Sunday, May 1, 2011

Searching for Whitopia

Searching for Whitopia has an interesting premise: a black man decides to live in several whitopias. Rich Benjamin, the author, defines a whitopia as place that is "whiter than the nation, its respective region, and the state. It posted at least a 6% population growth since 2000. The majority of that growth (often upward of 90%) is from white migration. And a whitopia has a je ne sais quoi--an ineffiable social charisma, a pleasant look and feel."

One of the reasons I was excited to go to China was to be the person that stuck out. I'm an average white girl with brown hair. I've never stuck out. I thought it would be interesting to for an ever so brief period be a minority. And it was. In Beijing, we stuck out. I was asked to be in pictures with people four different times. Little kids would sneak glances at us. My experience in China, while eye opening, wasn't near the same as Benjamin's.

One of the places Benjamin visited is right up the road from where I grew up. Wyoming isn't exactly known for its diversity, so I considered myself aware of whitopias. I teach sociology. What Benjamin found in these whitopias was nothing surprising to me. It was interesting to hear it from the perspective of a black man. I couldn't help but wonder how many of the conversations he'd had (particularly those with the white supremacists) were people putting on their best, not-real, face. One common feature of these whitopias is that they has an us v. them mentality. It's not one of black v. white, but rather the old residents v. the newcomers.

An interesting read on race, but for me, nothing earth shattering. However, if you haven't thought about race much (which is all too easy to do if you are white) or the issues of rapid growth in rural areas I think it'd be an insightful read.

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