An upscale Connecticut coastal town managed to ruffle more than a few feathers when it announced plans to launch a student essay contest on white privilege.
The intent of the Westport city fathers was to promote discussion on the subject — what it fostered instead was indignation, The New York Post reported.
The issue itself suggested that the affluent community, which is overwhelmingly white, was racist, a notion that resident Bari Reiner, 72, found offensive.
“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.”
Harold Bailey Jr., chairman of the town’s diversity council and sponsor of the contest, said that the contest generated much more controversy that he expected, and not just from the locals. He received comments from people as far away as Singapore.
“There’s a lot more controversy around it than many of us expected,” Bailey, a retired IBM executive who is black 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.”
Other town residents disagreed with Bailey.
“That would upset me very much,” Janet Samuels, 60, said of the essay question, adding that “white privilege” is something that should be taught in the home. “I wouldn’t go there,” she said.
Like many upscale east coast towns, Westport tends to be populated by liberals — its residents voted two to one for former Secretary Hillary Clinton last November, and perhaps that’s the crux of the problem. As liberals, they may feel they need no lessons on the subject.
Still, there were a few who welcomed the idea for the essay contest.
“I like the idea to get it out there so kids can talk about it and embrace it,” said Bert Dovo, a white father of two who are now in college.
TEAM Westport, the town’s diversity council, said in a statement that it’s “the official Town committee focused on making Westport an increasingly welcoming, multicultural community with regard to race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and sexual identity,” according to Fox61. “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.”
Maybe if we were to concentrate on what identifies us as one — that we’re all Americans — rather than concentrate on the things that set us apart, there’d be a lot less griping and controversy.
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