Segregation Then, Segregation Now . . . Segregation Forever?

The election of Barack Obama, and his re-election, caused some to think the United States had moved to a new level of racial justice and harmony (well, harmony anyway).

The recent bout of killings in all parts of the nation, the reminder that although things are much better in New Orleans poor Black residents still face daunting odds in getting their lives back (and when the storm struck 10 years ago they were the ones most often the victims of disinterest in their plight), and ugly comments about immigrants and proposals aimed at them, remind us that all is not well in the still-racialized United States.

Friends on Facebook just made me aware of an intriguing map project which marks how segregation still haunts so much of the country.

racial map USA mostlyThe map, created by Dustin Cable at University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, is stunningly comprehensive. Drawing on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, it shows one dot per person, color-coded by race. That’s 308,745,538 dots in all–around 7 GB of visual data. It isn’t the first map to show the country’s ethnic distribution, nor is it the first to show every single citizen, but it is the first to do both, making it the most comprehensive map of race in America ever created.

racial map Sacramento

There has been much work to achieve housing desegregation, but many experts have pointed out that just because a place is less segregated it is not necessarily truly integrated. And as this map project makes clear, some places–California cities may be the best example–are far more integrated than others.

You can check all this out for yourself here.

Detroit in green, Oakland County in blue
Detroit in green, Oakland County in blue

I checked out Detroit, knowing that it is considered by some to be the most segregated city in the nation. I am a native of Michigan–Oakland County to be more precise, the jurisdiction just north of the Detroit city limits. Eight Mile Road dividing the city and the county, was, when I left Michigan in 1981, a racial dividing line. And it still is today! The color contrast on the map–like the color contrast on the ground, is stunning.

Across the southeast United States, where I lived for 12 years in Richmond, still shows much of the historic pattern of the Black Belt, originally labeled because of the rich soil but later so named because of the prepondance of slave-labor plantations.

racial map Black Belt
Black Belt in the Southeast

The good news is that there have been changes. The bad news is that on the whole we remain a nation visually, and viscerally as recent events indicate, divided by race.

The divisions are not accidental. They are the result of long-held ideas, practices and policies. The good news is that means we can change them. The bad news is that so few seem interested in doing so.

Why can’t we still get Congress to overcome the gutting of the Voting Rights Act? Why can’t we get better training for police in dealing with highly emotional encounters between Black people and police? Why is that Black transwomen are still far more vulnerable to attack and murder than white ones (not that either deserve this treatment)? Why is that poverty still impacts the Black community far more than others?

New Orleans
New Orleans

And why can’t the progress in New Orleans be more balanced? Why can’t build a truly multi-racial society?

If you think we have done that, look at these maps.

And then think back to January 1963, when then Governor George Wallace of Alabama made his pledge, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”  We have made progress, but so far Governor Wallace still has much evidence to support his claim.