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  • Imagine a place where your neighbors greet your children by name;

  • a place with splendid vistas;

  • a place where you can drive just 20 minutes

  • and put your sailboat on the water.

  • It's a seductive place, isn't it?

  • I don't live there.

  • (Laughter)

  • But I did journey on a 27,000-mile trip

  • for two years, to the fastest-growing and whitest counties in America.

  • What is a Whitopia?

  • I define Whitopia in three ways:

  • First, a Whitopia has posted at least six percent population growth since 2000.

  • Secondly, the majority of that growth comes from white migrants.

  • And third, the Whitopia has an ineffable charm,

  • a pleasant look and feel,

  • a je Ne sais quoi.

  • (Laughter)

  • To learn how and why Whitopias are ticking,

  • I immersed myself for several months apiece in three of them:

  • first, St. George, Utah;

  • second, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho;

  • and third, Forsyth County, Georgia.

  • First stop, St. George -- a beautiful town of red rock landscapes.

  • In the 1850s, Brigham Young dispatched families to St. George

  • to grow cotton because of the hot, arid climate.

  • And so they called it Utah's Dixie, and the name sticks to this day.

  • I approached my time in each Whitopia like an anthropologist.

  • I made detailed spreadsheets of all the power brokers in the communities,

  • who I needed to meet, where I needed to be,

  • and I threw myself with gusto in these communities.

  • I went to zoning board meetings,

  • I went to Democratic clubs and Republican clubs.

  • I went to poker nights.

  • In St. George, I rented a home at the Entrada,

  • one of the town's premier gated communities.

  • There were no Motel 6's or Howard Johnsons for me.

  • I lived in Whitopia as a resident, and not like a visitor.

  • I rented myself this home by phone.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Golf is the perfect seductive symbol of Whitopia.

  • When I went on my journey,

  • I had barely ever held a golf club.

  • By the time I left, I was golfing at least three times a week.

  • (Laughter)

  • Golf helps people bond.

  • Some of the best interviews I ever scored during my trip were on the golf courses.

  • One venture capitalist, for example, invited me to golf in his private club

  • that had no minority members.

  • I also went fishing.

  • (Laughter)

  • Because I had never fished, this fellow had to teach me

  • how to cast my line and what bait to use.

  • I also played poker every weekend.

  • It was Texas Hold 'em with a $10 buy-in.

  • My poker mates may have been bluffing about the hands that they drew,

  • but they weren't bluffing about their social beliefs.

  • Some of the most raw, salty conversations I ever had

  • during my journey were at the poker table.

  • I'm a gung ho entertainer.

  • I love to cook, I hosted many dinner parties, and in return,

  • people invited me to their dinner parties,

  • and to their barbecues, and to their pool parties,

  • and to their birthday parties.

  • But it wasn't all fun.

  • Immigration turned out to be a big issue in this Whitopia.

  • The St. George's Citizens Council on Illegal Immigration

  • held regular and active protests against immigration,

  • and so what I gleaned from this Whitopia is what a hot debate this would become.

  • It was a real-time preview, and so it has become.

  • Next stop: Almost Heaven, a cabin I rented for myself

  • in Coeur d'Alene, in the beautiful North Idaho panhandle.

  • I rented this place for myself, also by phone.

  • (Laughter)

  • The book "A Thousand Places To See Before You Die" lists Coeur d'Alene --

  • it's a gorgeous paradise for huntsmen, boatmen and fishermen.

  • My growing golf skills came in handy in Coeur d'Alene.

  • I golfed with retired LAPD cops.

  • In 1993, around 11,000 families and cops

  • fled Los Angeles after the L.A. racial unrest,

  • for North Idaho, and they've built an expatriated community.

  • Given the conservatism of these cops,

  • there's no surprise that North Idaho has a strong gun culture.

  • In fact, it is said, North Idaho has more gun dealers than gas stations.

  • So what's a resident to do to fit in?

  • I hit the gun club.

  • When I rented a gun, the gentleman behind the counter

  • was perfectly pleasant and kind,

  • until I showed him my New York City driver's license.

  • That's when he got nervous.

  • I'm not as bad a shot as I thought I might have been.

  • What I learned from North Idaho is the peculiar brand of paranoia

  • that can permeate a community when so many cops and guns are around.

  • In North Idaho, in my red pickup truck,

  • I kept a notepad.

  • And in that notepad I counted more Confederate flags than black people.

  • In North Idaho, I found Confederate flags

  • on key chains, on cellphone paraphernalia,

  • and on cars.

  • About a seven-minute drive from my hidden lake cabin

  • was the compound of Aryan Nations,

  • the white supremacist group.

  • America's Promise Ministries, the religious arm of Aryan Nations,

  • happened to have a three-day retreat during my visit.

  • So I decided to crash it.

  • (Laughter)

  • I'm the only non-Aryan journalist I'm aware of ever to have done so.

  • (Laughter)

  • Among the many memorable episodes of that retreat...

  • (Laughter)

  • ...is when Abe, an Aryan, sidled up next to me.

  • He slapped my knee, and he said, "Hey Rich, I just want you to know one thing.

  • We are not white supremacists. We are white separatists.

  • We don't think we're better than you,

  • we just want to be away from you."

  • (Laughter)

  • Indeed, most white people in Whitopia are neither white supremacists

  • or white separatists;

  • in fact, they're not there for explicitly racial reasons at all.

  • Rather, they emigrate there

  • for friendliness, comfort, security, safety --

  • reasons that they implicitly associate to whiteness in itself.

  • Next stop was Georgia.

  • In Georgia, I stayed in an exurb north of Atlanta.

  • In Utah, I found poker;

  • in Idaho, I found guns;

  • in Georgia, I found God.

  • (Laughter)

  • The way that I immersed myself in this Whitopia

  • was to become active at First Redeemer Church,

  • a megachurch that's so huge that it has golf carts

  • to escort the congregants around its many parking lots on campus.

  • I was active in the youth ministry.

  • And for me, personally, I was more comfortable in this Whitopia

  • than say, in a Colorado, or an Idaho, or even a suburban Boston.

  • That is because [there], in Georgia,

  • white people and black people are more historically familiar to one another.

  • I was less exotic in this Whitopia.

  • (Laughter)

  • But what does it all mean?

  • Whitopian dreaming, Whitopia migration, is a push-pull phenomenon,

  • full of alarming pushes and alluring pulls,

  • and Whitopia operates at the level of conscious and unconscious bias.

  • It's possible for people to be in Whitopia not for racist reasons,

  • though it has racist outcomes.

  • Many Whitopians feel pushed by illegals,

  • social welfare abuse, minorities, density, crowded schools.

  • Many Whitopians feel pulled by merit,

  • freedom, the allure of privatism -- privatized places, privatized people,

  • privatized things.

  • And I learned in Whitopia how a country can have racism

  • without racists.

  • Many of my smug urban liberal friends

  • couldn't believe I would go on such a venture.

  • The reality is that many white Americans are affable and kind.

  • Interpersonal race relations -- how we treat each other as human beings --

  • are vastly better than in my parents' generation.

  • Can you imagine me going to Whitopia 40 years ago?

  • What a journey that would have been.

  • (Laughter)

  • And yet, some things haven't changed.

  • America is as residentially and educationally segregated today

  • as it was in 1970.

  • As Americans, we often find ways to cook for each other,

  • to dance with each other,

  • to host with each other,

  • but why can't that translate into how we treat each other as communities?

  • It's a devastating irony,

  • how we have gone forward as individuals,

  • and backwards as communities.

  • One of the Whitopian outlooks that really hit me

  • was a proverbial saying:

  • "One black man is a delightful dinner guest;

  • 50 black men is a ghetto."

  • One of the big contexts animating my Whitopian journey was the year 2042.

  • By 2042, white people will no longer be the American majority.

  • As such, will there be more Whitopias?

  • In looking at this,

  • the danger of Whitopia is that the more segregation we have,

  • the less we can look at and confront conscious and unconscious bias.

  • I ventured on my two-year, 27,000 mile journey

  • to learn where, why, and how white people are fleeing,

  • but I didn't expect to have so much fun on my journey.

  • (Laughter)

  • I didn't expect to learn so much about myself.

  • I don't expect I'll be living in a Whitopia --

  • or a Blacktopia, for that matter.

  • I do plan to continue golfing every chance I get.

  • (Laughter)

  • And I'll just have to leave the guns and megachurches back in Whitopia.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Imagine a place where your neighbors greet your children by name;

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【TED】Rich Benjamin: My road trip through the whitest towns in America (My road trip through the whitest towns in America | Rich Benjamin)

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    Max Lin posted on 2015/10/11
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