Commentary: "Geography of Hate" Map Is Interesting…to a Point

Yet another tool shows us that, yep, people are racist on Twitter.

Posted: 05/17/2013 06:04 PM EDT

For as much as the Internet can be a tool to promote racism, what with all the racist websites and YouTube comments and Facebook pages and everything else, it can also be a useful tool for exploring and thoughtfully understanding racism as well. One of the latest projects with that latter goal in mind is Dr. Monica Stephens’ “Geography of Hate.”

Stephens, a professor at California’s Humboldt State University, created the Geography of Hate map using “every geocoded tweet in the United States from June 2012 - April 2013 containing one of the 'hate words.’” That is to say, Stephens and her research assistants went through Twitter searching for numerous slurs and, when possible, recorded where in the country those tweets originated. Her resultant map, with its softly glowing red and blue dots, is almost beautiful until you realize that the red dots are places where people have been saying the n-word a lot.

In many ways, the hate map is interesting to click through. I was a bit shocked, for instance, at how few of the n-word tweets originated in California and other places out west as opposed to the East Coast (sadly, I wasn’t too surprised at how often the n-word was tweeted in the south). Similarly, I was mildly taken aback at how a particularly vile term for Latinos was clustered mostly in tweets from Texas. I suppose it shouldn’t have been too surprising — the term was created to denigrate Mexicans entering into Texas by crossing the Rio Grande. But what stood out to me is that though Mexican immigrants have now become part of the fabric of so many communities in America, the hateful term to describe them hasn’t gotten far beyond its birthplace.

Both of those things were worthy of note, I suppose, but soon after looking at it, the Geography of Hate left me wanting in a way.

As a person of color in America, and certainly as someone who writes about race from time to time, knowing that there are racists out there who say racist things seems so obvious that it’s almost as if you were born with that knowledge. I guess it’s kind of cool to see exactly where in the country people are saying racist and homophobic stuff, but outside of those few minutes of novelty, I’m not sure I see why I’d ever give the hate map another look. I’m certain it’s a valuable tool for academics looking to study prejudice in populations, but I and many of the minorities I know already understand that there are a lot of racists in America who tweet the n-word indiscriminately. What I’d like to focus on now is how we get them to stop doing that.

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(Photo: Courtesy of Humboldt State University)

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