When data was released last week measuring the residential patterns of whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians in the U.S., the news seemed promising. The headlines said we are less segregated now than 10 years ago. That's good news.
But when I went digging a little deeper, I found that the headlines were more hopeful than the reality.
Yes, segregation overall in the U.S. has declined but only a little in a decade, with decreases of only two or three points.
White people still tend to live in neighborhoods that are mostly white and blacks live in neighborhoods that are close to half black.
But in digging around about that news, I discovered a Web site that tells me more about my neighbors than anything else I have found.
The New York Times has on its Web site an interactive map called "Mapping America: Every City, Every Block," which has incorporated survey data that focuses on each of our neighborhoods and reveals just how diverse we are. The data used in the map is derived from information gleaned from the census bureau's American Community Surveys of 2005-09.
The map was created by Social Explorer, which has maps detailing information from the first census in 1790 until now.
The opening page of the map displays graphics of the distribution of racial groups. You can drag the map around to see a colorful display of various cities, their diversity and basic neighborhood makeup.
By selecting another choice from the "view more maps" drop box at the top, you can explore the same areas by education, income, and housing and families.
For instance, in my neighborhood, nearly all the residents are high school graduates. Only a small percentage have earned a master's degree. Blacks make up just under 20 percent of my neighbors and whites account for nearly 70 percent. That's better than the percentages for the county as a whole.
Less than 20 percent of my neighbors have mortgages that consume 30 percent of their incomes, and the median home value has gone up since 2000. What that means to me is that other than race and culture, my neighbors and I are more alike than different. Perhaps that's why we are neighbors.
The American Community Survey is sent out annually and gives researchers a chance to gauge demographic changes in large cities and in small neighborhoods. The survey gives estimates on social, economic, housing, and demographic statistics for every community in the nation.
With the information, researchers can see that for Hispanics and Asians nationwide, segregation increased. About 48 percent of Hispanics' neighbors nationwide are Hispanic. And the segregation of Asians from white Americans has grown from 42.1 percent to 45.9 percent.
We are not a melting pot, but we could be a salad.
This country has tremendous diversity, but when we turn the magnifying class on ourselves we see that diversity is manifest in clumps. Those clumps are indicators of where we want to live or where we have to live.
We may not look around our worship services on Sunday morning and feel comfortable about the inclusiveness of our churches. But we may look around our neighborhoods and see the changes so many people fought and died for during the civil rights movement.
We work together and we dine near one another at restaurants as federal laws command, but the true integration that was hoped for and dreamed of isn't quite here yet. Not yet.
Once you tire of The New York Times map, check out other maps at www.socialexplorer.com where you can see how closely we adhere to our religious beliefs, as well as the carbon emissions data from 2002 for our city and state. Fascinating.
We are all Kentuckians, but we are not all alike.
If those clumps occur because we want to live with those who look like us, I don't know how to change that.
If those clumps occur because we have to live with folks who look like us, then that is wrong.
Maybe those maps can show us rather than tell us which is which.