"Prop. 13 heralded a new era of white disengagement. And it revoked the Golden State's expansive post-war social contract, primarily for post-Boomers, but also to the lasting agony of most of its residents. Judging by Benjamin's conversations with Cali expats, it seems lost on most Whitopians that they're nostalgic for the fruits of a world they helped destroy. Searching for an imagined past away from the places that constituted the real ones is part of the logic of the retreat into whiteness."
Retreat into Whiteness
By Jeff Chang, November 25, 2009
Running away to get away
You're wearing out your shoes
Rich Benjamin’s new book leaves us wondering what could happen politically if the emerging majority-minority were joined by the white working class.
Some time around the turn of the millennium, Rich Benjamin—a Black man from the milquetoast suburb of Potomac, Maryland and a senior policy analyst at the progressive think tank Demos—found himself in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Mark Fuhrman's adopted home and a certified "Top 5 Best City To Live In." He was having a beer summit of sorts, a round of tall ones with a white guy named Stan whom he'd just met. Stan was talking hunting, odd jobs, the girlfriend—basically his not-so-charmed life.
Benjamin decided to ask him about Idaho's rep as a "Hate State." By now cheerfully drunk, Stan said that the organizers of the annual Aryan Pride Parade were "a buncha clowns." Yet, he admitted, "I want Idaho to stay pristine." Like any lefty bicoastal Black man might, Benjamin replied: "Environmentally?"
Stan's gut-laugh leads into one of the most fascinating passages in Benjamin’s new book, Searching For Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America (Hyperion):
…"We don't hate Black people," he announces. "We hate those yuppies from LA."
…Keeping Idaho pristine, he says, means keeping it livable for people like him. In his only display of anger this charming, beer-sodden night, Stan acidly complains that he won't be able to marry and raise kids in the very place he grew up.”
The image lingers.
For his book, Benjamin spent nine months living in the heart of whiteness, embedding himself in three of the fastest-growing white communities—Coeur d'Alene, Georgia's Forsyth County, Utah's St. George. He explored what he calls "Whitopias" not with an anthropologist's distance but with Rob Corddry-as-investigative-reporter-type brio.
In Coeur d'Alene, he barbecued with a group of retired white LAPD officers—veterans of the riots of April 29, 1992—who spend their days fishing on Hayden Lake. He allowed a polo-and-khaki-clad congregation of Christian Identity white supremacists to stuff him with beef brisket and strawberry lemonade and help find him his car keys. But Stan was the one born and raised in Idaho, and his story shows how another's piece of American Pastoral comes at a steep price for the white working poor.
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