Jonathan Brun

Racial data mapping is it good or bad?

In the states, they collect data on the racial make-up of the society and where they live. The image above is from the New York Times info-graphic based on US Census data, and each point represent 500 people. I am curious to know what you think of making this data available. My first question, is why don’t we collect this data in Canada?

Secondly, though I am a proponent that more information allows us to make better decisions, sometimes more information can hurt us or actually hurt a system. For example, to take a banal example, Facebook actively prohibits you from knowing who is looking at your profile. My guess is that they feel that were you to have this information, people’s relationships to each other would be negatively impacted – I tend to agree.

My question is, does making racial make-up publicly available (which is different from collecting it) help citizens. Or does, it further promote ghettoization of races into different neighbourhoods? I am not sure. Of course, immigrants naturally gravitate to specific neighbourhoods where they might have family and friends, but by making this information even more available, are we not encouraging this behaviour even more?

And, should we be making decisions based on race? Arguably, having this information allows the US to say “Blacks have less access to high quality schools” and therefore put in place programs, but should the question not be “People of a certain income distribution have less access to high quality schools”. What value is there in differentiating people by race? There are of course negatives – big ones.

While I realize that the data in the US is per 500 people, it still seems dangerous. Clearly identifying people or groups by race (or religion) can lead to very bad things. Whether it is Hutu/Tutsis or Muslim/Jewish or any other government-run categorization of people based on race or religion, there are downsides that potentially outweigh any upsides.

All in all, I think this is an interesting case of open-data and its merits. Should we collect this data? If so, should it be made public?

Published on January 9, 2011