43. Rich Benjamin, Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America
A pop non-fiction book about what the author calls "whitopias": fast-growing, often exurban or rural, conservative, majority white (usually over 90%) communities. Such whitopias are becoming more common, he argues, and many of them are some of the fastest growing areas in the country. Against this backdrop, Rich Benjamin (a black guy) decided to try living in three such communities (St. George, Utah; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; and Forsyth County, Georgia) and researching many more (including Carnegie Hill, in Manhattan and only a short walk from my own apartment, though that's a walk that covers a lot of change) to see what they're like, and what kind of people choose to live in them. These aren't sundown towns- obviously, since Benjamin managed to find places to rent in them- but are more like an extreme example of white flight. I picked this book up because I've been reading a lot of books about PoC communities, and I thought it would be interesting to get a black perspective on white communities.
I really enjoyed this book, perhaps because I'd read James Loewen's Sundown Towns
over the summer, and Searching for Whitopia
is the perfect follow-up to that (Sundown Towns
is an absolutely amazing book, and I encourage everyone to read it. It is very worth its enormous length and many footnotes, though, the author being white, it will not count as one of your 50books_poc
books). And Searching for Whitopia
really is an update; it manages to include research from 2009 and I always think it's very impressive when someone can manage to get a book from the writing-stage to the in-bookstores-stage that quickly. And that recent information is particularly impressive because Benjamin covers a lot of topics, from Latino/a immigration, to the history of the conservative movement in American politics, to the New Urbanism city planning philosophy. Benjamin approaches his topics with a light touch, in particular giving way more of the benefit of the doubt to the people he interviews from whitopias than I would have. He even gives several pages to defining the difference between interpersonal racism and structural racism, a distinction which most people reading this community probably don't need help with. Because of that, though, I think this book would make an awesome gift to someone who's not that knowledgable about these issues; Benjamin is very careful to not offend, and there's things to interest people who wouldn't normally pick up this sort of book, including an entire chapter on golf.
So, a book which doesn't have much in-depth information, but has good, up-to-date information on a variety of topics, which is fun and easy to read: overall, pretty nice!