United States/Racism

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Some ideas for making OSM a better resource for storytelling around racism and antiracism in the United States, as well as for improving OSM's representation of racial minorities. To discuss these ideas, invite yourself to OSMUS Slack and join the #diversity channel.

Legacy of overt racism

Statues, street names, and other memorials to noted racists are being scrutinized across much of the U.S. Local community members can use OSM to raise awareness about these memorials and start discussions about their future.

Neither OSM nor Wikidata tags people as racist per se, because OSM avoids mapping opinions and Wikidata adheres to a neutral point of view, especially for living people. However, it is possible to identify certain objective attributes about a historical figure that a data consumer would be able to interpret for themselves.

This MapRoulette challenge (source code) offers an easy way to get started by tagging namesakes and memorials about Confederates, slave traders, white supremacists, and segregationists. This Sophox query (source code) displays a map of Confederates, slave traders, slaveholders, KKK members, and segregationists.

Confederate generals and politicians

  1. Use this Wikipedia article or this database from the Southern Poverty Law Center to discover likely memorials to Confederates, then confirm their existence and subjects using aerial imagery. (There may also be local resources for some places, like this list and spreadsheet of possible Confederate-named things in Richmond, Virginia.)
  2. Search Nominatim for the full name of the person, then search for the last name. When searching for the last name, be careful to ignore features named after other people with the same last name. Sometimes a set of streets is named according to a Civil War theme, making it possible to disambiguate the streets' namesakes.
  3. Tag streets and buildings with name:etymology=* and name:etymology:wikidata=* if they are named after the person or with subject=* and subject:wikidata=* if they commemorate the person.
  4. Make sure the Wikidata item has a statement that the allegiance (P945) is to the Confederate States of Amerca (Q81931) and, for a military figure, that the military branch (P241) is Confederate States Army (Q1125021), Confederate States Navy (Q1124986), or a more specific unit.
  5. Look for schools that may have been formerly named after a Confederate. A school name can linger on the map decades after a name change or school closure due to the GNIS import.

This Sophox query displays an interactive map of features named after or about Confederates. The wikidata-confederates GitHub repository lists Confederates' Wikidata IDs for use in other querying tools like the Overpass API.

If a Confederate statue has been removed, map any pedestal or plinth that remains. Also consider contributing the former statue to OpenHistoricalMap, adding start_date=* and end_date=* tags if known.

Confederate flags

Confederate flags are most commonly flown over cemeteries and historical sites specific to the Civil War. However, they are also included in some historical displays not specifically about the Civil War, such as the six flags over Texas, as well as on private property.

  1. Tag flagpoles that fly the Confederate flag with flag:type=regional and flag:name=Confederate States of America. Tag the appropriate flag:wikidata=* value depending on the design:
    • Bonnie Blue flag: Q2361008
    • Stars and Bars: Q63874022
    • Stainless Banner: Q63874150
    • Blood-Stained Banner: Q63874403
    • Battle flag: Q63973147 (square) or Q55874812 (rectangular)
  2. Tag flagpoles that fly the 1894–2020 Mississippi state flag, which incorporates the Confederate battle flag, with flag:wikidata=Q96761402, flag:type=regional, and flag:name=Mississippi.
  3. Tag flagpoles that fly the Hospitality flag, a proposed replacement for the Mississippi state flag that does not incorporate a Confederate design, with flag:wikidata=Q96246037, flag:type=regional, and flag:name=Hospitality.

This Overpass API query displays an interactive map of Confederate flags. This query displays an interactive map of state flags of Mississippi, excluding the Hospitality flag.

If a Confederate or Mississippi flag no longer flies, but the flagpole is still represent, map the flagpole and omit the flag:wikidata=* tag or use removed:flag:wikidata=*.

Segregationists

  1. Run this Wikidata Query Service query to find segregationists. Search Wikipedia for more segregationists. (Note that some articles about people refer to others as segregationists; the subject of the article was not necessarily themselves a segregationist.)
  2. Run this Wikidata Query Service query to find places that are likely to have something named after segregationists.
  3. Search Nominatim for the full name of the person, then search for the last name. When searching for the last name, be careful to ignore features named after other people with the same last name.
  4. Tag streets and buildings with name:etymology=* and name:etymology:wikidata=* if they are named after the person or with subject=* and subject:wikidata=* if they commemorate the person.
  5. Make sure the Wikidata item has a statement that the political ideology (P1142) is segregationism (Q96279350).
  6. Look for schools that may have been formerly named after a segregationist. A school name can linger on the map decades after a name change or school closure due to the GNIS import.

This Sophox query displays an interactive map of features named after or about segregationists.

KKK members

  1. Search Nominatim for the full name of the person, then search for the last name. When searching for the last name, be careful to ignore features named after other people with the same last name.
  2. Run this Wikidata Query Service query to find places that are likely to have something named after the person.
  3. Tag streets and buildings with name:etymology=* and name:etymology:wikidata=* if they are named after the person or with subject=* and subject:wikidata=* if they commemorate the person.
  4. Make sure the Wikidata item has a statement that the person is a member of (P463) the Klu Klux Klan (Q47131).
  5. Look for schools that may have been formerly named after a KKK member. A school name can linger on the map decades after a name change or school closure due to the GNIS import.

This Sophox query displays an interactive map of features named after or about KKK members.

Slave traders and slave owners

Slave traders have been a focus of worldwide efforts to remove statues and other memorials. The names of slave owners have also been removed from some buildings around the U.S., although this particular category is more controversial because some of the Founding Fathers owned slaves. Once again, OSM and Wikidata are only responsible for making it possible to identify these memorials, not to make any judgments about where to draw the line on naming.

  1. Search Nominatim for the full name of the person, then search for the last name. When searching for the last name, be careful to ignore features named after other people with the same last name.
  2. Tag streets and buildings with name:etymology=* and name:etymology:wikidata=* if they are named after the person or with subject=* and subject:wikidata=* if they commemorate the person.
  3. If the person is a slave trader, make sure their Wikidata item has a statement that their occupation (P106) is slave trader (Q17769800). If the person is a slave owner, make sure their Wikidata item has a statement that their occupation (P106) or social classification (P3716) is slave holder (Q10076267).

Plantations

Some former slave plantations have been repurposed in a way that overlooks or downplays slavery. As of 2019, activists have campaigned to steer events away from such venues.

  1. Tag the manor house of a former plantation as building=manor. If it is now used as a museum, tag it as tourism=museum. If it is rented out for events such as weddings, tag it as amenity=events_venue.
  2. Tag the manor house with wikidata=* to link it to the Wikidata item describing the building. Many of these buildings already have Wikidata items because they have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as being architecturally significant.

TODO: How should the Wikidata item indicate that the plantation used to be a slave plantation?

Lynchings

  1. Tag a memorial to a victim of lynching with subject:wikidata=* set to the Wikidata item about the victim or their lynching.
  2. If the Wikidata item is about the victim, make sure it has a statement that manner of death (P1196) was lynching (Q486775). If the item is about the lynching itself, make sure it has a statement that it is an instance of (P31) lynching (Q486775).

This Sophox query displays an interactive map of memorials to lynchings and victims of lynching.

Systemic racism

Criminal justice system

Law enforcement and correctional agencies have been central to many recent discussions about systemic racism in the U.S., and their facilities have often been focal points for Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police demonstrations.

Commercial bail bonds

The U.S. is one of only two countries where commercial bail bonds are legal. Bail bonds are often cited as a contributor to racial and economic disparities within the criminal justice system. Bail bond agents are often part of an ecosystem of related businesses including payday loan shops. Nonprofit bail funds or "bail disrupters" steer defendants away from bail bond agents.

  1. Use this Economic Census table to find out how many bail bond agencies there are in your county, then look in the usual places, for example within a few blocks of a jail or police station.
  2. Tag the bail bond agency with office=bail_bond_agent.
  3. Look for payday loan shops and pawn shops in the immediate vicinity of the bail bond agency.

This Overpass API query displays an interactive map of bail bond agencies. This Overpass API query displays an interactive map of payday loan shops and pawn shops near bail bond agencies.

Industrial hazards

Map industrial hazards such as power stations, quarries, landfills, brownfields, and heavy manufacturing facilities to facilitate public health analyses. The EPA hazard import was deleted from OSM, except in a few localities, due to poor tagging. However, we can use its source datasets to more rigorously map industrial hazards. [1] Coordinates in the EPA database can be unreliable, but the features come with enough clues to improve upon in OSM.

Redlining

During the redlining era, many neighborhoods were explicitly given poor ratings due to the presence or proximity of residents who were racial minorities. Long after redlining officially ended, many of these areas continue to be the site of slum clearance, highway construction, and redevelopment programs. OpenStreetMap should reflect the continuing effects of redlining on these neighborhoods for the public's awareness. Meanwhile, OpenHistoricalMap can show the neighborhood's former state.

  1. Search for "hazardous" or "declining" areas in this historic map of redlining. (The scanned maps are in the public domain as works by the federal government.)
  2. Map the buildings in the area, taking care to switch among aerial imagery sources to find buildings that have recently been demolished. Map these buildings as demolished:building=* areas.
  3. Optionally, go to OpenHistoricalMap and map the buildings, tagging any recently demolished buildings with the approximate age of demolition based on a comparison of aerial imagery sources.

Representation of minority groups

OSM does not explicitly prioritize representation of one demographic group over another. However, minority groups are significantly underrepresented among OSM contributors. Since many mappers naturally begin by mapping what they are familiar with, there is a potential for OSM to underrepresent minority groups even more than a systematic, non-crowdsourced project might. On the other hand, OSM has the potential to represent minority groups even better than proprietary alternatives by bringing in a more diverse contributor base. A common technique for growing the community is to seed the map with at least minimal coverage; this same technique can be applied to representation of minority communities.

Minority-owned enterprises

  1. Use this Small Business Administration database to find minority-owned small businesses. Filter down to HUBZones to focus on businesses located in economically disadvantaged areas. Alternatively, focus on areas facing gentrification: search for a map of "displacement pressure" published by researchers for the surrounding metropolitan area to guide your mapping. There may also be local resources, such as this directory of Black-owned businesses in San Francisco.
  2. Map the business as you normally would a business of its kind. Do not tag the business as being minority-owned. The goal is not to single out business owners by their race, but rather to ensure representation. Consider mapping all the businesses on the block or in the surrounding neighborhood.

TODO: Compile completeness statistics based on the Economic Census, but break down the statistics by ZIP code (the most granular type of area available), then compare to demographic data from the decennial census to determine whether minority communities are underrepresented in OSM.

Minority depository institutions

The FDIC's Minority Depository Institutions (MDI) program includes minority-owned banks and banks that primarily serve minority communities, including state-chartered community banks.

  1. Pick an MDI from this FDIC spreadsheet.
  2. Find the bank's branches (with addresses) and map them based on existing address POIs or street-level imagery.
  3. If the bank has dozens of branches, add the bank to the Name Suggestion Index.

Black churches

The GNIS import brought in many churches, but Black churches in particular need cleanup:

Historically black colleges and universities

Many historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are poorly mapped in OSM compared to other schools, but they don't have to be!

  1. Find an undermapped HBCU on this spreadsheet.
  2. Add the campus grounds, buildings, footpaths, athletic fields, and parking lots using aerial imagery for basic coverage.
  3. If street-level imagery or other reference materials are available, add building names and addresses, eateries, etc. For more ideas of things to micromap, check out the Penn State University, Bowling Green State, or Rose-Hulman campuses.
  4. Reach out to geography-related clubs and faculty at these schools and invite them to collaborate on improving OSM's coverage of their communities.

Memorials to racial minorities

  1. Tag streets and buildings with name:etymology=* and name:etymology:wikidata=* if they are named after the person or with subject=* and subject:wikidata=* if they commemorate the person.
  2. Make sure the Wikidata item has a statement that the ethnic group (P172) is African Americans (Q49085) (or a part of the African American diaspora (Q28792792)) etc. Avoid making assumptions: Wikidata expects you to cite a published source stating that the person belongs to the ethnic group or identifies as a member of the ethnic group.

Memorials to civil rights advocates

  1. Get started with this MapRoulette challenge.
  2. Tag streets and buildings with name:etymology=* and name:etymology:wikidata=* if they are named after the person or with subject=* and subject:wikidata=* if they commemorate the person.
  3. Make sure the Wikidata item has a statement that the occupation (P106) is civil rights advocate (Q1021386) or abolitionist (Q18510179), or that the field of work (P101) is abolitionism (Q169390).

This Sophox query displays an interactive map of African-American human rights activists and abolitionists.

Murals supporting the Black Lives Matter movement can be tagged as artwork. For example, tag Black Lives Matter street murals as tourism=artwork artwork_type=street_art inscription=Black Lives Matter subject=Black Lives Matter subject:wikidata=Q19600530.

Artwork by racial minorities

  1. Tag artwork with artist:wikidata=* and architecture with architect:wikidata=*.
  2. Make sure the artist or architect's Wikidata item has a statement that the ethnic group (P172) is African Americans (Q49085) (or a part of the African American diaspora (Q28792792)) etc. Avoid making assumptions: Wikidata expects you to cite a published source stating that the person belongs to the ethnic group or identifies as a member of the ethnic group.

This Sophox query displays an interactive map of works of art and architecture by African-American artists and architects.

American Indian reservations

Main article: United States/American Indian reservations

As of 2020, few of the 326 Indian reservations' boundaries have been mapped. Aside from boundaries, many cultural and health facilities need to be mapped. Names in native languages should be tagged on features both on and off reservations.

Tools

Many of the ideas above share a set of tools in common: