White Privilege essay contest draws hate-filled response, entry time extended
Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part story focusing on the TEAM Westport essay contest regarding white privilege. Next week the Westport News will explore the extensive and historical background of TEAM Chair Harold Bailey, Jr.
WESTPORT — What started three years ago as a town-sponsored essay contest to encourage young people to grapple with issues of diversity has triggered a tsunami of backlash from people upset by the topic selected for 2017 — white privilege.
The heated and often intemperate views have been unleashed in emails and phone calls to local officials and to Harold Bailey Jr., the chairman of TEAM (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism) Westport, the committee charged with celebrating the town’s cultural and ethnic mix.
The emails and postings were received in the days and weeks after a Jan. 31 Associated Press story ran on the essay topic. Bailey said the Westport Police Department has been involved in monitoring what’s been going on.
A man who claimed to be a laid off white male wrote in an email to the town: “My whole life been screwed by your affirmative action. So sick of you rich liberals (who) think it is great to help minorities not at your expense but at the expense of poor white males.”
Another email stated: “There is no white privilege, only lazy black people.”
Past essay topics
“According to the US Census, 30 years from now groups that are currently in the minority in our country will collectively outnumber whites. Please reflect on the impact this demographic trend will have on our country. In 1000 words or less, describe what you think are the benefits and challenges or this change to the Westport community.”
“Please reflect on the barriers that prevent students from reaching out to others who are different from themselves, particularly those who are of a different race, ethnicity, and/or sexual orientation. In 1,000 words or less describe those barriers, and identify specific steps you and other students in your high school can take to help students break down those barriers—especially in the cafeteria. Indicate what you believe are the risks and benefits of making that effort.”
“In the past year a troubling number of highly charged and tragic incidents — from Ferguson to Charleston to Chicago — have prompted public discussions and protests on college campuses about the state of race relations in the U.S. People disagree on the nature of the problem and on the appropriate way to address divisions in our society. In 1,000 words or less describe how you, personally, make sense of the events that have occurred.”
“White privilege, surfaced as a topic during the recent presidential election. “In 1,000 words or less, describe how you understand the term ‘white privilege’. 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?”
Still another person wrote: “Isn’t it more a question of Jewish privilege? I know you’re not allowed to say that, you can be racist against Caucasians with impunity but you wouldn’t dare speak the truth, judging by the names of those quoted in the article most of the rich people in your town are Jewish, and they’re not considered White they are considered a minority. Pretty cowardly on your part.”
A man who claimed to be an elderly white male, critical of the essay topic, wrote that he would like to enter the essay contest and said he planned to donate the prize money to help re-elect President Donald Trump.
The Occidental Observer, a white nationalist website, called TEAM Westport a “Case Study in anti-White Activism.”
First Selectman Jim Marpe acknowledged that the disgruntled reactions that flooded his office and the rest of Town Hall were “emotionally challenging” for town employees.
Despite the influx of disdainful emails, there were some positive messages received, including one from an attorney:
“Having been a civil rights lawyer for over 50 years, I write to tell you that it would (be) an important step forward if your contest would be emulated in high schools around the country, and especially in school districts like yours, where students know way too little about this country’s racial history and the ongoing nature of that history.”
Bailey said the topic of “white privilege” had been vetted with other members of the committee, with local teachers and congregation leaders. It originated with the idea of implicit bias that came up during the 2016 presidential election, “the things that you don’t have worry about when you’re a certain race,” Bailey said, adding that implicit bias was another term for white privilege.