Gordon C. Nagayama Hall, Ph.D.

Life in the Intersection

When Birds of Different Feathers Flock Together

Intergroup contact reduces prejudice.

Posted Jan 22, 2019

Engi Nakyurt/Pexels
Source: Engi Nakyurt/Pexels

In the 1960s, my white father’s white friends invited him to join a fraternal club. He said that he would join if his Japanese American friend could also join. My father knew that the club did not allow non-Whites. Because his friend could not join, my father didn’t join either.

Why did my father value his friendship with his Japanese American friend more than his friendships with his white friends? Perhaps it was because he was less prejudiced than his white friends. My father’s friendships with Japanese Americans began as a child in Tacoma, Washington. He attended a Japanese American church.  On two military leaves during World War II, he visited his Japanese American friends at the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming. He later married my Japanese American mother. And he became the first non-Japanese American deacon at a Japanese American church in Seattle. About 90% of the people who attended his funeral were Japanese Americans.

My father was an example of how intergroup contact can prevent prejudice. Research has demonstrated that contact between people of different ethnic backgrounds can reduce prejudice. Intergroup contact can reduce prejudice even among highly prejudiced people.

Intergroup contact has benefits beyond reducing prejudice. Children’s cross-ethnic friendships are associated with being safe at school, less loneliness, and being seen as a leader. The more diverse a school or community is, the more likely cross-ethnic friendships will form. Working together in school, sports, or church can facilitate cross-ethnic friendships.

It is important that people in intergroup contact situations try to learn something from each other. Socially dominant people tend not to benefit from intergroup contact. The key to my father’s success in Japanese American groups was that he was not there to take over.

People stick to others like themselves if they do not have chances for intergroup contact. Perhaps this is how we have arrived in the current racially and politically polarized climate. But intergroup contact can be a step toward reducing polarization. Schools, businesses, churches, and sports teams can be chances for birds of different feathers to flock together.


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