely to post about race and racism on social media. “Only 8 percent of white social media users say that at least some of things they share or post are about race or [race] relations,” says the study. “In fact, a majority of white users (67 percent) say they never post or share things about race, while an additional 24 percent say race is the focus of only a few of their own posts.”
The study compares white people’s social media use to that of black people and Hispanics, who are more likely to post about race and racism. But the other part of the study shows that not only are white people less likely to talk about race, they’re less likely to see posts about it.
“Among whites who use social media, roughly a third say most (6 percent) or some (29 percent) of the content they see on social media is about race or [race] relations. An additional 48 percent say only a few of the posts they see are about race or race relations, and 16 percent say none of what they see relates to these topics.”
The study also says that most tweets about race are in reaction to current events, such as the Charleston shooting or protests after the death of Freddie Gray.
Unfortunately, this makes a lot of sense. According to a Public Religion Research Institute study from a few years ago, three-quarters of white people don’t have any nonwhite friends. If a white person’s social circle is majority white, then they’re probably less likely to see any of their friends posting about race.
It also makes sense because people tend to talk about things that pertain to their lives, and white people are often made to believe that race issues don’t pertain to them. And it’s true, if you’re white in America, you can go your whole life without worrying about all the things people of color fear, whether it’s someone shooting you for your race or religion, or the myriad microaggressions that shape everyday life.
The thing about racism, though, is that it does affect white people. It affects everyone when people of color are paid less or aren’t promoted, when they are victims of the school-to-prison pipeline, and when anyone is denied humanity—and life—because of individual biases supported and encouraged by structural racism.
So far, it’s mostly been people of color fighting for their own humanity against people and institutions that have never listened to them in the first place. So really, it’s on white people to talk about it, post about it, and bring it up in spaces where their fellow white people are more likely to listen.