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A Strangely Beautiful Map of Race in America

A Strangely Beautiful Map of Race in America
Dustin Cable

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.

At most zoom levels, each dot is smaller than a pixel, and so the blended colors from afar are "aggregations of many individual dots," with people represented by the color scheme at right. Looking at the entire country, most of the patches that aren't blue correspond to colorfully smudged urban areas. Many of those metro areas look purple from a distance until, like with this picture of Boston, you zoom in closer and colors break apart. The city is diverse from a distance, but quite segregated at the neighborhood and even block level.

The same pattern repeats in numerous other cities. Here is a close-up of Baltimore:

Pittsburgh:

Houston:

And the Bay Area:


You can zoom in to any other part of the country here.

All maps via The Racial Dot Map.

Emily Badger is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities based in Washington, D.C. She now writes for The Washington Post. All posts »

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