White privilege essay contest creates controversy in the Westport community

White privilege essay contest creates controversy in the Westport community

By Ashton Dedona ’17

A local essay contest graced the headlines of Fox News, NY Daily News and CBS News, among other prominent national publications, on January 31, stirring further controversy within Staples and the town of Westport.

The essay contest is run annually by Westport’s diversity council, TEAM. This year, part of the prompt given to students was, “In 1,000 words or less, describe how you understand the term ‘white privilege.’”

As stated on TEAM Westport’s blog, they are looking for students to answer “to what extent do you think this privilege exists? What impact do you think it has had in your life—whatever your racial or ethnic identity—and in our society more broadly?”

“To me it means that I was born with a distinct disadvantage. Not only because of my skin but also because of my name,” Xi Xi Jones ’17, a half Jamaican half Native American student at Staples, said.

Students living in Westport in grades 9-12 were invited to submit essays to the contest, which offers a $1,000, $750 and $500 prizes for first, second and third place respectively.

“White privilege includes everything from business opportunities to the dating pool and it’s something so normalized that we’ve had to create the term ‘microaggression’ in order to properly be able to point out the times when someone is being unintentionally racist,” Jones ’16 said.

English department head Julie Heller encourages all students to partake in this contest as she thinks that highlighting diversity in Westport is an important goal.

“Race is a difficult thing to talk about. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from or what race you are,” Heller said.

After the recent election and thought of the country potentially undergoing racial and social shifts, TEAM wanted the essay to help “increase awareness and promote understanding,” according to their website.

“White privilege is something that was made up by people who feel a need to victimize themselves,” an anonymous white male student said. “And having an essay contest only further validates this false and irrational idea.”

Westport residents have told Fox News that teaching kids about privilege should be a job of the parents. The essay question has also come across to some as offensive as they have stated that anyone who is able to, can live in Westport, despite race.

“The backlash is coming from people that are viewing this very narrowly. Those people who have maybe felt marginalized.” Heller said. “This year there is an even bigger divide in our society and I think they misunderstood the prompt. It’s starting a dialogue. Are we going to learn and overcome these boundaries so we can come together as a community?”

Photo used under the Creative Commons License