Out of the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service comes the Racial Dot Map, an interactive population map featuring almost 308 million dots: one for every U.S. citizen, color-coded by race and based on 2010 U.S. Census data. Fully zoomed out it bears few surprises, but underneath many of the colorful dots, clear correlations between urban poverty and race are revealed.
Born in Ohio, I’ve lived in a tiny town in northeast Ohio, a college town in southeast Ohio, and a suburb of Cleveland. I've also seen most cities in between. Currently, I reside just north of New Haven, Conn. I’ve visited Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, Knoxville, Detroit, New Orleans, Arlington, and more.
While the zoomed-out map is a blur of color, a few clicks on the plus sign paint a much clearer picture. For each place listed above, the map is so on par with my experiences that mind-blowing is probably the last adjective I’d use to describe it. There is noticeable residential segregation in many areas in the United States. Reasons for that range from self-segregation to being unable to afford to move to another area.
What’s stunning about this map isn't found on the surface. Instead, it’s on a deeper level, where the map’s paired with other statistics and especially with other maps.
Consider the Urban Institute’s Poverty and Race in America, Then and Now map. Equipped with a sliding bar, the map allows one to see and compare visual representations of U.S. race and poverty statistics for every decade since 1980. While it's fascinating to see how poverty has expanded and how regions' racial makeups have changed in the past 30 years, for my purposes I slid the bar all the way to the left so only 2010 statistics would show. Keeping in mind that each dot on the Then and Now maps on the left side represents 20 people rather than one, notice how areas littered heavily with blue dots (whites) on the right are much less dense on the left, especially in Oakland and in Birmingham. The same can be said for much of the Asian population (red dots) in San Francisco. For blacks and Hispanics, though, the story is different.
Or, check out this modified Chicago CTA Transit map, which shows the varying levels of economic hardship along CTA routes — the darker, the worse the hardship. Red dots signify areas where the median income is below the poverty line for a family of four. When juxtaposed with the Racial Dot Map, it seems clear that the areas in which the Hispanics and blacks live are experiencing the highest levels of hardship and poverty.
Income levels in cities across the country, as depicted by the Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks income map, show obvious race disparities, too.
That’s not to say that only minority races are poor. The screenshots above display urban areas, not places such as Appalachia, a largely white cultural region that isn't always densely populated but stretches from southern New York to northeastern Mississippi. Consisting of 25 million people, it's been recognized as one of the poorest regions in the nation for decades. Further, the overall trend in the United States is one of increasing poverty levels, period.
Regardless, there are huge implications for minorities in urban areas. Minorities, particularly blacks and Hispanics, struggle to obtain jobs as high-paying as those their white counterparts hold. Lower-paying jobs lead to higher rates of poverty. Poverty decreases access to quality education and increases crime rates. Criminal acts can lead to jail time, and jail time typically makes one's chances of getting a high-paying job even worse. Crimes committed by minorities also perpetuate stereotypes. Stereotypes help keep people segregated. A seemingly endless cycle is created.
On Aug. 24, a commemorative march celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. One day later, Wild Wings Cafe, a restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, refused to serve a party of 25 blacks after they waited patiently for two hours, all because a white customer said she felt "threatened" by the group. Segregation, racism, inequality — they're all alive and well, no matter how many attempts there are to sugarcoat it.