Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

White Privilege: The Winners

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White Privilege Essay Winners

Chet Ellis won first prize. Do you think his parents were proud?

Chet Ellis won. He’s standing with Harold Bailey, TEAM Chair, left, Jim Marpe, First Selectman, and Bill Harmer, Library Director, on right.

The three winners of TEAM Westport’s Essay contest on white privilege read their essays to a full house in Westport Library’s McManus Room yesterday evening. They were brilliant!

I was amazed at the sophistication of their writing. I agree with Harold Bailey, our chair, who said at our TEAM Westport meeting this morning, “I was blown away!” And the first prize winner is a high school sophomore!

Chet Ellis’ essay was “The Colors of Privilege.” He wrote about his experience as one of very few African-American students at Westport’s high school.

Chet Ellis won first prize. Do you think his parents were proud?

Chet Ellis won first prize. Do you think his parents were proud?

He was in 5th grade when his family moved to Westport from Manhattan, “where I thought we were upper middle class. I would look up at all the houses bigger than our rental and imagine what life would be like if I were born lighter and richer.”

At that time, he said, “I had no grasp of the deep social issues that had been keeping my people from attaining such heights of prosperity; didn’t yet understand the lack of truly wealthy black residents in my town as indicative of larger social issues. Now as a sophomore in high school, I have a better understanding of the legacy of institutionalized racism. Now I see the history behind the big houses.”

Josiah Tarrant, a Staples junior, won second prize with his essay “White Privilege and Me.” His essay focused on his experience as the white big brother of a black sibling.

Susan Ellis of TEAM chairs the essay contest committee.

Susan Ellis of TEAM chairs the essay contest committee.

He recalled an experience when he was 12 and his brother 6. His mom began searching for an Early Reader book, “featuring a kid that looked like him.”

He said, “I stood next to her and my brother on those visits to libraries and bookstores when we were shown to the ‘slavery section.’ That day marked the beginning of an awareness of how much I had taken my white experience for granted and a realization that things would not be the same for my brother.”

Third prize went to Claire Dinshaw, for “The Privilege of Ignorance.” Clair is a senior at Staples High School.

She began her essay with, “When I was born, I was placed at the top of a predetermined racial hierarchy. . . History textbooks and acclaimed novels told the stories of people like me.”

Judy Hamer of TEAM chairs the panel of judges. She explained the 'rubric' for choosing.

Judy Hamer of TEAM chairs the panel of judges. She explained the ‘rubric’ for choosing.

Near the end of her essay she talked about an issue that TEAM Westport has been addressing for years.

She said, “. . . whereas I have been taught by countless white teachers, non-white Westport residents are forced to contend with the fact that, although research published in The Economics of Education found that test scores increase when a student has a teacher of the same race, Staples High School has only recently hired its first full-time black teacher.”

You can read all three essays at Dan Woog’s blog, 06880, or at Westport Now. You can also see pictures from the ceremony at both, including a gallery of shots of the audience and participants. Thank you, Dan and Gordon.

A Busy April 1

April 1 was my husband’s birthday. Our daughter Beth came with her family to help us celebrate.

Clem with Beth and her husband Kelvin, with one of his presents.

Clem with Beth and her husband Kelvin, with one of his presents.

We had a delightful dinner at Brasitas in Norwalk. Beth had said she wanted plantain. I ran out of time to buy ripe plantain. So the next best was to have it at the restaurant.

We were seated in the room at the back, by ourselves. With a three-year old, that was fine! The staff put a candle on the dessert we ordered. They helped us sing too!

Fairfield University Bookstore Author Event

Earlier in the day I was at the Fairfield University Bookstore for an author event. My publicist Aline was with me. Clem came by for a while. I had just spoken to a woman with a child whose birthday was also April 1.

Aline, left, me, Nancy, right, at Fairfield University Bookstore Author Event

Aline, left, me, Nancy, right, at Fairfield University Bookstore Author Event

I found them so Clem could wish the child a happy ‘twin’ birthday!

Nancy on the bookstore staff was very helpful. She made announcements and encouraged people to come by. I sold a few books.

We had a prize drawing. The winner received a signed copy of my book. I was happy that the winner was someone who had come by earlier. She wasn’t quite ready to part with the money then, though she wanted a copy! So she was really pleased to be the winner.

Museum Exhibit in Berlin

I was intrigued to read about this museum exhibit in Berlin. It’s called German Colonialism Fragments Past and Present. It lies at the intersection of my background in German and my interest in Africa. Indeed, it was teaching German that got me to Nigeria in the first place.

Greeting people at the display table Fairfield University Bookstore

Greeting people at the display table Fairfield University Bookstore

Germany had many colonies in Africa. The division of Africa into parcels ‘given’ to European countries was decided at a conference in Berlin in 1884-5.

But Germany lost its colonies after World War I. So they did not go through the same period of gradually granting independence that others did.

The article in Africa in Words says, “. . . the displays give insight into local dynamics that influenced the course of colonialism: for example, the varied alliances and relationships between local leaders and colonized populations, as well as representatives of colonial administration, military personnel, European explorers, missionaries, and settlers.” The writer says the exhibit is extremely well-documented. It would be interesting, don’t you think?

It will end in May, so there’s no chance I can get there. Maybe it will travel to this country, though I’m not sure who would show it. Is there not a university in the U.S. with serious German scholarship that could host this exhibit?

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.

2 Comments

  1. Very smart students who wrote those essays on White Privilege–well done!!

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