‘White privilege’ essay contest whips up controversy in Westport

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Westport (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

WESTPORT — A student essay on the topic of white privilege is stirring controversy in Westport, Connecticut.

Contest organizers have been surprised by the reaction from some who said the question wrongly suggests race plays into the good life enjoyed in Westport.

One resident, 72-year-old Bari Reiner, said the question is offensive because the town welcomes anybody who can afford to live there.

The contest put on by the town’s diversity council asks students to describe the impact white privilege has had on their lives.

The chairman of the diversity council is Harold Bailey Jr. He said that there has been more controversy than organizers expected in town and that people as far away as Singapore have weighed in online.

The diversity council, TEAM Westport, described itself in a statement as “the official Town committee focused on making Westport an increasingly welcoming, multicultural community with regard to race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and sexual identity. TEAM is an acronym standing for “Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism.” TEAM Westport was launched as a Selectman’s Task Force in 2003 and became a standing town committee in 2005.”

The TEAM Westport statement goes on to say:

As the nation faces historic social shifts relating to race and identity, young people will find themselves at the crossroads of a different America. In order to increase awareness, foster understanding and promote understanding in this arena, TEAM Westport and The Westport Library are co-sponsoring the fourth annual Teen Diversity Essay Contest for students in grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 who attend Staples High School or another school in Westport, or reside in Westport and attend school elsewhere.

The focus of this fourth essay contest is the issue of ‘white privilege,’ which surfaced as a topic during the recent presidential election. This year’s invitation states, “In 1,000 words or less, describe how you understand the term ‘white privilege’. 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?”

Applications for the contest are available on the TEAM Westport website. Essays are due February 27 and winners will be announced at a ceremony at the Westport Library on April 3.

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The Associated Press contriobuted to this report.