"Whitopia" and the Subliminal Joy of Target

Illustration for article titled "Whitopia" and the Subliminal Joy of Target

I've taken on the concept of "white flight" on the internet, but the question of how and why individuals segregate themselves in real life is far more interesting to me. When it comes to conurbation, the racial and class-based variables are literally endless. Aaron Renn, aka Urbanophile, writes provocatively at New Geography about the phenomenon of self-segregation, and how it overlaps with our elite media consensus about where is "best" to live:

[T]here’s a generally standing answer to the question of what cities are the best, the most progressive and best role models for small and mid-sized cities. The standard list includes Portland, Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis, and Denver. In particular, Portland is held up as a paradigm, with its urban growth boundary, extensive transit system, excellent cycling culture, and a pro-density policy….

If you take away the dominant Tier One cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles you will find that the “progressive” cities aren’t red or blue, but another color entirely: white. In fact, not one of these “progressive” cities even reaches the national average for African American percentage population in its core county.


He also provides the (tiny) graph in this post, which indicates that the "good" cities are indeed below the national average for black folk. A new article by Rich Benjamin at the American Prospect has much more on "Whitopias" (or "White Meccas. Or White Wonderlands. Or Caucasian Arcadias. Or Blanched Bunker Communities. Or White Archipelagos").

Ta-Nehisi Coates weighs in, saying that "the notion that black people are pawns on a chess-board, which conservatives and liberals move around in order to one-up each each other, has got to go."I can agree to that. The Root also touched on this issue in a story about black cowboys (!) chilling in the Wild, Wild West. But if Medicine for Melancholy taught us anything, it's that being the only two black people in San Francisco is rough.

But should we care that all the "good cities" are taken by non-whites? Of course, as Renn concedes, one must exclude the "dominant tier one cities" like my hometown of Chicago that are almost definitionally bursting with diversity. This pours a bit of cold water on the whole theory that those in search of urban utopia "choose" nonblack cities—though even Chicago is still enormously segregated.

It's certainly a fascinating conversation. My friend Reihan Salam and I got into it recently on Bloggingheads.TV. Watch:


Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.