Every Human In America As A Dot

A map created at the University of Virginia provides a layout of everyone in America–yes, everyone, which means something like 300 million dots. The color key of the dots is distinguished by the common classifiers: White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic. Turning the U.S. into this:

Whites are blue, Blacks are green, Asians are red, Hispanics are orange. If nothing else, it’s a cool graphic for seeing overall population distribution. (Dustin Cable/Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service/University of Virginia)

But the real meat of this map is in those dots. And wouldn’t you know it? The website where I found these maps (Slate.com) used the Twin Cities as an example. Zooming into the Midwest, the article notes how purple this metro area is, indicating a blend of the colored dots and the variety of people they represent:

(Dustin Cable/Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service/University of Virginia)

But a closer look reveals more separation than one might suspect:

Like-colored dots cluster around one another after all. (Dustin Cable/Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service/University of Virginia)

The clustering of like people is evidently a fractal–seen globally (between nations), seen locally (between neighborhoods), and even seen within a room. In my freshman year of college in St. Paul I remember attending a talk about race. Student leaders addressed the segregation on campus by critically pointing out that Hispanics, blacks, and whites tended to sit together in the cafeteria. The student body president said, “I’m guilty of it, too. I should probably make an effort to sit with other people.” I’m not sure if he did. Regardless, the pattern continued.

In most any large city in America, and at most any college campus, you’ll see the whole human rainbow out and about. But despite the proximity, people segregate. The Slate article suggests, in the case of the maps above, less that people are segregating and more that people are being segregated. Poor blacks in Minneapolis need to live in certain neighborhoods because they aren’t afforded the same opportunities as whites, for example. Who knows how much racism plays into this compartmentalization–in cities or cafeterias? Many people are affected by prejudice even in unconscious ways.

Commonly missed in the media, though, is the element of preference. One commentor of many on the Slate article countered the author by saying that it’s not segregation–but “congregation”. While racism is subtle, I think we also automatically exercise our tendency to be around others we better relate to and are the most comfortable and expressive with. A deeper question then might follow: Minus any racism, why are we more comfortable with like people? Maybe there’s an evolutionary psychologist reading this who can offer their theory.

I think it’s important to recognize both prejudice and preference as factors here to paint the most accurate picture of our world and to garner the most accurate understanding of who we are. Whatever causes the separation, there it is above in red, green, orange, and blue.



2 Responses

    1. True. But the context in which it is used here, to most people, I think, means the United States. “America” has become a generic term for the U.S. While “American” is likewise a term for anyone living in the U.S. or describing something from the U.S. “Made in America”, “American Beauty”, “An American in Paris”, etc.

      When I lived in China, though, I really saw your point, Michelle. My adult students were confused by the fact that we called the continent below us “South America” and the one we’re in “North America”. They thought “America” simply meant the United States.

What say you?