The town of Westport, Connecticut, sponsored an essay contest on the subject of "white privilege" last month, and — as it turns out — some diversity council members were surprised that it didn't go over so well.
"There’s a lot more controversy around it than many of us expected," Harold Bailey Jr., chairman of Westport's diversity council, told the Associated Press this week. "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."
As TheBlaze reported in January, the local high schooler with the winning essay describing in 1,000 words word or less their thoughts on "white privilege" would receive a $1,000 award. The point of the contest was to "increase awareness, foster understanding and promote understanding in this arena."
"As the nation faces historic social shifts relating to race and identity, young people will find themselves at the crossroads of a different America," the government page about the contest reads, describing "white privilege" as a topic that surfaced "during the recent presidential election."
The essay contest asked these questions:
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?
According to Westport's municipal website, a 2010 census found that, of the town's 26,391 residents, 24,429 are white and the median income is $152,894.
Resident Bari Reiner, 72, told the AP that the premise of the contest was offensive because Westport welcomes anyone who can afford to live in the town — regardless of skin color.
"It’s an open town," Reiner said. "There are no barricades here. Nobody says if you’re black or whatever, you can’t move here."
And Janet Samuels, 60, whose children are now adults, said it is up to the parents — not the government — to make sure their kids know what privilege is. "I wouldn't go there," she said, after acknowledging that such an assignment would "upset me very much."
The town, though, does have some liberal underpinnings — a reality for which many credit Westport's thriving arts community. In fact, on Election Day, then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton bested President Donald Trump, a Republican, by more than 2-to-1.
Westport has faced accusations of racism in the past. In November, dozens of students at Staples High School were discipled for circulating racially tinged "offensive and defamatory memes" on Facebook, principal James D’Amico said, according to the local news outlet Westport Now.
While D'Amico said the memes did not target anyone individually, he noted that "any derogatory and insulting language detracts from the learning environment."
The town's diversity council, known as TEAM Westport, was founded more than a decade ago to increase diversity in Westport and make the town more welcoming. The essay's questions were developed by the committee and approved by Staples faculty members.
Though there was criticism of the "white privilege" project, there were some parents who approved of the activity.
"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 students who are now in college, told the AP.