TEAM Westport’s essay contest for teenagers — on the topic of white privilege — was announced first on “06880.” Now it’s received international attention, through an AP story and on a host of TV newscasts.
The controversy struck close to home for one Staples High School grad. Elizabeth — who grew up here, and now lives on the West Coast — writes:
I’ve been thinking about my own privileges a lot recently. One thing rings particularly true: Privilege is invisible to those who have it. We take our privileges at face value, and do not have to think too hard about them or defend them. We assume that all others have these same privileges, because the absence of a privilege is something we do not often have to think about.
Living in Westport is a privilege. Feeling protected — and never targeted — by police enforcement is a privilege. Attending Westport public schools as a student is a privilege. Living in a town with well-maintained roads, sidewalks, sewage systems and public transit options is a privilege. Being able to openly discuss my political views, no matter how incendiary, is a privilege.
Importantly, these have been granted to me as a white American. I have never felt threatened by police enforcement, even when I have been pulled over for a speeding ticket. In those situations, I never feared that I would be treated unfairly by law enforcement. Thanks to my white privilege, I was able to assume (and was proven correct) that I would be given an appropriate punishment to fit my crime, and would be treated with respect throughout the process.
Thanks to my white privilege, I was able to attend Westport schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, at no cost to my parents. I received a world-class education. I was surrounded by students who looked just like me, believed the same things as me, and supported me unconditionally. I never felt racially targeted, different, or like an outsider.
Thanks to my white privilege, it was assumed that I would go to college immediately after graduating from high school. I was granted the resources to visit colleges, interview, be tutored to improve my test scores, make a resume, be counseled, and be accepted. Thanks to my white privilege I received a scholarship to help my family pay for college, graduated in 4 years and acquired a job within 6 months of graduating. When interviewing for jobs, I never felt discriminated against for having a “non-white” sounding name.
As a white female, I will carry these privileges — and others — throughout my life. I was fortunate to grow up in Westport, and reap the benefits of these privileges. However, it is of the utmost importance to recognize them, call them what they are, trace them back to their source, and understand how to grant them to others.
This is particularly important for those who are not born into the same situation as us Westporters. Thinking about how we can extend these situations to others, while recognizing our inherent biases, is so important. This will make all the difference in the next 4 years, and draw a line between us — forward-thinking individuals who wish to improve the future — and those who wish to Make America Great Again and return to an oppressive past.
There is one sign that I saw at both the women’s march as well as a protest at my senator’s home last weekend, that I believe speaks to this issue quite potently: “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.”