Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America

Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America

4.1 8
by Rich Benjamin
     
 

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Between 2007 and 2009, Rich Benjamin, a journalist-adventurer, packed his bags and embarked on a 26,909-mile journey throughout the heart of white America, to some of the fastest-growing and whitest locales in our nation. By 2042, whites will no longer be the American majority. As immigrant populations—largely people of color—increase in cities and

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Overview

Between 2007 and 2009, Rich Benjamin, a journalist-adventurer, packed his bags and embarked on a 26,909-mile journey throughout the heart of white America, to some of the fastest-growing and whitest locales in our nation. By 2042, whites will no longer be the American majority. As immigrant populations—largely people of color—increase in cities and suburbs, more and more whites are moving to small towns and exurban areas that are predominately, even extremely, white. Rich Benjamin calls these enclaves "Whitopias" (pronounced: "White-o-pias"). His journey to unlock the mysteries of Whitopias took him from a three-day white separatist retreat with links to Aryan Nations in North Idaho to the inner sanctum of George W. Bush's White House—and many points in between. And to learn what makes Whitopias tick, and why and how they are growing, he lived in three of them (in Georgia, Idaho, and Utah) for several months apiece. A compelling raconteur, bon vivant, and scholar, Benjamin reveals what Whitopias are like and explores the urgent social and political implications of this startling phenomenon. The glow of Barack Obama's historic election cannot obscure the racial and economic segregation still vexing America. Obama's presidency has actually raised the stakes in a battle royale between two versions of America: one that is broadly comfortable with diversity yet residentially segregated (ObamaNation) and one that does not mind a little ethnic food or a few mariachi dancers—as long as these trends do not overwhelm a white dominant culture (Whitopia).

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Editorial Reviews

Time
"It sounds like a recipe for a riot: an inquisitive black writer journeying into some of the most segregated neighborhoods in the country. But Benjamin...pulls off his quest with good cheer."
Daily Kos
"[Benjamin] offers in the end a chilling vision of the future for progressive values."
Booklist starred review
"Benjamin examines the history, politics, economics, and culture of race and class as seen in the growth of these 'whitopias,' racially and therefore socioeconomically exclusive communities from the exurb St. George, Utah to the inner-city enclave of Carnegie Hill in Manhattan. . . . This is a thoroughly engaging and eye-opening look at an urgent social issue."
Christian Lander
"I've always found it easy to dismiss exurban gated communities, so it didn't bother me too much when Rich Benjamin showed them in a less than flattering light, but the revelatory chapters about New York City made me want to cry. . . . Generous and understanding to all of its subjects, Searching for Whitopia is a eulogy for an unsustainable lifestyle that flies in the face of a changing America."
David Sirota
"A courageous book that holds a mirror up to our country--and the reflection is one we can no longer afford to ignore."
Andrew Ross
"Rich Benjamin's Searching for Whitopia will be a major publication, widely read and discussed. Its influence is likely to be enduring."
Edwidge Danticat
"An essential tool in questioning, appreciating and better understanding these most historic times. As we move forward in a brand new America, Rich Benjamin's Searching for Whitopia gives us clues as to how our population might resettle and regroup, on our way to becoming a more (or less) perfect union."
Barbara Ehrenreich
"Rich Benjamin goes where no (sane) black man has gone before -- into the palest enclaves, like Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to those places where white Americans have fled to escape from the challenges of diversity. The result is a daring feat of 21st-century exploration that will have you laughing and shuddering at the same time."
Robert D. Putnam
"An account of a black man's journey through the whitest communities of America is bound to be thought-provoking, especially when the voyager is as observant and articulate as Rich Benjamin. A very entertaining read with a message worth pondering."
The Daily Beast
"Exploring the identity, inhabitants, and social and political implications of...small towns...is the premise of Benjamin's provocative new book."
From the Publisher
"It sounds like a recipe for a riot: an inquisitive black writer journeying into some of the most segregated neighborhoods in the country. But Benjamin...pulls off his quest with good cheer."—Time"

[Benjamin] offers in the end a chilling vision of the future for progressive values."—Daily Kos"

Benjamin examines the history, politics, economics, and culture of race and class as seen in the growth of these 'whitopias,' racially and therefore socioeconomically exclusive communities from the exurb St. George, Utah to the inner-city enclave of Carnegie Hill in Manhattan. . . . This is a thoroughly engaging and eye-opening look at an urgent social issue."—Booklist starred review"

The revelatory chapters about New York City made me want to cry . . . Generous and understanding to all of its subjects, Searching for Whitopia is a eulogy for an unsustainable America lifestyle."—Christian Lander, creator of Stuff White People Like"

A courageous book that holds a mirror up to our country—and the reflection is one we can no longer afford to ignore."—David Sirota, author and syndicated columnist"

Rich Benjamin's Searching for Whitopia will be a major publication, widely read and discussed. Its influence is likely to be enduring."—Andrew Ross, author of The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney's New Town"

I've always found it easy to dismiss exurban gated communities, so it didn't bother me too much when Rich Benjamin showed them in a less than flattering light, but the revelatory chapters about New York City made me want to cry. . . . Generous and understanding to all of its subjects, Searching for Whitopia is a eulogy for an unsustainable lifestyle that flies in the face of a changing America."—Christian Lander, creator of Stuff White People Like"

An essential tool in questioning, appreciating and better understanding these most historic times. As we move forward in a brand new America, Rich Benjamin's Searching for Whitopia gives us clues as to how our population might resettle and regroup, on our way to becoming a more (or less) perfect union."—Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory and Brother, I'm Dying"

Rich Benjamin goes where no (sane) black man has gone before — into the palest enclaves, like Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to those places where white Americans have fled to escape from the challenges of diversity. The result is a daring feat of 21st-century exploration that will have you laughing and shuddering at the same time."—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America"

An account of a black man's journey through the whitest communities of America is bound to be thought-provoking, especially when the voyager is as observant and articulate as Rich Benjamin. A very entertaining read with a message worth pondering."—Robert D. Putnam, professor of public policy, Harvard, and author of Bowling Alone"

Exploring the identity, inhabitants, and social and political implications of...small towns...is the premise of Benjamin's provocative new book."—The Daily Beast

Publishers Weekly
Starting in 2007, Benjamin, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan think tank Demos, and, more significantly, an African-American, spent two years traveling through America's whitest communities—patches of Idaho and Utah and even pockets of New York City—where, according to his research, more and more white people have been seeking refuge from the increasingly multicultural reality that is mainstream America. There's plenty of potential in this premise, but Benjamin writes without any sense of purpose, alternating between undigested interviews with policy experts, self-indulgent digressions on the pleasures of golf and real estate shopping and sketchy portraits of his subjects. Despite Benjamin's countless conversations with everyone from Ed Gillespie, former head of the GOP, to a drunk in an Idaho bar, he never offers any fresh insights or practical suggestions. He concludes by barraging the reader with a series of unearned “musts”: “we must revitalize the public sector,” “we must work hard for a new universalism.” If his time in the nation's whitest enclaves gave him any specific thoughts about how those ideals might be achieved, he would have done well to share them. (Nov.)
Daily Beast
Exploring the identity, inhabitants, and social and political implications of...small towns...is the premise of Benjamin's provocative new book.
Library Journal
Widely reported demographic shifts in contemporary America include the increase and diffusion of Latino populations and the relative population decline of Caucasians. Alongside these is a perhaps more subtle corollary, a phenomenon journalist Benjamin calls Whitopia ("white-opia"): disproportionately (generally over 90 percent) white communities that have grown rapidly in recent years, with most of the population growth also white. To learn about such communities, Benjamin here immerses himself in the life, culture, and politics of St. George, UT; Coeur d'Alene, ID; Forsyth County, GA; and Manhattan's Upper East Side Carnegie Hill area. A well-traveled black writer from a multiracial family, Benjamin hardly undertakes this venture incognito. But with his tact, genuine interest in people, and zest for golf, real estate, and socializing, Benjamin ingratiates himself nearly everywhere he goes and gains significant insights from residents, businesspeople and civic leaders. Benjamin's timely journey is surprising and provocative. He critically examines racial and economic segregation, structural racism, hostility to immigration, the rising political power of exurbs, and other sociopolitical realities that bespeak, in his assessment, a growing failure in commitment to the common good—yet he also demonstrates respect for his interviewees and offers his pointed assessments only after a thoughtful, open-minded exploration. VERDICT Written at the lay reader's level and in highly anecdotal narrative fashion, this is for all readers interested in the sociopolitics of America today. It will also be valued by policymakers and social scientists.—Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Worthington Libs.,OH
Kirkus Reviews
A black scholar moves into some of America's whitest communities, attempting to do for race what Barbara Ehrenreich did for class. Benjamin opens with a surprising statistic. "By 2042," he writes, "whites will no longer be the American majority." Perhaps even more surprising was the response that he noticed from white communities, particularly in urban areas. In an almost exaggerated version of "white flight," white populations were rising in particular communities across America. The author decided to spend time in three of those places. His first stop was St. George, Utah, home to both a bustling community of new retirees as well as a growing population of young families. There Benjamin rented a house from a rare black Mormon, joined a poker group and befriended a group of retired women. Next was Couer d'Alene, Idaho, where he settled into a pleasant life of work and dinner parties in a community that valued the outdoors. Finally, Forsyth, Ga., where Benjamin immersed himself in a church youth group. The author's experiences in "Whitopia" were surprisingly pleasant, particularly compared to a mugging incident near his home in racially diverse New York. But Benjamin is clear in his conclusion that this trend is not healthy for either white or minority communities. Ideally, he writes, each group should thrive on the resources of the city and on the influence of the other groups. Already, white communities are suffering from problems like unchecked sprawl and bad schools, and low-income minority groups are also losing access to the social capital of middle-class groups. Benjamin's points are articulate and well-reasoned, but many of them seem to function independently of his actual journeyor his time spent in each community. Interesting social experiments unevenly integrated into an intriguing thesis. Agent: Tina Bennett/Janklow & Nesbit

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781401322687
Publisher:
Hachette Books
Publication date:
10/06/2009
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
329,086
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Lexile:
1190L (what's this?)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

David Sirota
A courageous book that holds a mirror up to our country—and the reflection is one we can no longer afford to ignore. (David Sirota, author and syndicated columnist)
Edwidge Danticat
An essential tool in questioning, appreciating, and better understanding these most historic times. (Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory)
Christian Lander
The revelatory chapters about New York City made me want to cry . . . Generous and understanding to all of its subjects, Searching for Whitopia is a eulogy for an unsustainable America lifestyle. (Christian Lander, creator of Stuff White People Like)
Andrew Ross
Searching for Whitopia will be a major publication, widely read and discussed. (Andrew Ross, author of The Celebration Chronicles)
Barbara Ehrenreich
Benjamin goes where no (sane) black man has gone before—into the palest enclaves, like Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to those places where white Americans have fled to escape the challenges of diversity. (Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed)

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Meet the Author

Rich Benjamin is a well-connected scholar, lecturer, and commentator on contemporary American politics and culture. His commentary is featured on NPR, FOX radio, newspapers and the blogosphere, including The Huffington Post, Tom Paine, Afronetizen, and Talking Points Cafe). He has PhD from Stanford University in Modern Thought and Literature; in 2001/02, he was a visiting scholar at Columbia Unviersity Law School, and he is currently a senior fellow at DEMOS,a progressive national think tank based in New York City.

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Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Layers-of-Thought More than 1 year ago
Mini Synopsis: By the year 2042 white people will be a minority in the United States. With this in mind, Rich Benjamin takes a trip around the country where he explores the areas of the US where the majority of the population, curiously, is not a blend of color. He then strives to define these enclaves, which he terms "Whitopias". They are popping up in spots all over the country for reasons which he questions in his book. As he does his personal research in this sort of "reverse ethnography", he boldly goes into the territory to interview, live with, and experience the life style which defines these areas and the population. My Thoughts: Rich Benjamin is a very intelligent, highly educated, and extremely articulate individual. His writing is lyrical, satirically humorous and sensitive, and he has a very advanced fashion sense which adds some levity to the book. He is thorough and backs up his findings with statistics and references - be aware this book is somewhat academic in nature. But most significantly he's brave, and goes into areas which for me as a white person would even be scary; areas where there are known connections with extremists who may threaten violence to people of color and/or their supporters. He is welcomed warmly within these "white enclaves", and what he finds is interesting, enlightening, and often quite difficult to swallow. It was for me. Although Benjamin specifically states that as a culture we have moved mostly beyond blatant personal racial discrimination, racism still exists within most static bureaucratic structures within the country. He also supports the adage that classism and racism are intimate partners. Knowing that both also exist among these "Whitopias" he further supports their link within the text. This is a great book. My only negative thoughts around it is that it is so information packed it will probably not be a quick or easy read for most. It wasn't for me. More importantly the subject matter is emotional and difficult, and one which many people do not want to deal with. Although the author does a brilliant job of attempting to making light of some situations, how can it be? Sadly, and most significantly, I also do not believe it will actually reach his intended audience. Considering myself for example, although white, to me I believe he is "preaching to the choir" - albeit I am the white kid in the back, who doesn't quite know the words, and whom annoyingly sings a bit off key, but I certainly won't stop singing. I give this excellent yet difficult book 4.5 stars.
Joemmama More than 1 year ago
" By 2042, whites will no longer be the American majority. As immigrant populations -- largely people of color -- increase in cities and suburbs, more and more whites are moving to small towns and exurban areas that are predominately, even extremely, white. Rich Benjamin calls these enclaves "Whitopias" (pronounced: "White-o-pias"). His journey to unlock the mysteries of Whitopias took him from a three-day white separatist retreat with links to Aryan Nations in North Idaho to the inner sanctum of George W. Bush's White House -- and many points in between. And to learn what makes Whitopias tick, and why and how they are growing, he lived in three of them (in Georgia, Idaho, and Utah) for several months apiece. A compelling raconteur, bon vivant, and scholar, Benjamin reveals what Whitopias are like and explores the urgent social and political implications of this startling phenomenon. "- from the publisher I received this book on Friday, and fully intended to put it on the bottom of my TBR pile, since I have a few books to review first, but I found that after reading the blurbs, and the above quote, I just fell into this book. Rich Benjamin, is a black journalist who ventured into the wilds of "Whitopia" where white folks seem to be escaping the problems found in a more urban setting. From the sounds of the huge and expensive houses, many on golf courses, Benjamin visited, most folks could not afford to live there, black, brown or white. As someone who lives in a "Stepford" community, I was so surprised to discover the lack of diversity, that I wanted to move back to my old urban neighborhood. No older folks, few Blacks, or Hispanics or openly Gay folks to be found. I thought I was just getting a larger house, with a whole bunch of strings attached (covenants). I was not shocked to see my county listed as a very white area. Rich Benjamin heads where few black men would fear to tread, the whitest of the white communities, to determine just why/what they are running from/to. Very well written, and full of scary facts, this book made me ashamed of my race (white), and some of the folks that share my skin color (you know who you are). I must be living in some sort of bubble, since I had no idea some of these things were still happening. Shame on us! This is a book that will make you think, and maybe make you feel a little uncomfortable. It is worth a read, no matter what feelings it invokes. We need to be reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Thanks to Caitlin Price at FSB Associates for sending me this book. From Life Happens While Books are Waiting
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The author looks every where liberals claim racism exists and finds only friends. He claims they are racists because they only liked him because he was affable. What an evil person!