This Map Helps Explain Why America's Reaction to Ferguson Is Divided Along Racial Lines

Our segregated neighborhoods and communities keep us from being able to understand bias.

(Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Dec 1, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

One week after a grand jury refused to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Americans who are outraged about the decision show no signs of ending their protests. On Monday workers in several cities and at dozens of colleges and universities across the United States walked off the job and out of class. They tweeted images of themselves and other protesters with the hashtag #HandsUpWalkOut. Well, it turns out that people who disagree with the protesters and seem to support Wilson are also using the hashtag, revealing the dividing lines that run through America.

“Just because you’ve failed in your community, don’t blame it on mine,” a Twitter user named Franci wrote to her 13,100 followers, along with an image that stated, “Chances are that the white person standing next to you doesn’t own slaves and hasn’t committed any civil rights violations.”

Franci, who describes herself as a “conservative lady who loves her country,” is right—chattel slavery was outlawed in America by the Emancipation Proclamation, and the law has required schools to be integrated since the Brown v. Board decision in 1954. That doesn’t mean that our schools and cities, like Ferguson, aren’t still racially segregated.

How bad is the segregation that creates the frustration that we’re seeing revealed as a result of the grand jury’s decision? Dustin Cable, a senior research associate at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, has crunched 2010 U.S. Census data to create a map that makes America’s racial divisions easy to see.

America's Racial Segregation
(Infographic: Courtesy

Each dot on the map is one person who was counted in the census, and the different colors each represent a race or ethnicity: White folks are blue dots, black people are green dots, Asian Americans are red dots, Hispanics are orange dots, and everyone else is a brown dot. The individual colors are clustered together, and for the most part, people of a particular race or ethnicity live in concentrated neighborhoods.

That helps explain why 75 percent of white Americans don’t have nonwhite friends. The map also explains why it’s so hard for some folks to understand what it’s like to be a black male who experiences racial harassment—not only do many nonwhite people not have black friends, but they also don’t live around black people. If you don’t see what someone else is going through, it can be tougher to empathize with what they experience as a result of racial bias.

“The truth is, we're not having ‘a’ national conversation on race. We're having two very different conversations, and there's barely any overlap,” Brian Stelter, the host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, said on Sunday. Many African Americans feel that their white peers “just don’t get it, just don’t or can’t or won’t understand the pervasive, corrosive, devastating effects of racial bias,” he said.

Stelter then floated the idea that the problem is grounded in the media. Mainstream outlets might mostly report the facts of what happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, but African Americans are paying attention to the killing of dozens of unarmed black men—like Brown, and like Eric Garner, who was placed in a choke hold by an NYPD officer in July—by law enforcement officers.

Media may contribute to some people being down to participate in a #HandsUpWalkOut march and others believing that because slavery is over, racial nirvana is upon us. But it’s also likely that the segregation that this map reveals is closer to the heart of America’s racial problems.