Blessings on Blessings on Blessings: when being grateful goes wrong

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Be thankful. Count your blessings.

I remember complaining as a child about not being able to get something I wanted. My parents  would say “What, you think money grows on trees?” and remind me to “be thankful for what you have, lots of people have it worse.” I remember feeling a sense of shame about my greed, my desire to have more. Later on in life I applied this lesson to everything I did. I was thankful to have a job, to have food, to have clean water, the list goes on. I am thankful for these things, but there has been a feeling, a suspicion, eating at my soul for awhile now. I wonder at what point is gratitude a cop out. At what point were my “blessings” a euphemism for spoils of war? At what point was my gratitude akin to giving thanks for being on the winning team?

*****

I was sitting on my couch scrolling through Facebook for the umpteenth time when I came across this BuzzFeed video explaining privilege. I had been a part of a similar exercise, and even used something like it in workshops and trainings I had done. As I watched I was thinking about the pro’s and the con’s, and was pleased that they had included the participants reactions to the exercise, a chance to dig deeper! And then it happened, the 3:28 mark, a young cisgendered white male’s takeaway: ” I feel like I just learned to be grateful for what you have. You know? We are in such a huge society where… it’s always complaining about what you don’t have.” I had found it, the point when gratitude became “hey at least I’m not _____”  fill in the blank: Black, a female, gay, a Muslim, poor. I watched the remaining 20 or so seconds and shut my computer. #epicfail

*****

It’s a week, to the day, that I first saw the BuzzFeed video making the rounds on my Facebook page. So many people posting it, talking about it, exclaiming how great it is. I can only think about the white dude’s takeaway: be thankful. I can’t get with it, be thankful. The fuck. We are standing on stolen land. The biggest and most popular lake in my city is named after John Calhoun, and folks are really fighting to keep it that way. My city has the largest disparities in the country, but this dude wants me to be thankful I ain’t on the wrong side of those statistics. I’m not going.

*****

Gratitude has its place, it just ain’t here. This is not the time for those of us who occupy privileged positions in the social order to be grateful. We need to be pissed. This is not the time to shrug our shoulders and count our “blessings.” It is time to realize, as Pope Francis just acknowledged, much of what we have been taught to call blessings are actually the consequences of crimes against humanity. We may be blessed, but it is not with white skin, a penis, working limbs, a large bank account, or an attraction to the opposite sex. We are blessed with community. With an ability to see through this facade, this system of knowing which makes us individuals disconnected from history, culture, and each other. If we are giving thanks let it be for the ability to study ourselves and reconnect. Let it be because we saw ourselves in the reflection of our sisters, of our darker brown kin, of our Trans* brothers and sisters. Let us give thanks to have been shown truth before it is too late. Let our blessings truly come from the creator, not from dead Anglo men who created systems that drafted us on to their team. Then we can give thanks. Blessings on Blessings on Blessings.

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One thought on “Blessings on Blessings on Blessings: when being grateful goes wrong

  1. I was also thinking that this person has mistaken RELIEF for GRATITUDE. With relief, there is a sense that you have avoided something that would be unpleasant or negative for you. Here is a white man who has avoided losing part of his humanity by having all these other things that you’ve mentioned: the right body parts, sexual orientation, gender traits, skin color, etc. I think gratitude requires some experience of suffering and loss. Gratitude requires you to be on the other side of something, where relief means that you just avoid it. Gratitude creates fullness and it comes out of empathy, grace, and a connection to our humanity. Perhaps it is through the struggles that we avoid to get relief that we actually we get our gratitude. And all the more reason to take the time to shut up and listen to our fellow humans who experience less privilege–they have much more to offer us than we privilege have to offer them.

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