Friday, October 16, 2009

review: searching for whitopia by rich benjamin

With shades of Barbara Ehrenreich’s exploration of minimum wage jobs in Nickel and Dimed, Rich Benjamin plunged himself into three predominately white communities for three months each. But Coeur d’Alene, ID, St. George, UT, and Forsyth County, GA are not simply predominately white, they are “whitopias,” which means they’ve reported a minimum six percent population growth since 2000, often from white migration. Many moved from more ethnically diverse parts of the country. In interviewing them, Benjamin found they cited crime rate and schools as big reasons for moving.

A number of fascinating experiences occurred during his journey. As a native of the northwest and having lived near Coeur d’Alene for a few years, I was most intrigued by what he had to say about that community. Benjamin actually attended a Christian Identity retreat while there! Shockingly the people treated him with respect and even helped locate his misplaced car keys. An interesting bit from the section was that those espousing the most racist views are not natives, but like Richard Butler, moved to the area. The research for Searching for Whitopia is extensive and evident in each section.

Rich Benjamin follows his experiences by writing about the consequences of whitopias. He believes those living in whitopias will suffer from their long commutes and sociocultural isolation. Furthermore, Benjamin believes others suffer because they can’t afford to live in the whitopias and benefit from the low crime rates and remarkable school systems. In the end, Benjamin cannot offer a solution nor should he be expected to. The underlying issue has been going on since Columbus “discovered” America. So Benjamin ends with this: “I want desperately, come 2042 [when whites are predicted to be the minority in the US], for our national experiment to work.”

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