Map of the Week 4 (September 30-Ocotber 6): The Racial Dot Map


The United States of America has had a tumultuous past regarding race relations, as you may have learned a thing or two about in history class. Borders of states were often shaped with race and culture in mind, namely the slave versus non slave states in the mid 18th century. Even cities, which had their own boundaries and borders, were often set around cultural and racial pretences due largely to economic conditions of the time. The Racial Dot Map created by Dustin Cable of University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service helps display this history through a modern day synopsis of integration in the USA today. While most maps of America show expansion and growth from a physical sense (purchase of land, population density, etc.), this map shows the aspect of population by noting what actually comprises a map…the citizens.

When critiquing this map, keep in mind that it does attempt to portray every citizen, based on the 2010 census, of the third most populous country in the world, the U.S. From a broad perspective (no zoom) there is an amalgam of various colored dots combined together to form different shading all over the map. While overwhelming at first, it is in this view that the point of the map can be made. While the USA has the image of being a “melting pot” of different types of people, the map clearly shows while ethnicity may vary, race, from a more categorical standpoint, does not. America is predominantly white, 63% white alone/ 78% white including other races (“USA Quick Facts”). The blue dots represent White, with green for Black, red for Asian, gold for Hispanic, and brown for other respectively. While most maps as Harley wrote, “exert a social influence through their omissions as much as by the features they depict and emphasize”(Harley 67), this map is compelling because it brings out these omissions, or silences, of the people that comprise a region, and showcases them as the highlight of the map.

The Racial Dot Map brings out the silences of the people and displays them while silencing other “conventional” aspects of a map. The focus is not on the boundaries of the states or towns, but rather on the boundaries of the people. Cable utilizes a fairly basic outlay of the geographic display of the map, which accents the dots of individual, with choices to add or remove labels to help identify a certain region. As Kyle Vanhemert, a reviewer for puts it, “When you’re dealing with 300 million dots at varying levels of zoom, getting the presentation just right is as much an art as a science” (“The Best Map Ever Made”). By leaving out key elements of his map, Cable maintains this balance to make a map that is more presentable to the viewer and avoids the convoluted marks that one is used to seeing on a map, i.e. rivers, highway signs, territorial bounds, etc. The only symbolism and legend needed is one that represents the people, because on this map, that is the one thing Cable is trying to showcase.

As Wood said, “What do maps do when they work? They make present—they represent—the accumulated thought and labor of the past…” (Wood 1). It is important for the viewer to think of the social climate that has shaped the map. Since the country’s founding, segregation and integration has been a part of politics and everyday life. Despite all of the conflict that has arisen, there are still boundaries between races of people. Fully zoomed out, the map can show a basic picture of this. However, when zooming in and going from state to state or even town-to-town, the picture shows a deeper focus. Cities hold much of the Black and Hispanic populations, suburbs include much of the White population, with the Asian population and other category being mixed into both. Although these are very basic representations associated with the various groups of people, it serves to simplify the map making a more attractive final product. This map is the accumulation of hundreds of years of history being represented into the present, and while this map reveals a lot about the people of this country now, the map is always subject to change. Cable in portraying integration in America, not only created a graph to serve his and the viewer interests, but also showed the changing demographic of the country. This range not only covers the past to the present, but also most important room for change into the future.

With 300+ million people being represented and accounted for across the country in one map, Cable needed to be very selective in what he included with the material at his disposal.  While items such as ethnicity, age, roads, and rivers were left out, by either a lack of data or for aesthetics, the depiction of segregation and integration in America is clear. Dustin Cable and the Cooper Center’s Racial Dot Map from a thematic stand point reveals while as a country we have come far with race relations, there is still a long way to go before “we” become truly equal as a nation. The fluid combination of both race and population of every citizen in the USA to create a unique map is what makes this map the ideal choice for “Map of the Week”.

-Carl Johnson

Works Cited

Cable, Dustin. “Demographics and Workforce.” The Racial Dot Map: One Dot Per Person. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. <>.

Harley. “The Silence of Maps.” Maps, Knowledge, and Power. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2013. <>.

Vanhemert, Kyle. “The Best Map Ever Made of America’s Racial Segregation.” Conde Nast Digital, 24 Aug. 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. <>.

“USA QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau.” USA QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. <>.

Wood, Denis, and John Fels. The Power of Maps. New York: Guilford, 1992. Print.

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