Cartography: Race and Ethnicity, in Full Color

I’ve long had a fixation on maps.  Ever since I was a kid, they have drawn me in- it’s the simplest, most basic way to familiarize yourself with a geographical area.  I would spend most of my free time in elementary school perusing world atlases, wondering what these faraway places were like.  As I got older, I saw the added utility in maps.  The idea of representing data graphically with a spatial component has always drawn me in, considering the nearly infinite things that can be expressed this way.  For instance, maps can be used as a form of social analysis and critique all their own, as exhibited clearly by the work of Radical Cartography and captured in the Atlas of Radical Cartography (pick it up!).  I’ll let you peruse those on your own.

Earlier this week, Eric Fischer released his ‘Race and Ethnicity‘ series, inspired by earlier work by Bill Rankin at Radical Cartography, looking at the racial distributions in dozens of American cities.  Recommend taking a look at that for sure; see where your city falls in the list.  Visually, it grates on me; it’s like a pointillist’s wet dream, and the use of these politically-charged colors may be a distraction.  Furthermore, how does it code for people of mixed-race?  That will be crucial data moving forward.

One thing that catches my eye, in particular to the map on the left, is that all of these were compiled with Census data from 2000.  I’m not sure when the 2010 data will be available, but I will be very interested to see how things have changed over the past ten years.  Where has economic deterioration, gentrification, and disaster come into play in shifting around populations?  Any predictions out there?  I’m pretty sure that in NOLA, at least, we can expect to see a notable shift of blue to red, as black residents were pushed out in favor of white gentrification post-Katrina.  Maybe we’ll see entire swaths of the Crescent City devoid of residents. I think what strikes me across all maps is the relative lack of intermingling between races, and presence of rather sharp dividing lines.  There are some notable exceptions, but the major theme of these maps seems to be stark divisions.  It seems that the common conception is that we associate with those that are most like us, however we conceptualize of ourselves.  Yet to see this representation, showing the stark divisions in how we organize ourselves, is somehow rather surprising.  Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is, at least to me.

This is a lot of data to process, with implications for each of the cities profiled by Fischer.  Like I said, I await with baited breath for someone to redo this study with 2010 data.  From there, I hope people take a good, long look at these maps and figure out what it means for their community.  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Time will tell.  I really wish I had something more profound to close with, but I think we’re going to need the benefit of a long analysis on these.  So, find your city, find some close comparisons, and get on it!


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