A Bird’s Eye View of Segregated America

Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Reflecting on Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation 100 years before, King began his speech with a sobering reminder of what had not changed in the century following the emancipation of American slaves:

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free; one hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination; one hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity; one hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.

Fifty years after these words were spoken, how much has changed? All this week leaders and commentators have reflected on the progress America has made and the great gap between King’s dream and current realities. We still need to be reminded of the “fierce urgency of now.”

I’ve now lived in Chicago for 14 years, the longest I’ve ever lived in a single place in my life. I’ve grown to love this city, but I’ve also been frustrated and saddened by it. Chicago remains one of the most segregated cities in the country, in part the result of deep seeded neighborhood demarcations that at the same time promote the local flavors of community diversity and stark separation. In Chicago, these divisions fall largely along racial lines.

Yesterday my friend Hardy shared with me a fascinating resource called The Racial Dot Map. Dustin Cable has created this map by using the 2010 census data to plot one dot for each American, color-coded by race. (Read more about it here.) Here is what Chicago looks like on this map:

Chicago Race Map

The racial divides of our city could not be more clear from this bird’s eye view. You can see the manacles of segregation. You can see the lonely islands of poverty. You can see what exile looks like.

I encourage you to use this map to explore your own community at various levels of detail.

In his speech 50 years ago, King recognized that true progress will only happen when we accept that all of us are bound together in a common destiny:

…for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

Living in a society as divided as ours, we still haven’t learned this lesson. And we will never be truly free until we do.

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