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Westport Teen Tackles Racial Issues In Winning Essay About White Privilege

TEAM Westport Chair Harold Bailey Jr., essay competition winner Chet Ellis; First Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer.
TEAM Westport Chair Harold Bailey Jr., essay competition winner Chet Ellis; First Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. Photo Credit: Town of Westport

WESTPORT, Conn. — An African-American teenager who tackled the topic of the racial issues he faces growing up in the predominantly white town of Westport is the winner of an essay contest on the topic of white privilege.

The winning essay by Chet Ellis, a 15-year-old sophomore at Staples High School in Westport, is titled “The Colors of Privilege.”

In the essay, Ellis describes how he thought little about this issue of race before moving to Westport, which is nearly 93 percent white, as a fifth-grader.

Although his classmates know the struggles many African-Americans "have had to face and are still facing today, but in our peaceful bedroom community that struggle is not present on a day-to-day basis," Ellis said in his winning essay.

But Ellis himself has faced those issues in Westport. He writes of the manager at Walgreens following him through the store, wondering, "Would this happen if I looked different?" And he recounts a discussion with track teammate who said he would have no trouble getting into college "because you're black."

"I was stunned," he wrote, "and mumbled something instead of firing back, 'Your parents are third-generation Princeton and your father runs a hedge fund and yet you think my ride is free?'"

When the topic for TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest was announced earlier this year, it sparked a controversy over the idea of white privilege.

The prompt was: “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?"

The winners are:

  • First Place: Chet Ellis, “The Colors of Privilege,” $1,000 prize
  • Second Place: Josiah Tarrant, “White Privilege and Me,” $750 prize
  • Third Place: Claire Dinshaw, “The Privilege of Ignorance,” $500 prize
Click here to read the three winning essays.

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