Demographic researcher Dustin Cable's Racial Dot Map is staggering both visually and statistically. From afar, the most racially diverse pockets of the United States appear like blended watercolors in shades of purple and teal. Zoom all the way in, though, and each dot represents a single person, all 308,745,538 of us.
The data behind the map comes from the 2010 census, available publicly through the National Historical Geographic Information System. Cable, a researcher with the the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, has modeled the project on a previous MIT map plotting population density by individual dots. Cable's version color-codes the results by race and ethnicity, producing an eerily beautiful picture of American segregation (and, less frequently, integration) that tricks the eye at different scales.Of course, there is sadly nothing beautiful about American segregation and the maps serve to remind us of its continued existence. Audrey Kobayashi, Professor of Geography at Queens University in Canada and Past President of the Association of American Geographers discussed this issue last year in one of her presidential columns.
Many studies have shown that it is easier to celebrate diversity than to address racism, but that the result of the former is often to make non-racialized people feel virtuous without necessarily understanding or developing ways to combat the effects of racialization. The concept of diversity is therefore easily co-opted by neoliberal regimes that market and commodify ethnic difference, celebrate self-help and entrepreneurial projects, and distance the state or institution from responsibility to effect social change.
We can't let ourselves complacently believe that accepting diversity is the same as reducing racism, and a map like the racial dot map helps us visualize where the problems might be the biggest and where real action is needed.