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raceAhead: Welcome to Whitopia

Full Frame Shot Of Balloons Against White BackgroundFull Frame Shot Of Balloons Against White Background
Full Frame Shot Of Balloons Against White BackgroundJansamon Thongra-Ar / EyeEm Getty Images/EyeEm

Let’s take a break from the news and go back in time to 2015.

In this insightful and remarkably funny TED talk, writer Rich Benjamin shares the insights he gained about the American character from his two and a half year investigation of “Whitopias” – rapidly growing white communities that are brimming with affability and an orderly low-key charm.

It’s an interesting spin on white flight. Benjamin defines a Whitopia as a place that has seen a six percent population gain since 2000, but only from primarily white migrants. “And third,” he says, “the Whitopia has an ineffable charm, a pleasant look and feel, a je ne sais quoi.”

He traveled around the country examining the attributes of these communities, but he lived for an extended period in three: St. George, Utah; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and Forsyth County, Georgia.

As a black man, he stood out while he tried to blend in and he approached his adventure as if he were a sweetly bemused anthropologist, intrigued by the behaviors around him. He asked local people to help him learn their passions for fishing, golfing, target shooting and poker, and he went all in as a mega-church member. He even crashed a weekend conference of Aryan Nations members! They were…surprised to have him but it went okay!

By the time you get used to his Whitopia-ish delivery, he brings the goods:

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.

Listening to him from way back in 2015, it’s easy to see the foundations of the political divisions yet to come, and the underlying but unexamined reasons why immigration is one of the key triggers for people who have come to embrace the Whitopian promise.

“[M]ost 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.”

Enjoy. In other news, an unintentionally all-international round-up is below.

 

On Point

Who died for the battery in your iPad?Fortune contributor Vivienne Walt working with photojournalist Sebastian Meyer has turned in an extraordinary story on cobalt, a key mineral in the lithium-ion batteries found in every smartphone and electric-car battery, and now linked to the future success of the renewable energy industry. Two-thirds of the world’s cobalt is found in Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC. It’s a territory that is beset by grinding poverty, conflict and corruption; the mineral is mined, often by children, under horrific conditions. It is an untenable position for tech companies, and yet, mining may be the only hope for the DRC’s economic transformation. If you have time for just one long read, please make it this one.Fortune

Let’s look past the president and talk about farming in Africa
Trump has finally said something about African agriculture. Unfortunately, it was a dog-whistle trope on the plight of white South African farmers. Here’s a broader look at the pressing need for agricultural modernization across the continent, which is projected to be home to 2 billion people by 2050. Ndubuisi Ekekwe, a founder of the non-profit African Institution of Technology, does a remarkable job setting up the challenges, which include the perils of a changing climate. But, he says, a new interest in the sector, particularly from African investors, has the potential to change the game for young and small-scale farmer/entrepreneurs. The dream? To help them to develop and embrace new tools that will increase yields across the continent.
HBR

A racist rant gets Nike’s attention
A vacationing man scans a beautiful beach scene with a satirical weather update. “Blue skies, beautiful day, amazing sea and not one k****r in sight,” he says, using the pre-apartheid version of the n-word. “Fucking heaven on earth.” And then it went viral. He was identified and hashtagged as #AdamCatzavelos, who became the subject of an online call to boycott everything in his life. He was quickly fired from his job at a family food business, and disavowed by his brother. His wife was identified as a merchandising director at Nike; in response Nike outlets in Cape Town and Johannesburg were closed yesterday, amid fears of backlash. “Nike opposes discrimination and has a long-standing commitment to diversity‚ inclusion and respect,” said the company in a statement. Casual racism is expensive, y’all.
Quartz

The Woke Leader

Jokes about stereotypes may not be funny, but they mean something
An English professor turned appellate lawyer put his PhD dissertation to good use on Twitter by posting a fascinating thread that helps explain the social function of humor. Turns out the standard “just joking!!” disclaimer, specifically when it comes to jokes about racial stereotypes, really isn’t about being funny at all. “We use humor to bring people into – or keep them out of – our social groups. This is what humor *does.* What it’s for.”
Twitter

Diversity training does work after all
Four researchers offer hope to those diversity trainers who have been told by a skeptical audience that their programs don’t work, or worse, annoy white people. A recent analysis looking at forty years of training showed that diversity training can work, with a couple of caveats. First, it needs to target awareness (via techniques like perspective-taking) and skill development. But most of all, it needs to be personalized to your organization. “Diversity training effectiveness depends on the specific training method used, the personality characteristics of those who are trained, and the specific outcomes that are measured after training concludes.”
HBR

A black village was razed to make way for Central Park
It was called Seneca Village, and it grew to span the blocks between 82 and 89 streets on what is now the western edge of the park. It was founded in 1825 and became a refuge for the nominally free men and women who lived and worked there; half of the residents owned their own homes. Three churches, a school and dozens of homes were demolished, lost in a court battle that didn’t last long. Researchers from Columbia, CUNY, and the New York Historical Society have been pushing to excavate, with some efforts beginning in earnest in 2011. To understand more about the black experience up North in the 1800s would be a gift to history. It can’t have been easy. Said Mordecai Noah, founder of The New York Enquirer, “the free negroes of this city are a nuisance incomparably greater than a million slaves.” 
Bushman Tumblr

Quote

When racial-justice advocates call for more diversity, what they’re saying is that the hiring pipelines into America’s majority-white industries need to be expanded to include a truly multicultural array of voices and talents from all ethnic corners of America; they want equal opportunity for minorities who don’t necessarily conform to the social norms of the white majority. When exasperated hiring managers use the word “diversity,” what they really mean is that they’re looking for assimilated diversity—people like Rudolph and Zamata. More Bill Cosbys. More Will Smiths. Faces and voices that are black but nonetheless reflect a cultural bearing that white people understand and feel comfortable with.
Tanner Colby