Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Review: Searching for Whitopia by Rich Benjamin

I stumbled across Searching for Whitopia while browsing the 300s section of the library a few weeks ago (yes, I seriously do this, and will continue to until the library's database starts using's recommendation algorithm). I thought it would be a really interesting companion to Loewen's Sundown Towns, which I read a few months ago and reviewed here. While Loewen focused on the history and development of sundown towns and their evolution into monoethnic enclaves, Benjamin decided to live in these enclaves (along with visiting several others) and write about his experiences and treatments. Benjamin, you see, is black, and a big part of his project involved gauging the reactions of the denizens of these towns to his presence in their lives.

While living in Whitopias, Benjamin experiences a number of rituals associated with all-white, small town living, including numerous games of golf along with the attendance of occasional xenophobic city council meetings (in which locals decry the presence of Mexicans anywhere north of the border) and a memorable visit to the local white supremacist compound (seriously). Interspersing his narrative of his experiences in Whitopias with research he's conducted on them, Benjamin deftly explores the dimensions of modern racism intrinsic to housing and educational segregation. Ultimately, he makes a compelling argument that all-white towns and exurbs are not a good idea, agreeing with Loewen on a number of points (which I discussed in the other review). Unlike Loewen, though, who tends to be a tad over simplistic, Benjamin successfully captures the nuances of modern race relations-- apparently, white supremacists are nice. Who knew?

An excellent, thought-provoking read. 5 out of 5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. This is high on my wish list, hopefully one of these days. Glad you enjoyed it.