Changing Planet

Interactive Map Color-Codes Race of Every Single American

A map of New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey colored to represent the race of every person living in the region.

It sounds somewhat implausible, but a University of Virginia academic has designed an interactive map that color-codes the geographic distribution of every single American, drawing on the last census.

The Racial Dot Map uses 308,745,538 blue, green, red, and other colored dots to represent the race of every American in the place that person lives.

In what some bloggers have called a work of demographic pointillism, the new map allows users to scroll across the United States and zoom in on any area to view its racial mix.

Dustin Cable, the map’s creator and a senior research associate at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, says the graphic adds a level of engagement that’s absent when scrolling through hundreds and hundreds of tables from the 2010 census.

“It puts complex data into context—you are a point on that map somewhere,” he says. “You can look yourself up and look at yourself in the context of that neighborhood.”

Here are five big takeaways from the Racial Dot Map:

Purple Denotes Diversity

The map uses blue dots to represent those who identify on the census as white, green dots for people who identify as black, red for Asian, orange for Hispanic, and brown for those who identify as another race, Native American, or multiracial.

But the map also features blobs of purple or teal.

Since most of the dots are smaller than a pixel on a computer screen, high concentrations of different colors can combine at wider zoom levels to create a purplish hue, like in this photo of the Amtrak route that runs through Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. So purple is an indication of diversity on a regional scale.

Still, what looks like racial integration from a distance can change upon zooming. Scroll over Minnesota, for example, and you’ll get a nebula of purple and blue dots around Minneapolis. But zoom in and segregation becomes apparent on a neighborhood scale, as more red and green dots emerge.

Amtrak Corridor - DC Philly NYC

Even the President Is Included

Since data is taken from the U.S. census, the map includes a dot for every single person at the place they lived on April 1, 2010—even President Barack Obama. By zooming in on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, five green dots (which represent black Americans)  become visible, representing the President, his wife and two daughters, and his mother-in-law.

Washington DC Nova


Racial Divides Get Granular

The data presented on the map is so specific and detailed that zooming in on neighborhoods in highly segregated cities like Chicago can reveal stark, street-by-street racial divides.

“On one side of the street there is one thing living there, and on the other it’s predominantly another thing, and you really can see those block-by-block differences,” says Cable.


Racial Anomalies Are Explainable

Prison inmates are included in the census, and Cable says map users can detect the location of certain correctional facilities because they appear more green (which represents black Americans) and more orange (which represents Hispanic Americans), compared with the typically rural surrounding areas. An example of this is a women’s correctional facility just east of Charlottesville, Virginia, as seen in the image below.

Charlottesville VA with Prision


Where We Choose to Live Has Changed Over Time

Geographic distributions of population differ on the East and West coasts of the U.S., which Cable says reflects how development patterns have changed throughout history. On the East Coast, hundred-year-old cities were developed alongside rivers that enabled transportation. The Western half of the country was settled later and reflects greater planning, with highly populated pockets like Los Angeles and Denver. In the Midwest, from Ohio to Minnesota, cities and smaller towns reflect how major highways shaped residential patterns.

Bay Area - With Labels

To interact with the map, click here.

Follow Jaclyn Skurie on Twitter.

  • Lin Tse-hsu

    It is depressing to see the edifice of the socially constructed concept of race reinforced by yet more “data” without any reflection on whether the concept of race itself deserves such monkish devotion. Race matters because we make it matter; racism continues to disrupt people’s lives and erode our social fabric because we think racially. If this is a tool to help us discard racial thinking and the racism it engenders it will be a good thing, but more likely it will do little more than reinforce the idea that race has an objective reality rather than one created by beliefs and choices (our own and those imposed upon us.)

  • P. Bagavandoss

    I think this map can be a great teaching tool for every classroom from elementary to post-secondary institutions.

  • Michael Tsark

    I agree 100% with your sanity, Lin Tse-hsu, that at this point in time of evolution of which we’re still currently stuck in, is so utterly very, very, very depressing indeed, but I must also concur that our family species is still rather in an infancy stage of hominid evolution along with its yet poorly developing mental stages but I further agree to concur that in our far off distant future the hybridizing factor will eventually reach the phenotypical extent to where everyone on earth will look like a third world person with each consisting a blending of dark, tan and light genes, so-to-speak, making the concepts of bigotry and racial profiling rather obsolete although such silly barbaric notions may or may not be replaced with other stupid insane notions such as variations in the size of one’s ear, nose, or mouth, etcetera until eventually some millennium we’re hopefully outgrown of our mental illness as a family species as a whole.

  • scott hollington

    one can easily develop a test for gender (chromosomes), height, weight, or any number of other metrics. But race cannot be measured. I am continually amazed by the number of people who think that a person’s race can be determined from his DNA. It cannot be determined. Surely, in some future time we will discover the skin color genes, but even this will not tell us the race of the individual.

    The only reason anyone would ever ask you what race you are is to discriminate against you.

  • Kathy Carlson

    Race will always be differentiating as long as we obsess over it.

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