Teens: What Do You Think Of White Privilege?

Since its founding in 2003, TEAM Westport has tackled some of society’s — and Westport’s — most intractable problems.

Now the town’s multicultural committee is asking teenagers to join them — and write about it.

TEAM Westport’s 4th annual essay contest focuses on the hot-button issue of white privilege. In 1,000 words or less, students are asked to describe the term; reflect on the extent to which they think white privilege exists, and address the impact it has had on their life — whatever their own racial or ethnic identity — and in our broader society.

TEAM WestportTEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey says, “A primary focus and concern of our organization since its inception has been the impact of the town’s relatively low levels of racial and ethnic diversity on our children. This year’s essay topic provides our young people an opportunity to reflect upon that impact, and make their personal statements about it in very meaningful ways.”

The 1st place winner will receive $1,000. Second prize is $750; 3rd is $500.

All students in grades 9 through 12 who attend Staples High School or another school in Westport, or who live in Westport but attend school elsewhere, are eligible.

That’s a somewhat diverse group. And if past essay contests are any indication, this contest will spur diverse reactions — and plenty of insightful essays.

TEAM Westport’s acronym stands for Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism. In many discussions of multiculturalism, the default identity of whiteness is simply assumed. That can be particularly true in Westport.

Let’s hear what today’s teenagers — tomorrow’s leaders, in an increasingly multicultural society — think.

The winning essays will be published on “06880,”

(Click here for contest applications. Essays are due February 27. To help sponsor the contest, click here or email info@teamwestport.org.) 

64 responses to “Teens: What Do You Think Of White Privilege?

  1. As long as it’s in Westport, why not call it “rich privilege.” Seems unfair to use the word privileged to describe, say, white people in Appalachia. Has anyone around here read “Hillbilly Elegy,” by the way?

    • Michael Donahue

      Yes, the book does discuss the fact of white privilege existing. It goes on to discuss how people privileged in one area, being the majority race, can be un-privileged in other areas.

      • Michael – Funny, I just read the book, and I didn’t see that anywhere. I suggest we write Mr. Vance and ask him what he thinks of rich Westport folk pontificating on the “white privilege” of working class people in Kentucky and southern Ohio.

        • White privilege has nothing to do with socioeconomic class, it’s about race period.

  2. its on my night stand

  3. “In many discussions of multiculturalism, the default identity of whiteness is simply assumed.” ????

  4. White people in Appalachia, Peter, are far more privileged than black people anywhere….once educated, once out of Appalachia, once rid of “that accent,” a white appalachian can “pass.” A black person is always black.

    • “A black person is always black”… Wow. Spoken like a true so-called American.

    • Perhaps, but as a middle class Jewish guy from Westport, I don’t feel I’m in a position to judge.

  5. I find this contest offensive. There is absolutely nothing in or about this town that prevents anyone other than a white person from moving, living or thriving here. Why in the world would this become a contest – as if to encourage kids in this community to think this issue exists here? Why not make it about ethnicity or religion or something else while you are at it? What creates privilege in this community is money. Why not ask kids to write about that? I have never heard any of my kids or their friends say or do anything that was remotely discriminatory. If someone has the money to live and thrive in Westport, good for them. They probably worked hard for it. Don’t make this about race. Privilege in Westport is not necessarily about the color of your skin. It’s about education, strong values, working hard, and trying to get ahead. That’s what we should be teaching our kids – not that the color of their skin in Westport has made them have less privilege or less access. I have always found Westport to be inclusive and rewarding for people that work hard. To give kids money to write about this makes them, de facto, think that white privilege exists. If you reward me, I could write about just anything you want.

    • Try this little thought experiment: you are driving through Westport late one evening and your car breaks down. Your cell phone needs charging and so you cannot call AAA for help. You go over to the nearest house to ask for assistance and the use of a phone. Would you rather be a black motorist or a white one in this situation ?
      ADW Staples 1956

      • If only American culture embraced the mosaic, rather than melting pot, ideology long ago.

      • Your experiment is not analogous. The writing contest is about the existence of white privilege in Westport, not racism. The example you give is only about racism. Racism exists, yes. White privilege does not necessarily. What this contest is trying to promote is the concept is that just because someone is white, they have greater access. You mean to tell me that a black, Harvard-educated CEO of a big company doesn’t have more privilege than me?? I’d say he probably does, notwithstanding that I am white.

      • My guess is the answer some are looking for is white??

        Same situation but driving through Harlem.

        • Utter nonsense. When was the last time you were in Harlem? I live in Harlem and I am white. I’ve never been regarded with suspicion, never been afraid. Harlem is generally quite safe, very welcoming and quite aspirational. You should visit the amazing restaurants along Frederick Douglass Blvd.

          • LMFAO… For one i grew up in the Bronx.. Where are u from? Or are u another transplant from Ohio who’s parents bought you a apartment? And second i work for FDNY. I WORK ALL OVER THE CITY… So dont tell me about Harlem buddy…. Do u remember when Fredrick Douglas Blvd looked like crap?? Probably not..
            Like i said in my comment i made. That was 2006. Yeah it has changed but i still wouldnt live there.. Too expensive and u get nothing.. And there is still alot of crime in Harlem and i know 1st hand.. You are probably in your house by 6pm and dont come out until the morning. I was born and raised in the city so please, dont tell me about Harlem or anywhere else in NYC

            • 1) Oh my Lord. PLEASE learn to spell and punctuate correctly. It’s painful trying to parse out your benighted thoughts.

              2) The Bronx isn’t Harlem. Nobody wants to live in the Bronx.

              3) 2006 isn’t 2017. And I don’t give a crap who you work for (although the fact that you’re a fireman–an historically racist institution in the city, they had to be forced to hire black firefighters–explains a lot). You don’t live there.

              4) If anyone gave you any crap, maybe it’s because you walked around acting like a racist jerk? I’m a small white woman and I have never been hassled. I guess you just look like a target.

              5) As long as you continue to post stupid, bigoted, misspelled opinions I will tell you about Harlem *and* everywhere else! Get used to it, Sparky 🙂

              • Rude. And deaf.

              • Get use to this… You are a ASS CLOWN..
                The Bronx is beautiful… But how would u know that coming from Ohio or wherever you are from. You probably believe everything you see on TV. You should go to the firehouse on W125th st or w133rd st and tell them what u think about them.. See how that works out for you.

              • And i am not here to win a spelling B. I could care less how i spell. Thanks for paying my salary and pension with your tax dollars.. When i retire and sitting on the beach relaxing ill be thinking of u. 😂😂😂😂

      • Sallie Des Biens

        Finally, a voice of reality.

      • Michael Donahue

        Mic drop.

    • For you to deny that White Priviledge exists in America, including Westport, CT is the exact reason why students should be exposed to open mindedness and out of the box thinking to explore this very real black experience.

    • Miranda Thorpe

      Bravo! Exactly.

  6. When I was a boy, I won a trip to New York City along with a group of thirty or so other newspaper delivery boys from the Rochester area who had sold the most new subscriptions. I can’t remember exactly, but I think the year was 1970 or ’71. I will never forget, however, what happened before the group boarded the plane. We had to wear sports jackets and ties and were assembled on the tarmac in front of the plane for a photograph. Just after the picture was taken, two men from the newspapers pulled me aside and asked: “Would it be ok with you if you shared a hotel room with a negro boy?” Now, I was one of twelve children and had spent a good part of my life sharing a bedroom with six of my brothers, so naturally I asked: “Just one?” When the men said yes to my inquiry, I quickly answered: “Yeah, that would be great!” We had a wonderful time in New York City, and I didn’t think about what happened on the tarmac for many years. Then one day it dawned on me that I doubted very much that the men ever asked my NYC roommate whether he minded rooming with a white boy.

  7. Rebecca Ellsley

    I went to an international college in London where we had the ability to live in a school housing that had American study abroad students with us. My roommate was very nice black girl from Bridgeport but when she looked at the roster with her family. They said that they hoped that she wasn’t stuck with the girl from Westport. My school was multi cultural with 62 countries represented in my graduating class. I was friends with everyone and still friends with them around the world but I don’t think my roommate ever accepted me. It’s a shame my friends are very open minded and enjoy our friendship the most.

  8. Andrew Colabella

    How about Mr. Rodgers?!?!?

  9. In the end, the answer is: What a dumb question.

  10. Truly, I think Nancy Hunter got it right.

  11. Oh, and one more two cent thought: read William Styron’s BLACK LIKE ME…good learnin’ there.

  12. Peter Gambaccini

    Styron did not write that book

  13. Werner Liepolt

    From tolerance.org… an extended passage…
    “White Privilege: The Perks
    White people receive all kinds of perks as a function of their skin privilege. Consider the following:
    • When I cut my finger and go to my school or office’s first aid kit, the flesh-colored band-aid generally matches my skin tone.
    • When I stay in a hotel, the complimentary shampoo generally works with the texture of my hair.
    • When I run to the store to buy pantyhose at the last minute, the ‘nude’ color generally appears nude on my legs.
    • When I buy hair care products in a grocery store or drug store, my shampoos and conditioners are in the aisle and section labeled ‘hair care’ and not in a separate section for ‘ethnic products.’
    • I can purchase travel size bottles of my hair care products at most grocery or drug stores.
    My father, who has worked in economic development for 30 years, would explain away these examples of white privilege as simple functions of supply and demand economics. White people still constitute the numerical majority in this country, so it makes sense, for example, that bandaid companies would manufacture “flesh-tone” bandages for white people.
    Even if I concede to his argument (and ignore the “buying power” of communities of color), it still does not change the impact of these white privileges. As a white person, I get certain perks that people of color do not; I get the bandages and the pantyhose and the shampoo at the hotel that works with my hair. And in a new grocery store, I will not have to scan the aisles for my hair care products. They will be in the section called “hair care.” This is how I experience the world.
    These seemingly benign perks also demonstrate a danger on closer examination. Let’s say that I forgot to pack my shampoo for a business trip. When I get to the hotel, I see that the complimentary shampoo is not the standard Suave product to which I am accustomed but rather Pink Oil Lotion for African American hair. I would be surprised and might even think to myself: “Those black folks and all their lobbying … This is so unfair!” I expect these perks. As a white person, I think I am entitled to them.
    White Privilege: The Advantages
    Certainly, white privilege is not limited to perks like band aids and hair care products. The second function of white skin privilege is that it creates significant advantages for white people. There are scores of things that I, as a white person, generally do not encounter, have to deal with or even recognize. For example:
    • My skin color does not work against me in terms of how people perceive my financial responsibility, style of dress, public speaking skills, or job performance.
    • People do not assume that I got where I am professionally because of my race (or because of affirmative action programs).
    • Store security personnel or law enforcement officers do not harass me, pull me over or follow me because of my race.
    All of these things are things that I never think about. And when the tables are turned and my white skin is used against me, I am greatly offended (and indignant). The police department in my community, like so many other law enforcement agencies throughout this country, uses policing tactics that target people of color. Two years ago, I was driving down Rosa Parks Boulevard, a street that runs through an all-black and impoverished area of town, at night. I was looking for a house that I had never been to before, so I was driving slowly, stopping and moving as I searched for numbers on residences.
    Out of nowhere, this large police van pulled me over, blue lights flashing and sirens blaring, and a handful of well-armed police officers jumped out of the van and surrounded my car. I did as I was told, and got out of my car. (“Hands above your head; move slowly!”) I then succumbed to a quick physical pat-down, as well as a search of my car. The officers had pulled me over — not only because of my erratic driving — but also, because, in the words of one officer, I was “a white woman driving down Rosa Parks after dark.” They thought I was looking to buy drugs.
    When I went to the office the next day, I relayed my story to several white colleagues. They shared my sense of violation, of anger, of rage. These co-workers encouraged me to call our legal department and report the incident. I later told the story to a colleague who is black and who lives on Rosa Parks. “You just never have to worry about those things, do you, Jennifer?” she asked and then walked off. In twelve words, she succinctly challenged my sense of privilege.
    White Privilege: The World View
    The third thing that white privilege does is shape the way in which we view the world and the way in which the world views us. The perks and advantages described above are part of this phenomenon, but not all of it. Consider the following:
    • When I am told about our national heritage or “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
    • Related, the schools that I attend or have attended use standard textbooks, which widely reflect people of my color and their contributions to the world.
    • When I look at the national currency or see photographs of monuments on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., I see people of my race widely represented and celebrated.
    As a white person, I see myself represented in all of these places. And, until a couple of years ago, I never questioned that representation — or why people of color were excluded. After all, people like me have done a lot for this country and for the world. If people of color had done their part, so the theory goes, they too would see themselves represented.
    Well, people of color have done more than their share for this country. There is an old saying that the victors of war get to write the history of the world. White privilege works this way, too. Since white folks have been in control for so long, we have determined what is valuable or interesting or useful in terms of education. Greek and Roman mythology, Chaucer, and other canonized works have been selected and revered through the ages as critical components of any “solid liberal arts education.”

  14. Sounds to me that they are teeing up a Mea Culpa / White Guilt Festival.
    Entire issue is a crock.
    And yes my view is just as valid as yours – though it is different.

  15. Hopefully my comment will not be seen as either dismissive or divisive.

    I agree that a frank and open dialog is generally helpful to define issues,
    but also feel that since one cannot step into another’s shoes, it is not
    possible to truly comprehend racial relationships. The perceived impact
    by students of a lack of diversity in town seems like trying to prove a negative. We’ll see.

  16. Bravo – nothing like money to fan the fuel of hate

  17. Anthony Backs

    You need to come up with something besides white privilege. It is only offensive and divisive when used. You could apply the word privilege in your terms to any race or culture to a certain degree. This country happens to be a Caucasian majority we did not ask it be, it just is, so to a certain degree we must live within that. Each community tends to delivery services and products that benefit the majority of people living there. I would not expect a predominantly African – American community to carry products that would fulfil my needs and that is ok. What is your goal? What is the end game? Will every town be a cookie cutter standard with equal amounts of races living together, Every store caters equally to all, no person has more than the next guy, We all have equal space?

  18. As an Anthropology instructor at a state community college (who also teaches online for other schools), I continually teach this subject – that race is a social construct, and that there is indeed privilege assigned based on that construct. While there is such a thing as the money construct, one can “pass” for wealthy without regard for skin tone. Why are people against opening a dialogue regarding privilege associated with skin tone? Talking with others about the issues that seem to divide us, be it “race”, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sexual/gender identity, income, age, religion, residence location is only going to help, not hurt. Talk to someone who is different, have a beverage with a person you wouldn’t normally spend time with. You may be pleasantly surprised that person spends time worrying about the same things you worry about, has problems too. I don’t see this contest as problematic at all; it is enlightening. Just reading the comments has enlightened me.

    • I contend that most of us already know about what you refer to as privilege. Just because academia has decided to make it a talking point doesn’t change the fact that we the majority (working class) don’t and won’t dwell on it every waking moment. In the end we are all out here in the world trying to get by each day and help each other along the way. Academia in my eyes has become an instigator and a finger pointer. If you know so much about anthropology you would see what “you” have become and apologize for it.

  19. Excellent choice for a topic. Of course white privilege exists and it is not wrong to discuss it. Don’t want to feel guilty about the existence of white privilege? Then open your eyes, open your heart and don’t be frightened to learn something. This white woman approves!

  20. As a 40-something yr old degree holding Black woman, (born and raised in CT) in 2014, unable to find my preferred choice of work, I accepted a role at an expensive furniture retailer in Westport which has since shut down and moved–(so I make ends meet). Privilege is being treated like the help, shooed away, spoken down to. Privilege is customers assuming the world is theirs to have–and you better get it for them at a discount! Privilege is time and time again being asked if they could touch my hair. And these are ADULTS!! When you know how many times you’ve actually seen a person of color walk into the store during your entire time there?? Come on…..

  21. Rob Simmelkjaer

    As one of the few African-American residents of Westport, I want to applaud TEAM Westport for sponsoring this essay content. Westport is an amazing, inclusive town that I’m proud to be a part of. However, it is not immune from the the intertwined issues of race and class that pervade American society.

    White privilege refers to the ongoing reality that, since it’s founding as nation of Europeans with black slaves, America has had a disproportionate amount of wealth and power concentrated in the hands of white Americans. Talking about white privilege in 2017 is not an accusation or a reason for defensiveness. It is simply an exercise of pointing at the factual elephant in the room of our nation, and asking all of us, regardless of ethnic background, to ponder its effect on our own lives.

    This is not about Westport or anything wrong with our town (although our town is not perfect by any stretch). It is not about Trump. It is about understanding one of the core realities of being an American. As Westporters, we need to prepare our children to understand the issues they will confront in college, the workplace and society at large. This understanding will keep them from making mistakes that can have a major impact on their lives.

  22. White privilege? C’mon its not the kids fault there parents are sucessfull and live in a beautiful area. Im from the Bronx and moved to Redding CT for a little while. Yeah i could see the privilege from some of the kids but they accepted me for who i was. Im white and my family isnt rich. I didnt have anything special growing up and never thought i was better then anyone because i was white. I come from a broken home a father that was a drunk and abusive to my mother in everyway. I was exposed to drugs and too many things i should have not been exposed to. We didnt have much my clothes were always hand me downs and if it wasnt for my grandparents we would have been homeless. Im just kinda sick of hearing about white privilege. Weather you are black,white or blue if your family is sucessfull u are going to be rasied a different way and exposed to the nicer things in life. What is wrong with that? Alot of this has to do with our parents, they set the stage for us in life. So if they are lazy, cant hold a job, and have no motovation or goals in life its kinda hard for there children to break out of the cycle. That was my father. I was lucky and i realized i did not want to be like him or live like this. So i made it a goal to be sucessfull and a better person then he was. And growing up in NYC i have seen and been a victim to things just because i was white. Also what i dont understand is if you are white, you have to be a racist. Like black people cant be racist, c’mon. The media and todays society are sperating us instead of bringing us together and its a shame that so many people are buying into there bullshit. Yes i agree some people think they are privilege but its on both side of the fences enough with this white privilege nonsence.. And yes i voted for Trump. Im not a racist in anyway. The man i consider my pops is black. He took me under his wing when i was young and had no direction. He thought me a trade and how to be a man. To this day he tells people im his son. Btw all along i had a step father who was white and did nothing for me.

    • You are missing the point, it has nothing to do with Westport. It is about the different reality of living in black skin vs. white skin. As a white man, you will never have to warn your son to not reach for his wallet when pulled over for speeding, because the likelihood of being shot is so high…. people do not assume you got into Harvard because of affirmative action… open your mind and acknowledge there is a barrier, that does not make you a racist, but a realist.

      • Well i guess u living in CT hasnt exposed u to city life. I have been acosted by police numerous times for things i didnt even do. I was embarrassed on broadway and 179th street by 4 cops because i pulled my sweatshirt off when my friend was driving cause u know, im white and what the hell am i doing in that neighborhood. I must have been buying drugs right? NO, my friend worked for a elevlator company and had to put signs in buildings saying the elevlator was out of service. But being i was white i wasnt supposed to be in that neighborhood unless i was getting drugs. They put my friend and myself on the ground, knee on neck guns drawn and cuffed while they searched the car in the middle of the day on the weekend in front crowded streets. When they found nothing they were livid and they just left without a word.. Heres another time, I was only 12! I was walking with my friends a undercover car comes speeding at us while we are walking on Williamsbridge rd in the bronx they jump out and throw me against a garage gate and start acusing me of things i never did. My friends had to beg the officers and tell them that they have the wrong person… I was 12!! Again they just got in the car and left. I was working in harlem in 2005 renovation apartments in lennox terrance. At lunch time i goto Mcdonalds for lunch. As im walking minding my business some black guy walking in my direction comes right up to me and tells me we dont need or want ur kind around here…WTF is that bullshit?? And i have many more stories if u wanna hear them but these are just a few instances that i have encountered. I have never gotten anything from being White.. Maybe if i was rich my life would be different but im not and i have worked for everything i have gotten, NO HANDOUTS, NO PRIVILEGES. Honestly i wish i could give my children a privileged life. Whats wrong with that? Nothing, as long as u teach ur kids whats right and whats wrong. Im sick of hearing the nonsence.. You do know there are black people in this world that are privileged too right? And yes i will be teaching my son to be aware of the police and people in general.. See im street smart something you cannot get in a book or living in CT. I dont feel privlieged at all especailly living in NYC.

        • Dan,
          I lived in Boston for 11 years and married a black man after college. We have travelled together and have a child together, I am not naive. He has worked with at-risk teens his whole career, and they’re not all of color. I was raised middle class and know damn well that white priviledge is not the same as being priviledged. In my town you were judged by what street you live on, your parents cars, or what school you attended. Your personal experiences sound more like classism and corrupt police in general, but that does not mean racism does not exist among any race, nor does it mean that being born white doesn’t give you a different experience then being born black. I would love to be a millionaire and give my daughter everything, but part of that everything would be an open mind, empathy and compassion, and to never judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes.

          • Yeah u are right racism is everywhere. But im sick of hearing its all the White people.Thats bullshit. And i dont judge anyone. But i have been judged. White guy with a shaved head and tattoos all over. I must be a skinhead right?? Cause thats how im precieved. Honestly, it use to bother me but now i just laugh it off. People have tunnel vision they only see what they want and that is not ever going to change ever weather u are white or black.

  23. Well done!! An open mind is a blessing and I want those that have one running our country when I’m old. Right now I am a terrified white woman, with a 16 yo bi-racial daughter, living in West Hartford, another inclusive, diverse wealthy town.

  24. Just reading this thread of comments makes it clear how much we need to discuss white privilege…

    I live in Westport, and I particularly appreciate the passage that Werner cited. I also recommend ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’ by Peggy McIntosh. https://nationalseedproject.org/white-privilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack

    While I was in graduate school, I read this and it floored me. I had never considered how so many conveniences were granted to me just because of the color of my skin. No way has life been easy for me – spend a day being a woman, not to mention a single mom for a while! – and I am proud of working my whole life to earn my way in this world. However, I would ask for a certain humbleness and openness of mind from the folks considering this issue, because that is the mindset we will need to stand together as a nation.

  25. I grew up in a Massachusetts town similar to Westport (except that more Nobel Prize winners have lived there). My parents were poor in the Depression and came from a town on the South Shore. How were they able to live in the town I grew up in? My father was the first in his family to go to college since 1650. How did he afford that?

    My father was in the army at the end of WWII. The GI Bill paid much of his college cost. It also gave him subsidized loans to buy his first, modest house.

    However . . . If my father had been African-American instead of Mayflower American he would not have had the same opportunities. First, the GI Bill was specifically designed so that African-American veterans would probably not be able to use it (to appease the southern Senators who had to vote for the bill), and in fact few African-Americans did use it. This is a fact.

    Second, the government-subsidized housing loan programs were intentionally designed and administered so that African-Americans would not use them to buy house in “white” areas. This is a significant causal reason why the suburbs such as mine (and Westport) are overwhelmingly white.

    Northerners tend to look down on the South for its record on race, but in fact the North has not had the best record either. Plessy v. Ferguson–the Supreme Court case that legalized segregation–cited a Massachusetts case from the 1850s as precedent. The “Jim Crow” laws originated in the North.

    I could go on and on. The current state of racial segregation is still influenced by the laws of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Most white people still benefit from these government programs, if only because their parents did.

    Those commenters who rail against discussing “white privilege” may not feel privileged, and obviously some people have been luckier than others. But to think that “white privilege” is a myth or a sinister attempt to bring white people down should look objectively at the history.

    For a start, take a look at the book written by my sister’s classmate, who discovered and was amazed by the existence of “white privilege” when she got older: “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving. While I was surprised that it took her so long to realize what privileges she had, the book is a good demonstration of why this essay contest in Westport is entirely appropriate.

  26. I think that the participants could have been given a few articles to read on the topic prior to giving their written responses. I also think the competition would better serve the community if it had been coordinated with a community neaby that is not predominantly white as the essays might really be exciting when read in a grouping. Students who leave westport after high school will be exposed to an even greater diversity within even their white counterparts. That’s when eyes really begin to open !

    • … and with different languages, too. Then the focus would turn to who has the “right” accent i.e. Is that Parisian French, or that poor Québécois French? Imagine.