Think & Drink: A Conversation with Rich Benjamin

Posted By:  Tina Walker Davis
Date Posted:  9/18/2019

Monday, October 21, 2019 • 7:00 p.m. / Doors at 6:30 p.m. 

10 Barrel Brewing (East) | 62950 NE 18th Street, Bend


Between 2007 and 2009, journalist-adventurer Rich Benjamin embarked on a 26,909-mile journey through some of the whitest and least racially diverse—and fastest growing—communities in the United States. It will surprise few Central Oregonians that Bend was one of Benjamin’s stops on his epic two-year traverse of the country.


“I had been hearing on-the-ground buzz that white folks were moving to places like Bend, Oregon, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and St. George, Utah,” says Benjamin. “That led me to discover through census data that these towns were already extremely white and were becoming even whiter. That fascinated me—the idea of a white utopia surrounded by a country that is growing more diverse. But statistics could only tell me so much; in order to get to the spirit and essence of it, I had to immerse myself in these Whitopias.”


Benjamin’s journey became a book released in 2009: Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America. Join Benjamin for a lively conversation about community, belonging, social values, and the state of whiteness in America when he speaks in Bend on October 21 as part of Think & Drink, a program presented in partnership with OSU-Cascades Diversity Committee and Oregon Humanities. This free event, hosted at 10 Barrell Brewing (East), is open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with Benjamin taking the stage at 7:00 p.m. Light snacks will be provided and beverages and books will be available for sale.

Many white people believe that racial bias has to have animus behind it—a kind of hatred, says Benjamin. But, he adds, “There are all kinds of racism, without bile. This conversation in Bend is about all kinds of white dissonance and anxiety that exist in these political times. Many white people come to places like Bend for apparently non-racial reasons: more house for the dollar, a perceived sense of safety, outdoor amenities (shimmery lakes, breathtaking mountains, amazing trails), and social comfort (homogenous neighbors). In short, outdoor living, with city perks.”


Following Barack Obama’s historic election, racial and economic segregation continued to vex America and, as Benjamin highlights in his book, the election raised the stakes in a battle royale between two versions of our country: one that is broadly comfortable with diversity, yet residentially segregated, and one that does not mind a little ethnic food—as long as trends do not overwhelm a white-d0minant culture.


Benjamin says a Whitopia (pronounced why-TOH-pee-uh), “is whiter than the nation, its respective region, and its state. It has posted at least six percent population growth since 2000. The vast majority of that growth is from white migrants. And a Whitopia has a je ne sais quoi—an ineffable social charisma, a pleasant look and feel.”


Rich Benjamin sharply observes modern society and politics. His cultural and political analysis appear regularly in public debate, including in The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, The New York Times Sunday Book Review, NPR, PBS, MSNBC, and CNN. Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America was selected as an Editor’s Choice by Booklist and The American Library Association (2009). Born in New York City, he grew up in far-flung places (in the US and abroad). He devoured English and political science at Wesleyan University (BA) and Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford University (PhD). Benjamin was recently a Fellow in the literary arts at the Bellagio Center (Italia), Rockefeller Foundation. He sits on the Board of Trustees of the Authors Guild, the national union of writers that has been protecting authors’ rights and free speech since 1912.


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