When a committee in the town of Westport, Conn., announced an essay contest on the topic of white privilege, it did so in hopes that it would spark an important conversation in this wealthy coastal town of roughly 27,000 people, 85 percent of whom are white. Instead, the contest offended many of the residents.
“In 1,000 words or less, describe how you understand the term ‘white privilege,’” the essay prompt reads. “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?”
From CBS News:
The contest, put on by the town’s diversity council, asks students to describe the impact white privilege has had on their lives, using a term that refers generally to advantages conferred automatically to whites, and not to minorities. The concept has moved into the mainstream as the nation has discussed race more openly.
The town’s diversity council is called TEAM, or Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism.
“The mission of TEAM (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism) Westport is to achieve and celebrate a more welcoming, multicultural community,” the committee’s page on the town’s website reads. The page continues:
Issues stemming from multicultural shortcomings are national problems. Yet they exist in Westport and Weston, too. Achieving and celebrating “a more welcoming, multicultural community” offers us a tangible, achievable objective for community action as well as opportunities for individual commitment.
If our neighbors represent all the parts of the world in which we live, that will strengthen the community’s fabric—the way our lives interact.
We will do a better job of preparing our children for their future.
Our lively civic discourse will become even richer when additional diverse viewpoints are represented.
And perhaps most importantly, we will increase the possibility that each of us—in our own ways and in our own lives—will experience, enjoy and grow from the richness of diversity in our community.
Clearly, TEAM had high hopes for the town of Westport, but the people of Westport are just fine with the way things are, and they don’t want anyone coming around to muck it up or stir up “trouble.”
Westport resident Bari Reiner, 72, told CBS News that the question was offensive because the town welcomes anybody who can afford to live there.
“It’s an open town,” Reiner said. “There are no barricades here. Nobody says if you are black or whatever, you can’t move here.”
According to City-Data.com, the estimated median household income in Westport in 2015 was $167,125, compared with $71,346 for the state of Connecticut; the average home price was $1 million.
“There’s a lot more controversy around it than many of us expected,” Harold Bailey, a retired IBM vice president who is black and chairman of the diversity council, said. “Just the fact it says ‘white’ and ‘privilege,’ for some people, that’s all they need to see, and all of a sudden, we’re race-baiting or trying to get people to feel guilty. That’s not at all what it’s about.”
CBS reports that there were some parents who thought the essay topic was a good thing.
“I like the idea to get it out there so kids can talk about it and embrace it,” Bert Dovo, a white father of two who are now in college, said.
Still, others felt the topic should not be brought up at all.
Janet Samuels, 60, said that her children are now grown but she believes it is the role of parents to teach what privilege is.
“That would upset me very much,” Samuels, who is also white, said of the essay question. “I wouldn’t go there.”
Read more at CBS News.