Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Where white America is going

Every once and again, a friend will mention some great new place they have discovered. Usually it is on a beautiful beach, near gorgeous mountains or on some amazing fishing river. Out here in Oregon, Bandon is getting as hot as the overheated Bend. Back east, Florida panhandle developments like Seaside in Florida keep getting hotter. After you note the great places to eat, the natural beauty, and the nicely ordered streets, you will note the people. They will be quite open and friendly and, almost to a person, white. Rich Benjamin, who is black, explores these places in his book Searching for Whitopia.

Benjamin argues that wittingly or unwittingly, whitopias are created by fears of immigrants and terrorists and a desire to create comfortable, expensive playground cities. These places are too expensive for most minorities, and even for poor or middle class whites. They allow for like minded people to segregate themselves. Fans of books like the Big Sort will enjoy this aspect of the book.

Race is a touchy subject in America (to be fair, where isn't it a touchy subject?) but I think Benjamin handles it exceedingly well. He is not interested in attacking people, only problems. He genuinely likes the people he meets in these white enclaves. He has few if any personal beefs with them. Instead he wants the government to look at the policies that encourage the development of segregation. A tall order and one that requires resetting the national conversation.

The United States needs a new approach to race, Benjamin argues. For one, people, including whites, need to be able to express all their concerns and needs, without fear of being labeled racist. Equally problematic though is the adoption of identity politics based entitlements thinking by many whites.

The book reminds me of those of Robert D Kaplan, if generally cheerier than his books. The combination of travelogue and policy analysis makes for a engaging way to deal with this topic.

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