Demographics and Race in the Bay Area

Artist Carlo Abruzzese has graphically revealed a series on demographics and race in the bay area from 2010 census data. It was most recently displayed during the April 2013 Open Studios. There were two related collections. One was “Geography. Place. Culture. Fifty-six States of Diversity” and another was “Mapping: The Bay Area 9”. For both he took actual census data and using 7 colors to represent different ethnic/racial categories as defined by the government, he visualized that demographic in a grid pattern by census tract.

San Francisco, Cal.

San Francisco, Cal.

One of the things I like about his representation is the subtlety of the spectrum of actual colors yet the stark divisions in some regions of the Bay Area. This is immediately striking to me, while the details create a sense of pause as I digest the data. The most provoking moment is when you look at his piece on Marin county and learn that there is  one specific area with a significant African American population and it’s where the prison is located. About 30% of Marin’s black population resides in San Quentin. So much for diversity. This reflects so much more in our society than I can fit in this post. However here is some information about racism within San Quentin Prison. To be fair to Marin, from what I’ve gathered, high school graduation rates for African Americans there are above average.

To look at Carlo’s work abstractly and in a larger context, we can recall the difference between diversity and multiculturalism. A classroom of 50 students can be diverse, with equal amounts of white, Middle Eastern, Indian, East Asian, Pacific Islander, Latino, or black students, but if those groups only sit with themselves and never interact, there is no multiculturalism. Thus with a superficial effort to create diversity, you only create balkanization. You actual accentuate the division by making it visual. And sometimes you need someone to point it out.

So what is the right mix? There is no formula for that. The seven groups I listed aren’t the same seven Carlo used. Thus even defining what groups exist is subjective. To start, we must look at ourselves. What do we have to contribute to diversity? What in our own identity have we rejected or retained? What do we seek out in others? What can others teach us? Until we can answer some of these questions, ask some ourselves, and keep the discourse going, we need to see these images as a reminder.

Marin and San Francisco Counties

Marin and San Francisco Counties


About Daniel Roddick

Daniel has a B.A. in American History with minors in both Ethnic Studies and Sociology. He also has an M.Ed. in College Administration and Counseling. Daniel has worked in the financial aid industry for over a decade. He has presented all over the country on financial aid issues related to equity, inclusion, and access to education. He is also a writer of poetry, fiction, and this blog, all of which touch on identity.
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