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Tuesday
Jul 29th

Book review: “Searching for Whitopia” by Rich Benjamin

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searchingforwhitetopiaThe invitation contained everything you needed to know to have fun. Well, almost everything… You knew the date and time and where to be. You knew who was throwing this shindig. But the invite didn’t say a word about what to wear. So, naturally, you showed up dressed to the nines, sporting shiny things on your fingers and ears. Unfortunately, everybody else was in shorts and T’s, and you stuck out like a sunflower in a parking lot.

Everybody likes to fit in, so imagine seeking out situations in which you’re a minority. Read the new book “Searching for Whitopia” by Rich Benjamin, and you might be surprised by an interesting picture.
When President Obama was elected last year, many Americans sighed with relief: maybe now we could put racial problems behind us. But Rich Benjamin says nothing could be farther from the truth. Things are about to change again, in a big way.

Within the next 32 years, whites will no longer be the majority in America. With that in mind, Benjamin decided to study a phenomenon he calls Whitopia: a city or ‘burb with an overwhelmingly white population. Whitopia has “ineffable social charisma, a pleasant look and feel” (think Mayberry or Leave It to Beaver).  According to statistics, many U.S. cities are already “whiter than white” and are becoming whiter.

Minorities, it seems, need not apply.

Benjamin decided to move into three Whitopia neighborhoods and live in each for awhile, in order to study things up-close.

In Utah, he found friendship, Poker Night, and an organized push to severely restrict immigration. Named one of the safest places in America, Benjamin says “the cozy warmth inside depends on keeping the enemies without.”

In Idaho, Benjamin entered a retreat for a white separatist religious sect, and discovered, to his surprise, an “unexpected blessing in… brewing crisis.”

And in Georgia, Benjamin found high-priced homes and panicked residents, afraid their land might revert to area blacks whose ancestors’ farms were seized by whites nearly 100 years ago.
I had a hard time with this book for many reasons.

First, the good news: author Rich Benjamin gives his readers much to ponder. “Searching for Whitopia” is thought-provoking and could start much-needed, important dialogue.

But…

Benjamin throws stats, facts, reasoning, cute stories and jaw-dropping tales at his readers at an alarming pace, and then later repeats them. More than once, I caught myself bored and skimming, or reading a sentence multiple times because of content overload. I also wondered often if there was a point to his points.

Perhaps most egregious is that Benjamin (who is black) claims “The ‘black-white race divide’ bores [him]” but he seems eager to emphasize it. Moreover, he understandably condemns racial comments and overgeneralities, but then makes them himself.

If you want to tackle this book, please do. The subject matter is important enough to take a serious look, but be sure to read it with time, many grains of salt, open eyes, and open mind. Otherwise, “Searching for Whitopia” is just an invitation to frustration.

“Searching for Whitopia” by Rich Benjamin
c.2009, Hyperion        $24.99 / $32.99 Canada    354 pages, includes notes
 

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