Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

More on White Privilege

White Privilege: The Conversation Continues 

Last week I wrote about TEAM Westport’s essay contest on white privilege.

Interest has continued to grow. In fact, TEAM’s “student essay contest about ‘white privilege’ has created an uproar,” according to The New York Times! At the Friday meeting of “Celebrate Westport,” our Second Selectman (Deputy Mayor) Avi Kaner said, “The town has received hundreds of emails, phone calls, and letters opposing the contest.”

(“Celebrate Westport” is held monthly as a forum for town groups to share ideas. One purpose is to learn what each group is doing and whether others could collaborate. Another is to avoid scheduling major fundraisers for different organizations on the same nights.)

A reminder of the contest invitation:

“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?”

Harold Bailey, Chair of TEAM Westport

Harold Bailey, Chair of TEAM Westport

Our chair, Harold Bailey Jr. said, in an interview with the NYTimes, “the question — devised in September — was not intended to be leading.

“We are not implying anything about our town other than this town has an openness to exploring the topic and discussing it.” he said.

Is the Phrase ‘White Privilege’ Leading?

I disagree a little with Harold. I think we did mean it to be ‘leading,’ but not leading to a conclusion in the way some readers took it. We meant it to lead to thinking, conversation, and writing about white privilege. We certainly got the conversation!

TEAM Westport’s Facebook page has reached more than 2000 people since the contest was announced. Comments have been mixed with more favorable than unfavorable.

My friend Susan said on the Facebook page: “Talking about white privilege is not asking anyone to blame themselves. As an example, one of the posters [on Facebook] here, who is black, talks about being followed in local stores. That has not happened to me. I am white. To look at white privilege is to consider why the other poster was followed and I have not been. Talking about race is hard but necessary. If we all stay calm, how is that divisive? Civil conversation has the possibility to draw us together, I believe.”

But Mark, whom I don’t know, said, “The statement ‘White Privilege’ is reverse racism. First you’re profiling/judging all ;whites’ by their skin, next you claim they’re all privileged. . . Also, I find that people use this term as a crutch on why they didn’t succeed. Further more, these statements divide a nation, not bridge gaps.”

I can’t wait to read the winning essays. So far no entries have been submitted. Judy receives the essays for TEAM and shares them out among the judges. She says, “These are high school students! They’ll write their essays the day before or the day they’re due!”

Hidden Figures Shines a Light on Race

Hidden Figures: book, Actors Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner

Hidden Figures: book, Actors Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner

I saw the movie Hidden Figures last week. It is an amazing story, based on real lives, of three black women who worked for NASA in the early 1960’s. They were called “computers,” they did mathematical computations before computers!

Reader Dick Holmquist had suggested it as a good introduction to talking about race. I agree!

President Buhari in England

President Buhari left Nigeria in January for a ten-day vacation. He was due back yesterday, Feb. 5.

When he sent a letter postponing his return, the powerful Nigerian rumor mill went into action. “He was ill, he had died, he was in the hospital!” His vice-president said he is fine. There he was relaxing in front of the TV in the news article I read.

Igbo People at Risk from Fulani Herdsmen?

Nigeria’s Daily Post online said that Fulani herdsmen are attacking Igbo women. The story came from the recently elected President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, an Igbo social and cultural organization. “Speaking with newsmen during the weekend, [he] called on the federal government to urgently intervene on the ugly incidents.

President-General of Ohanaeze, Nwodo

President-General of Ohanaeze, Nwodo

“The peaceful coexistence between previously peace-loving Fulani herdsmen, who herded their cattle with long canes and our local farmers has been replaced by an era of AK-47 toting and rampaging herdsmen who kill, maim, rape our people and destroy our farms,” the President-General said.

This is not the first I’ve read on the topic. But I suspect that there have not been many incidents involving Fulani men and Igbo women.

The election of the new President-General was opposed by other Igbo groups. I believe he spoke out to illustrate his concern. He wants others to know he has the ability to defend Igbo people.

I read about the controversy over his election in Vanguard, “The choice of Nwodo came at the right time when the marginalisation of the South East [Igbo area]  needs to be addressed. Nwodo is a true Nigerian and a bridge builder and one person that “ GHANA MUST GO BAGS” will not divert from doing what is just and good.”

I had to read that last sentence a couple of times. He says Nwodo is a person that ‘Ghana Must Go Bags’ will not divert. What?

The polypropylene bags are two or three feet deep. (They would hold lots of Naira!) They got their name in 1983. Undocumented Ghanaians were forced out of Nigeria and had to pack quickly – no time to get suitcases, so they used market bags. I lost several Ghanaian tailors from my clothing company then, though they returned a few weeks later.

You can see Ghana Must Go bags at Alibaba.

I have my own theory of what he means, but my husband disagrees! What’s your guess?

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Can high school students who are not from Westport enter the competition? Is it just high school?

    • Unfortunately it is just for high school students who live in Westport or go to school in Westport. When your town creates its own committee to encourage conversations about race, they can hold their own essay contest! Our TEAM Westport is an all-volunteer group of 12 or so. We don’t have the bandwidth to hold a national contest or a platform for such! But maybe there is a group that could; I’m thinking NAACP, or 100 Black Men, or black sororities or fraternities? Or why a black group? ACLU could do this, Rotary, YMCA, so many!