TEAM Westport “White Privilege” Essay Winners Announced

When TEAM Westport announced this year’s essay contest topic — the personal impact of white privilege — a national uproar ensued.

Spurred by sensationalism and misunderstanding, news outlets wondered why a vastly white community would address the subject.

The winning responses — announced tonight at the Westport Library — prove the point.

Honest, powerful, insightful, sensitive and clear, the top 3 essays — as judged by a panel of writers — tackle the hot topic exactly as it should be: head on.

And, noted TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, this year’s winners had the option to be anonymous — perhaps to avoid backlash like that which engulfed the announcement of the 4th annual contest’s prompt.

All 3 chose to stand up tonight, read their essays, and use their names.

TEAM Westport finalists (from left) Josiah Tarrant, Claire Dinshaw and Chet Ellis, before tonight’s announcement of the winners.

Out of a record number of entries, Chet Ellis won the $1,000 1st prize. The Staples High School sophomore describes the rare experience of being one of 3 African Americans in his US History class — and hearing a white student use the “n” word.

It took his breath away.

Chet Ellis

He writes about casual conversations with fellow track team members laced with stereotypes about black runners, and the assumptions he hears that it’s easier for African American students to get into college than white ones. He regrets not firing back: “Your parents are 3rd-generation Princeton and your father runs a hedge fund, and yet you think my ride is free?”

Chet says he never thought much about white privilege until he moved to Westport. Now, he realizes, “In our town it’s impossible to have 3 black students in every class. But maybe we should all imagine that they are there just the same, and that they will speak up.”

Josiah Tarrant, a Staples junior, took 2nd place. and a $750 prize. Though his younger brother is adopted from Ethiopia, Josiah grew up “surrounded by teachers, coaches, principals and doctors, all of whom looked like me.” The fact that he never even thought about that, Josiah says, epitomizes white privilege.

Josiah Tarrant

But as he heard about Trayvon Martin and read Ta-Nehisi Coates, he realized silence about race is not acceptable. Then, seeing the reaction to the TEAM Westport essay contest, he knew he had to take a stand.

“So this teenager who still has much to learn sat down to write,” Josiah says.

He writes that he wants his younger brother to walk down Main Street as freely as he himself does, and be held by his teachers to the same high standards as white students.

Until Josiah has those assurances, he says, he will use his “advantaged status” to speak up. White privilege, he concludes, is “not a black issue, but an everyone issue.”

Staples senior Claire Dinshaw’s 3rd-place essay, which won her $500, notes that in elementary school, race was never discussed.

Claire Dinshaw

Partly because of this “prolonged, privileged innocence,” she writes, most Westport students — including her — believe that their own hard work is the sole reason for their success.

Wealth has much to do with it, she says. So does being white.

Even as she concludes her essay, Claire writes, “I know I have failed to describe the ways white privilege has impacted my life. I know there are sources of privilege I have failed to recognize. The truth is I still do not fully understand the extent of my privilege, and that is something I have to work tirelessly to rectify.

“After all, being ignorant of my privilege is a privilege itself.”

(To read all 3 essays in their entirety, click here.)

4 responses to “TEAM Westport “White Privilege” Essay Winners Announced

  1. Sandra Lefkowitz

    It is a privilege to be a citizen in a town that encourages our students to be visible; to stand up for what they believe and not be afraid being visible. The three winners are to be congratulated and heard by those of us to whom they addressed their essays.

  2. So proud of these students lending their voices to this topical issue. May we continue to have these open, honest discussions in school, at home, and in the greater community to help us continue to learn and grow.

  3. This contest was so successful that I propose two more : a contest about male privilege and another about class privilege. And if those work out well perhaps one on heterosexual privilege.
    ADW Staples 1956

  4. We are lucky to have such thoughtful, reflective students in our classrooms and dedicated teachers determined to help each and every one of them graduate with open minds and the empathy necessary to truly be a part of today’s global society. Congratulations to Chet, Josiah, and Claire for being determined to speak their minds!

Commenters must fill out their real full names, and provide their real email addresses.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s