It’s November, the month of celebrating gratitude and counting your blessings. So let’s kick the month off with some conscious thinking. This is something I have struggled with for a long time. I’m originally from the deep South…Texas where everyone’s blessed, loves sweet tea, and BBQ crazy….or so the stereotypes say…
So many people recognize their blessings, but a lot of people fail to recognize their privilege. Now maybe it’s my southern upbringing, but to me ‘blessed’ has a biblical association. And when I googled ‘blessed’ for the purposes of writing this, I was presented with definitions such as “made holy, connected with God, and sacred nature.”
Being blessed can mean different things to different people. However, blessed seems to take a more materialistic and experiential approach when it comes to the mid-upper class. Through out my years in college I would often see classmates traveling, out partying, or posting about their college experience using phrases such as Blessed with this opportunity, so blessed, or the infamous #blessed. While you may consider your education or other experiences a blessing, it’s also a privilege. People throw the word ‘blessed’ around without thinking about 1) the true meaning of the word and 2) how it could be interpreted by other people.
So what about the people who count their blessings as somethings others may take for granted….food on their plate, a bed, a roof over their head, or clean water. Why didn't God “bless” them with the opportunity to receive a college level education? And thus lies the beginning of privilege that so many fail to acknowledge. Gratitude is great, but in todays America we need to start checking our privilege. I encourage you to think beyond your blessings and take a look at your privilege. Start by questioning what your have and what could contribute to you having that. Your gender? Skin color? Education? Class? Where you grew up? Support Network? Family dynamic? Access to resources?
For me, recognizing privilege is really important being the social impact field. I try to check my own privilege quite often and remind myself that I’m very privileged, but despite checking my privilege I know there are still things I take for granted. But being able to actually think about and recognize the privileges I’ve experienced in my life is a good start because there are so many grown adults that aren’t able to see any of their own privileges.
If you want to start out easy, there are a few online privilege checkers (click here) to just get your thoughts running, but the real way to check privilege is through conversation and relationships. Step one to checking your privilege is to get out of the bubble you live in. Consistently volunteer with the same organization (nope, not that once a year church mission trip you go on with your friends. I mean really consistently every week volunteer.), listen to the stories of other people, and build relationships with people who are different from you.
For me, I grew up in a primarily white suburban neighborhood, our house wasn’t huge or extra fancy, but we had what we needed. We struggled occassionally. Ups & downs like most families. So it wasn’t really until my freshman year of college, when I started working for a non-profit that I began to see and recognize my privilege. Working with Project Transformation gave me the opportunity to connect with low income families, build relationships, and even visit their homes. That physical act of going into the homes and witnessing how hard these people are working and much they are struggling can break you. It made me WAY more aware. And I began taking classes on race, class, gender, and digging more into privilege. And I’m still no expert, but I’m at a place where I am pretty conscious about it.
Yes, college definitely seems late in the game to be checking my privilege, but before working with this non-profit, I’d never really been exposed to the struggling in my own city. It’s actually something I’m ashamed about. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know. But how was I supposed to know if I wasn’t directly exposed to it. It’s not something they talk about in grade/high school (which they totally should because of the wide range of privilege in public schools…thats an entire other blog post). Sure, I volunteered a bit, but even when you go volunteer with school or church you’re in a controlled setting and not exposed to the real struggles people face.
And that’s the thing, so many people aren’t forced to recognize their privilege because they live in their bubbles and count their blessings. But thirty minutes away from that white suburban neighborhood I grew up in, there is so much struggling and so many people are unaware. As I said earlier, college seems late to be checking my privilege, but the sad thing is a lot of adults never get to a point where they are able to explore and begin the journey of understanding privilege because they’re so wrapped up in the bubble that they live in.
So this Thanksgiving, while you’re counting your blessing I encourage you to check your privilege and encourage those around you to as well. Learning about privilege can be as simple as starting a conversation and listening to the journeys of other people.