Searching for Whitopia

An interesting one I picked up today – Searching for Whitopia by Rich Benjamin. This is an attempt to explore the rise of exurban and rural communities which are predominantly white and to see what those communities say about broader social trends. The author is associated with Demos, a “non-partisan” but left-leaning think tank (at least based on its Wikipedia description – established “to create a counter-argument to the many right-wing think tanks and their growing influence and establish a multi-issue organization that would focus on progressive policy development and advocacy.”).

I’m not quite sure what to make of the project – and I’m always a bit wary of race agendas. I suppose having lived in North Minneapolis and now in Prince George’s county, I have my own perspective on these questions, drawn out of experience living in diverse communities (where I happened to be the minority). These communities are certainly an interesting trend, but as the author admits, it isn’t driven entirely by race and focusing on a racial prism may end up distorting understanding as much as it illuminates. And the author lived within 3 such communities as part of his research – but since two of them are in Idaho and Utah (the other is in Georgia), there may be some distortion there, as well. At least I wonder about that.

The first chapter is somewhat entertaining and makes some good points about the housing market in his first community (at least, I thought so). And the discussion of the community’s focus on immigration hints at some of the problems with thinking clearly about that hot button issue. But the author (who is African-American) also describes how he is welcomed, embraced, feted even – which certainly begins to suggest that there is something more complex here than just a traditional race issue. It is a value issue in many ways (e.g., family, community); I hope the book won’t end up attributing deeply and sincerely held political and cultural beliefs to a racial origin (there’s too much of that in the current political discourse already). At the same time, I hope to learn some things as I’ve lived outside of these kind of communities for a long time.

That’s why I read the books!


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