Faith's Reviews > Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America

Searching for Whitopia by Rich Benjamin
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Apr 29, 14

bookshelves: read-nonfiction
Read in January, 2010

This book is not (just) about white flight, and not (just) about "Whitopias": cities and counties that are 85% to 90% white and had population growth of 7% to 10% after 2000, with at least 2/3 of that growth attributable to white people. It's a guide for all people, but especially white people, who hope to be alive in 2042, when people of color are expected to become the majority in the United States.

For example, Benjamin explains:

* Why society as a whole pays a heavy price for the private roads, private parks, private schools, and private playgrounds/social clubs that are common in Whitopias

* Why residential segregation worsens, rather than allays, social tensions in the long run, even threatening democracy

* Why hostility against undocumented immigrants causes problems for people of all racial/ethnic identities

* That one of the principal divisions between Americans today has to do not (just) with race or color but with patriotism versus cosmopolitanism

All that might sound dry, but the only time Benjamin's writing sagged for me was his detailed descriptions of faux house-hunting trips among the McMansions of Dixie, Utah. (He says the real estate sections of newspapers are to him what pornography is to many other men.) Benjamin somehow writes as engagingly about facts and figures as about the conversations he had in numerous Whitopias, including three he lived in for several months apiece. He is educated as a sociologist (apparently) but writes like a journalist, without editorial comment. He's the Studs Turkel of demography.

Like President Obama and many other black people in the US, Benjamin has a multiracial family, including white surrogate grandparents. He ends with a gentle passage that expresses his empathy with white people and his hope that "our national experiment" will work. "What's eating at millions of white Americans is deeper and subtler than the immigration shout fest or any election cycle. It's about economic security, national identity, who America is, and who it wants to be.......The cumulative anxiety shared by Americans like [the ones I interviewed] is not just about money or skin color; it's about the pace and magnitude of change in America and whether they can summon the courage and skill to survive it." To encourage us, he quotes Milton from Aeropagitica: "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat."


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