Racial Segregation in America

If you've not seen this yet, let me point you to the interactive map of the week.

The map was created by Dustin Cable at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. The map displays the population distribution, using the 2010 census data, of every person in America broken down by ethnicity. The map has 308,745,538 dots, each representing a single person. Caucasians are blue dots, African-Americans are green dots, Hispanics are orange dots, Asians are red dots, and other groups are brown dots.

From a bird's eye view this is what America looks like:

But the real insights come when you use the interactive map to zoom in on various cities in America. At this finer, local scale racial segregation appears in just about every American city. Go to the map and zoom in on your town.

Here's my town, Abilene, TX:

As you can see, the two main colors are blue (Whites) and orange (Hispanics). Those are the largest and next largest ethnic groups, respectively, in Abilene. And as you can can see, the two groups have separated themselves. Most of the Hispanic population is in the north, central part of Abilene. There is also a concentration in the south, center/east area of town. The two main centers of white folk are the south-western and north-eastern parts of town. These are the directions of "white flight" in out town, toward our suburbs, the two sections of blue you see outside the highway loop encircling the city (the lower left and upper right parts of the map).

One of the takeaways, for me at least, is that encountering difference will involve some intentionality. You have to, quite literally, move in different spaces.

This has been one of the most important aspects of driving the van for Freedom Fellowship (our local church plant that feeds and reaches out to the poor and homeless). In picking people up for Freedom I'm getting out of the "blue Abilene" and exploring parts of my city that I never would have seen before. And let me tell you, it's eye opening.

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13 thoughts on “Racial Segregation in America”

  1. This book was assigned reading in one of my education courses http://www.amazon.com/The-Shame-Nation-Restoration-Apartheid/dp/1400052459
    It was eye opening for a middle class white boy from Kansas. Obviously from the title it highlights segregation and inequalities in our education system.

  2. Just barely off the top right corner of this Abilene map you will find the single biggest collection of green and orange dots: the French Robertson prison. It is the most striking way to connect this blog post to the last one, and it gives a directly troubling view of our fair city.

  3. I'm gonna throw caution to the wind and just throw this out there and see what happens.

    Through out the 50's before Brown v. Topeka was fully implemented, neighborhoods were segregated, but they were fairly interspersed in urban areas. As school desegregation came into being in the mid-70's and beyond, white flight to the suburbs really took off motivated more than anything else by schools. Now, decades later, our schools are almost as segregated as they were before Brown v. Topeka. Someone once me a while back what the biggest social justice issue was in my hometown (Dallas) and after some thought, I'm fairly convinced it is education. Someone else had answered "race", but I think social justice issues that seem to be about race are better addressed by addressing the inequities in education.

    What if we brought better educational opportunities to places with the green and orange dots? Vouchers? Incentives for teachers who have been successful in blue and red dot schools to teach in green and orange dot schools? Redrawing school districts so kids in green and orange dot neighborhoods can go to schools in blue and red dot neighborhoods? Incentives for businesses and people to move into green and orange dot neighborhoods? Anything else?

    (Please, please, for the love of God, please no suggestions of "Hey, how about we just take money from the wealthier school districts and give it to the poorer districts!" Been there. Done that. It just made the problem worse.)

  4. The map also illustrates that whites live in the high housing cost neighborhoods. My family lives squarely in the orange, but mostly because we live on a chaplain's meager salary and the orange neighborhood is where we can afford housing. Race never really factored in for us as much as economics.

  5. Is it really accurate and helpful to call this phenomenon "segregation?" That term is loaded with simplistic connotations that, at least until recently, decreasingly described the dominant social mechanisms responsible for these maps.

    Of course, you're well known for your conscious decisions to infuse your posts with a polemical edge, so carry on. :)


  6. I grew up oblivious to all this stuff. Now, I live in a predominately African-American community in Cleveland. I can't believe the segregation, lack of education, poverty, joblessness, etc. The selfish part of me wants to leave. The other part of me is grateful to be here. I'm silenced by my lack of knowledge about these issues and am here to listen and learn.

  7. Thomas Schelling in "Micromotives and Macrobehavior" explains this phenomenon. People don't need to be racist for the separation we observe to occur. Rather, if people have a ever so slight preference to live among others similar to them, we see the same results.

  8. What qualifies as segregation? College students of every kind of differentiating factor (different races, homelands, languages, religious beliefs) tend to cluster around and develop friendships with similar people. In fact, commonness is the basis of all friendship, whether that commonness is in more significant factors like race or religion or less significant factors like personal taste in the arts. It isn't out of a desire to scorn every single other person who doesn't become one of your friends, it's out of a desire to live in reciprocated happiness with someone.

    Choosing to live in a upper-middle-class neighborhood among people you feel comfortable around, who celebrate the same holidays and talk about the same things, isn't a bad kind of selfish. It's how societies and cultures grow and flourish. I'm not sure how that would constitute segregation. If it does, then segregation is always going to exist in some form, because people are always going to find differences that will cause them to avoid the company of some and favor the company of others.

  9. I'm really sad. I just looked up my town and there were almost no green dots, a few yellow/orange dots and a lot of blue. That didn't surprise me much. I do live here after all. But there was this strange dense cluster of green and yellow dots right on the out skirts of town. This confused me. I knew there wasn't a neighborhood there. I had to look it up on google maps. Can you guess what it was? Yep. Our local prison. =( The only green dots we have here are in prison. =(

  10. Connecting this thought with that of someone else's further down in the comments, segregation in schools tends to happen because of property values. Public schools are funded by property taxes, and districts with higher property values get more resources. Coincidentally, districts with lower property values also tend to be where people who are in lower socioeconomic classes live (because it's what they can afford); there's a large correlation between socioeconomic class and race (not a perfect one, of course, but still significant) so racial segregation has a tendency of happening in cities because of economic factors.

    As a consequence of that, redrawing the district lines to redistribute students would probably not work out so well, because property values and school quality tend to feed into each other; people who can afford it pay to live in districts with good schools, and those schools become better because people are indirectly paying more for their children to go there. If the lines are redrawn, it will likely help in the short term, but gradually, maybe over several decades, the property values will realign to reflect the quality of the best schools, and poorer families will have to move to districts where they can afford to live, restarting the segregation problem.

    I point all this out not because I have any radical ideas for addressing problems with school quality. All I've figured out is that something seems inherently wrong about tying school funding directly to prosperity of its community when we can say that more funding, up to a point (I know money's not a panacea for educational problems), helps improve school quality.

    Perhaps if we could find a way to make schools equitable (and at the same time effective from a pedagogical standpoint) then that would eliminate one factor in the racial segregation that we're seeing demonstrated on the census map. I can't speak to what you do about the other factors, though.

  11. You should look at Detroit, MI. The blue vs green shows the exact outline of the city limits (and the orange shows the boundaries of Mexican Town in SW Detroit). It's insane that segregation that stark still exists in the US today

  12. Thanks for replying, Jason.

    I agree that redrawing boundaries for schools/districts is at best a short term solution, and yes, it's economic more than racial, but it's dishonest to say race isn't a factor. I'm not sure I agree with the idea that school quality follows property values. I would say the schools lead and the property values lag. As kids graduate and neighborhoods become empty nests, schools worsen, so families with small kids find other areas to live (with better schools), and home prices drop. The neighborhoods with the better schools tend to be further out. They tend to be newer developments. And what do you know? They're predominately Caucasian!

    I don't think there's a conscience racial motivation for that trend, but there is a conscience educational motivation for it, so I go back to the idea that if we could create great educational opportunities regardless of geography, the problem of segregation would go away over (lots of) time.

    Texas implemented its "Robin Hood" plan 20 years ago. The problem with it was the poorer districts didn't use the money to improve educational opportunities for their students, they used it for new football stadiums. (Welcome to Texas!) Twenty years later the disadvantaged districts are still disadvantaged and white flight is still happening. My first thought is a voucher system. And after that I would offer incentives to better teachers to take on more challenging students.

  13. Hey, no problem! I actually spend a good deal of time thinking about this stuff as I'm a teacher who works with a predominantly poor student population. I think that a voucher system wouldn't be bad except that it would still create educational inequality by naturally excluding students with guardians who are either unmotivated or unable to navigate the system to acquire a voucher for their children in the first place. Choice is excellent,but if it's still hidden behind a requirement that presupposes knowledge of how the system works then it's going to exclude people who need those benefits the most.

    As for teacher incentive, I think it's another fine idea on paper, but the reality is that teachers in low performing schools have to deal with a lot of factors outside their control. The teachers who do well in the better schools have a natural advantage because they're working with kids who are favored by the system.

    Really, my opinion of education reform is that it's intrinsically tied to community well-being. Students perform better when the stressors of poverty are removed from their lives. Besides that, I also think that teachers will perform better if the national discussion on education turns towards how best practices can be improved through objective, scientific research (of course, that first requires a national conversation that respects the value of scientific research).

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