Residents of the wealthy town of Westport, Conn. — and many online commenters — are infuriated about a high school student essay asking students how they feel about white privilege.
Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism Westport is a local committee responsible for issuing the town’s annual Teen Diversity Essay Contest. The organization dedicated to making the affluent town accessible to people of all backgrounds focused this year’s essay on white privilege.
“In 1,000 words or less, describe how you understand the term ‘white privilege,'” the prompt read. “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?”
The question, posed due to the change in social norms and heightened racism in wake of Donald Trump’s presidency, caused a divide in the town.
Harold Bailey Jr., a Black man who is in charge of Westport’s diversity council, told the Associated Press controversy has erupted intown and overseas, with people across the world weighing in online.
“There’s a lot more controversy around it than many of us expected,” Bailey 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.”
At least one resident agrees. Bert Dovo, a white father of two college-age children, thinks the essay is a positive thing.
“I like the idea to get it out there so kids can talk about it and embrace it,” he said.
Others don’t feel the same. Bari Reiner, 72, believes the 93-percent white city is welcoming, making the prompt unnecessary. “It’s an open town,” he said. “There are no barricades here. Nobody says if you’re Black or whatever, you can’t move here.”
Janet Samuels, a 60-year-old white woman, found the topic unsettling. “That would upset me very much,” she said. “I wouldn’t go there.”
Commenters online potently expressed their anger.