Visualizing Racism: Five ways to powerfully visualize systemic racism in the United States
In the past few months, we have seen collective action lead to powerful changes across the United States in response to the killing of George Floyd. Citizens have harnessed the power of protests, activism, and storytelling to spur policy action in government, business and in communities. This collective action is not solely in response to the killing of George Floyd. His murder was simply the most recent in a long history of brutality directed at Black people in the United States. His murder, along with the murders of Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and Ahmaud Arbery are the most recent evidence of systemic racism.
Systemic problems are complex, multi-layered, and difficult to understand. Systemic racism leads to transboundary consequences, impacting outcomes in quality of life, education, and health for us all. One way individuals are making sense of this complexity is through data visualization. While words on paper can be powerful, data visualization allows these words to come alive and evokes thought-provoking reflection, faster action, and lasting change.
GKI has long been an advocate for data visualization as a powerful tool to mobilize people towards shared goals. We believe visualizations can break down complex information to explain the dynamics around the root causes of a problem and why it persists. Visualizations are far-reaching and can help inform, activate, and ensure accountability of policy-makers, institutions, and the general public to fight for equity, justice, and the change that’s needed in the world.
From geographical boundaries to powerful fine arts representations, here are just some of the ways that artists, journalists, and data scientists use visualization to communicate the truth about systemic racism in our country. GKI assembled the visualizations below as inspiration and a venue for learning.
Systems maps show the interactions between people, underlying structures (such as policies, laws, and norms), and vicious cycles that lead to unjust outcomes. Racism is a systemic issue that is embedded in society through discrimination in aspects of education, criminal justice, housing, and healthcare, among others. The map below is one example, visualizing the structures and attitudes leading to systemic racism in soccer (zoom in to the map or click on the link to read.) The full systems map (called a causal loop diagram), was published in the PuntOorg International Journal.
The California Endowment hosted a workshop on Systems Thinking and Race, where they shared different maps visualizing racism.
GKI has many resources for those who want to learn about systems mapping and how to apply it to their work. This systems primer is a great place to start.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
GIS maps organize, analyze, and display different types of data in relation to location. GIS maps are often interactive, allowing the user to zoom in and out, change the map by topic, indicator, or locations. GIS experts have used this tool to communicate how segregation from the past century continues to shape inequality in the US today. One example is the Mapping Inequality project, which used maps created by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) between 1935 and 1940. The maps show how the practice of redlining — refusing loans or insurance to homeowners based on ethnic and/or racial identity continues to shape cities and affect lives across the US. Learn how redlining has shaped your own city in this interactive GIS Map.
Forbes highlighted five GIS projects that are changing the way we understand racism:
- University of Richmond’s work in highlighting the practice of redlining
- Mapping police violence in the United States
- Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the American City
- Urban Wire’s School Segregation Map in the United States
- A map by the New York Times visualizing the Equal Justice Initiative’s collection of data on historical lynchings in Southern states
Individuals specializing in fine arts show us that you do not need to be a data scientist to create compelling and powerful work based on data. There is a growing number of artists who are amplifying the racist underpinnings of the United States through fine arts. Below, we feature Adrian Brandon’s series titled Stolen, dedicated to “the many black people that were robbed of their lives at the hands of the police… [He] uses time as a medium to define how long each portrait is colored in. 1 year of life = 1 minute of color.”
An illustrated video of the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI’s) report, Reconstruction in America. According to the description, the video “shows how the promises of Emancipation were betrayed by racial violence and terrorism.”
Graphs and Charts
One of the most well known and widely used data visualization methods, data scientists are using static graphs and charts in increasingly creative and impactful ways. For example, the visualization below shows the racial disparity in the impact of COVID-19 in US states. This graph shows that in most states, deaths and cases of COVID-19 are affecting African Americans at a disproportionate rate.
The graph below is another example: the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy uses the CDC’s data to show the disparity between pregnancy-related mortality rates of black women and women of other races.
Graphic visualizations allow people’s stories and conversations to be captured and internalized in real time and can help leave a lasting artifact of narratives. We use this tool in multi-faceted ways to capture the power of the collaborative conversations happening between people around their experiences.
Visual infographics like this one drawn by Cheska Tanglao, bring light to alarming statistics in an approachable manner.
Journalist Mona Chalabi uses data visualization to communicate systemic racism in the US.
We hope this article inspired you to see the power of visuals to engage and activate people to more effectively engage with and address complex challenges. If you are looking at additional data visualization sources, please share the visualization that you found most impactful to you in the comments below. If you want to learn more about how GKI is designing and using visualizations, and how you may apply it to your own work, sign up for the GKI Thinks Big newsletter, reach out directly to firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow us on twitter @GKInitiative.