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Benjamin describes Utopian American residential areas – a constellation of small towns and exurbs that are extremely white.

Book Review: Searching for Whitopia by Rich Benjamin

In Searching for Whitopia: An Improbably Journey to the Heart of White America, Rich Benjamin predicts that by 2042 whites will no longer be the American majority, as they move further from cities and suburbs inhabited by an increasingly immigrant population.

The extensive ideas suggested by the title are of course, somewhat about race, but also partly attributed to concerns about employment, housing markets, traffic congestion, neighborhoods and politics.

The author thoroughly considers the effect of America's first black president on white people’s understanding of racism. Having elected a black president, is racism gone? Is discrimination a thing of the past? No, not at all, says Benjamin: “Obama’s presidency raises the stakes in a battle royale between two versions of America: one that is segregated yet slap-happy with its diversity, ObamaNation, and an America that does not mind a ‘little ethnic food, some Asian math whizzes, or a few Mariachi dancers – as long as these trends do not overwhelm the white dominant culture, ’Whitopia.”

While working on Searching for Whitopia, Benjamin lived with his research, spending three months each in St. George, Utah, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Forsyth County, Georgia. He lived with and among the people of these communities, discovering what makes people choose to live in these white enclaves.

In Coeur d’Alene, he even met some former California-based Los Angeles police officers and families. The area’s white homogeneous residents, including many conservatives and retirees, enjoy the safety and comfort level that comes from having retired law enforcement and military veterans as neighbors.

Throughout the stories, local color, and demographic information presented, Benjamin does more than explain the potential for whites to become a minority race in America. He thoroughly explores the social and political implications of this phenomenon and paints a true picture of the possible effects to come.

In Searching for Whitopia, Benjamin describes Whitopia in ways we can all understand. “Awash in its racial conundrum, America has delightful people who are perfectly comfortable with widening segregation and yawning socioeconomic inequality that often breaks along racial lines.” And, as we often observe, the irony of exclusive white subdivisions is that they often disinherit their past instead of honoring it.

Exurbs are defined by Benjamin as a geographic and a social concept, meaning location and census tracts as well as demographic profiles, and low population density, yet having economic ties to a larger city or suburb. “Exurbs are creating communal pods that cannily preserve a white-bread world, a throwback to an imagined past with “authentic” 1950s values and the nifty suburban amenities available today.”

Rich Benjamin fully explores Whitopian theories in depth and includes a sizable Appendix containing a large list of “Extreme Whitopias” in America. Benjamin is a Senior Fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan national think tank based in New York City, and is a featured commentator in major newspapers, on NPR and Fox Radio.

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