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What Does Segregation Look Like Today?

Breakdown of Census data gives an eye-opening look at how America remains segregated today.

By Chris Hoenig

A look at today's segregation in the United States.When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream with America 50 years ago, undisguised segregation was the norm. In schools and bathrooms, on buses and at water fountains, overt racial division was not just accepted, it was advertised.

Dr. King’s goal was simple: absolute equality. “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together,” he professed from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Fifty years later, the most obvious forms of discrimination are outlawed. But the work of a University of Virginia researcher gives a powerful view of what segregation looks like today. Dustin Cable of UVa’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service used data from the 2010 U.S. Census to create a map showing the racial and ethnic makeup of the country, right down to individual blocks within a city.

Nearly 309 million individual dots make up the map, each representing one American. The dots are color-coded based on race and ethnicity: blue dots represent white Americans, green dots represent Blacks, red is used for Asians, orange for Latinos and brown for “other” racial categories. The results speak for themselves.

Detroit

A look at today's segregation in the United States.

In perhaps the most striking image example of segregation in the country, a single road–the infamous 8 Mile–separates Blacks and whites in the Motor City. More than 80 percent of the city’s nearly 750,000 residents are Black, a major shift from the decades leading up to Dr. King’s speech: In 1940, more than 90 percent of Detroit’s population was white.

New York City

A look at today's segregation in the United States.

America’s largest city is also one of the most diverse. But while Cable’s map is colorful, showcasing the diversity, his work also shows the obvious segregation within the Big Apple. With the exception of Chinatown, most of Manhattan below 125th Street is white, as are large swaths of Brooklyn and Staten Island. Black families are largely in Harlem and Queens. The Bronx is home to a diverse population, except for whites.

Philadelphia

A look at today's segregation in the United States.

The City of Brotherly Love has a very concentrated population. Center City is largely white, with Black and Latino families living mainly in North Philly and to the west of downtown. Philadelphia’s suburbs also find themselves segregated: Willingboro, N.J.  (middle right of image, directly below Burlington), is about 20 miles from Philadelphia. More than 75 percent of the town’s population is Black.

Atlanta, Washington, D.C.

A look at today's segregation in the United States.

Two other cities with large, mostly Black middle-class suburbs are Atlanta (above) and Washington, D.C. (below). But in both cases, white and Black families settle on opposite sides of the city. In Atlanta’s case, southern and eastern suburbs are mainly Black, while whites live to the north. Washington’s suburbs segregate from east to west, with Black families to the south and east, and white families to the west. Latino families settle largely to the southwest of the city.

A look at today's segregation in the United States.

Chicago, Boston

A look at today's segregation in the United States.

Two of America’s larger cities are also some of the most segregated. In Chicago (above), the South Side is one of the largest majority-Black regions in any U.S. city. West Garfield Park and other surrounding neighborhoods are also largely Black, separated from the South Side by an area that is mostly Latino. Whites live mostly to the north of the city.

Boston’s Black population (below) is also segregated to the south of the city, in the Dorchester area. Latinos live to the northeast of the city, while whites live in the northern and western suburbs.

A look at today's segregation in the United States.

Cleveland

A look at today's segregation in the United States.

While the neighborhoods just west of the city are extremely diverse, Cleveland’s Black population–which makes up more than half of the city’s total population–is otherwise concentrated almost exclusively on the East Side. Almost all of the city’s Latino residents live in the diverse western neighborhoods, while whites live outside the city is southern and far western suburbs.

LA, Miami

A look at today's segregation in the United States.

Though they are among America’s most diverse cities, Cable’s maps of Los Angeles (above) and Miami (below) paint clear pictures of how people of different races and ethnicities segregate. L.A.’s map looks like a color wheel: South Central Los Angeles is largely Black (green dots), while the southwestern communities are almost exclusively Latino (orange dots). The city’s Asian community (red dots) lives to the northeast, and whites (blue dots) live to the east and southeast.

Miami’s color map, meanwhile, looks like a fade. The Latino community is concentrated in the south, whites to the north and Blacks living in between.

A look at today's segregation in the United States.

Cable’s interactive map, where all of the above images are from, can be accessed on the Cooper Center’s website.

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14 comments


  • What is wrong with people preferring to live amongst their like kind. Forced “Segregation” is unlawful but what should be just as wrong is forced “Integration”. Why come people be left alone who wants to be different? Apparently Blacks as I am one, prefer to be around their like kind. This shows in their schools and the cleaver pin map shown above. What is strange is how others can look at this unison and believe something is wrong with those who demonstrate this lawful behavior. No something is strange about them. Where did MLK say Blacks , and other ethnic groups, don’t have a right to live amongst themselves. Please show me.

    • Pianki,

      While I understand what you are saying, I would ask you this…do you think that if racism were not still so prevalent that people of any race/ethnic background would feel such a need to “live among their own kind”? I think people tend to do what they do out of perceived necessity…it’s safer to be among people who are like me because people who are not like me are (insert adjective – bad, different, scary, wrong….). I would rather live in a society that values everyone and where everyone can live wherever they want – regardless of the skin color of the people next door or down the street.

      • I would disagree . Every human being has their likes and dislikes. Their personal issues that could affect their psychological acceptance of another race / ethnicity can also play a role ,etc etc etc there are many reasons people enjoy living among their own ethnicity/race. Segregation has no role in today’s map example that is too broad in view.Perhaps racism to a certain extent because like I said we all have our likes and dislikes. Let me simplify this for you you’re ready to sit down to dinner .and your presented with 3 sides . 1 that you love 1 that you have no true opinion about in regards if you will or wont eat it and 1 side you just cannot stand. Which will you eat first? Now before you go and answer that here allow me to help you with your decision. We simply cant have these 3 so separate now can we, so allow me to mix the 3 together for you. .

        Do you see what I did here? I’m sure in a real life situation me forcing onto you what you do not like to eat is such a horrible feeling and I’m sure you would be pretty upset.; however perhaps one day if left alone you’ll try the 3rd option on your own. Until then I believe its safe to say if you do or Don’t want to eat it , its up to you.

        If people want to integrate and mix and mingle its their god given right to choose who they want to live among.These maps that are truly mixed, do you not think if people didn’t enjoy the company of other nationalities or races that you’ll have solid colors indicating this is lil Italy and that’s china . town.

        • I like your response. I would also use for an example If as a child the only sides I ever had were mac and cheese and green beans then my preference would be as such. If another person is only given a choice of broccoli and squash then it becomes their preference and when presented with something that they would probably like they fear it because it does not look like what they are accustom to and because no one presented them with any other options they have no idea that the other food is tasty and safe for consumption.

          Segregation and racism are learned and taught – sometime unintentionally.

  • The disheartening part is not the visualization; rather the disparities that exist as it relates to access to: quality health care, quality education/school, extracurricular and cultural activities. “Class-ism…social-economical-ism”

  • Ah! This work is what results from our failure to fully grasp what segregation was and what Martin Luther King was struggling against. We sometimes confuse, as a commenter noted, people’s desire to be among those similar to themselves with state sanctioned apartheid. This is not to say factors other than personal preference may not operate, but to point out that the data as presented is not prima facie evidence of the operation of any such factors.
    Somehow, there is the idea that the goal of the battle against segregation was integration in the narrow sense of blacks becoming white. This, in my opinion, is absurd. The goal of the struggle against segregation was to make available to blacks the ability to exercise the full array of choices available to all citizens including the right to live among themselves. Although demographic patterns provide information, without more systematic detailed analyses we have no idea what they tell us! These data can just as easily lead to the conclusion that the financial crises being faced by major cities is due to blacks congregating in these cities. Something that is often overlooked is the residential patterns in the South during segregation. While there were definite black and white parts of town, some blacks lived among whites, in their back yards. These were their servants and caretakers. While I don’t know what percentage of the black population this represented, I do know that in the era leading up to the Brown v Board of Education, this was a genuine concern in some areas and was articulated in terms of the appropriateness of their children having to go to school with the children of their servants.
    Finally, I think automatically equating these demographic patterns with segregation, INDICATES the pressing need to help people understand what STATE SANCTIONED apartheid (segregation) really was.

  • NonWhiteHispanic

    How about including Native-Americans in this poll? They are one of the most segregated and isolated groups in our nation. Let’s discuss the impact of their segregation; the politically correct term is called “reservation.”

  • Most of the commenters sound like they never read a history book or have ANY understanding of how “conditioned” they are. You’ve GOT TO HAVE BEEN CONDITIONED TO BELEIVE YOU ARE DIFFERENT FROM OTHER HUMAN BEINGS BECAUSE OF SUCH SUPERFICIAL THINGS LIKE, skin color, hair texture, etc. The differences are superficial and have been TAUGHT as a means of dividing in order to control and conquer. DAMN, you mean this has to be expained? You don’t have to worry about what will happen if you promote commonality. Its more basic than that. If people really believe what these commenters say, just forget about it – AS HUMAN BEINGS, WE ARE “SCREWED”!!!

    • NonHispanicPR

      Your optimism is noted. If everyone else on Earth would think like you it would definitely be a better place. We would all be holding hands while skipping together to work. Some people in this site do strive to create dialogue to endorse commonality amongst fellow human beings but there will always be some level of disagreement. But you cannot pretend to avoid discussing the realities and the complexities of racial issues by citing piece meal Psychology and Anthropology. Since you are making reference to history books perhaps your understanding in such matters is so broad that you have enlighten us by pointed out the obvious. It is because of our history that we continue pursuing that common ground to overcome the boundaries created by other humans by means of race, gender, ethnicity, language, religion, etc. If you were more in tune with our history then you would have a better understanding in order to contribute a meaningful comment.

  • Well a lot was stated here and plenty of feedback in the comments. Some asked what’s wrong with “being among your own kind” which is a indirect way of saying , what’s wrong with segregation. Well to determine what’s wrong with something, we have to find out what the purpose of it is for. What would be gained out of it? Some stated its all about likes and dislikes. Now we have to go deeper as to that answer is not explicit enough to fully understand. Next question, if you like what you like, why is that? If you dislike whatever it is you dislike, well why is that? Getting done to the root cause of the thing is the best place to start. Now through common sense, the action of wanting or feeling to disassociate with something is normally due to some type of adversity or else why repudiate at all. There can be tons of scenarios and the person that’s committing the segregating action can only answer. Segregation is seperation and it is only that. We shouldn’t be forced to segregate or integrate. That’s a valid statement in that we shouldnt engage into anything that is harmful or not in our best interest. However, the logical response is why shouldn’t this or should be done. Not just an explanation of” there shouldn’t be any obligation”. That’s not even apart of this subject here or up for questioning. This apparently is a study of how mankind co-exist with one another and showing what is most likely a problem that hasn’t been fixed quite just yet. Now if it’s not problem , this sure is an interesting conversation going forth over coincidence I guess.

  • Opening myself up to ridicule and daggers. I hear, all too often, “M people”. And having said that allow me to say this: ANY man, woman or young person who calls themselves an American is My people. We Americans are the world. All, in some fashion are represented/present in this country. Diversity is a two edged sword. It is our greatest strength, as a nation, and it can be our greatest weakness, as a people. Everybody has an opinion. Some are true, some are not and yet some can neither be proven nor disproven. I’m pretty sure the “long run” idea is to communicate with one another without an automatic response of “You’re wrong, I’m right”. Listen to one another. As far as segregation goes. Live where you choose with/around whom you choose i.e.: city/country, east/west, etc. We have within our ability, today, to change a country and tomorrow, change a world. Come together!

    • So if you’re talking across the imaginary line that is a political boarder, if the person you’re talking to less human than you? Seriously, you’re spouting pure nonsense.

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