I’ve wanted to write this for a while but today’s news of a megachurch pastor suggesting we replace the phrase “white privilege” with “white blessings” is the proverbial straw breaking this camel’s back. Here’s why. Most every time you’re talking about a blessing, you’re actually talking about a privilege, regardless of the context of your comment. Let’s start with the bigger picture.
Although I know that when folks use this term they are not intending on communicating something negative to others, let me state it plainly: When a person points to something like their children or their job or their vacation as a “blessing”, they’re saying something about what others don’t have and suggesting there’s a reason within their control as to why they don’t have it. In other words, they are ignoring the contexts of people’s lives over which they have no control.
How does one square being “blessed” with children with the person who desperately wanted children but couldn’t have them for biological reasons?Probably all of us know people who would be excellent parents in this situation. On the other hand, how does one square the enumeration of this “blessing” with the far too many parents who have children that they neglect and brutalize, both physically and mentally? The abusers were “blessed” but the good person with biological issues making pregnancy impossible just wasn’t?
How does one square being “blessed” with a great job with the person who has done everything “right”, has worked hard, has made the grades, has gone through college, but who doesn’t get that promotion because of their skin color? Or because they reported sexual harassment? Conversely, how do you square this “blessing” with all of those people at “the top” who are truly terrible people who abuse, mistreat, discriminate against, or step on others to get there? The abusive boss was “blessed” but the person working hard and doing everything “right” just wasn’t?
How does one square being “blessed” with a wonderful vacation with the person who grew up in a cycle of poverty, in a home their family moved into because they were redlined out of white suburbs decades ago, who was then relegated to an underachieving school, and who didn’t have the advantages you had simply because of the color of their skin? And how then, also, does one square that with the person who has billions, vacations all the time, but makes those billions on the backs of people they refuse to give a living wage and health insurance? The person amassing more wealth than they can spend while starving their employees was “blessed” but the person with the ancestors fighting racism for centuries just wasn’t?
Can you see where I’m going with this? I know that for most people using the term “blessed” isn’t meant to do anything but frame their luck–really, their privilege–in religious terms because they are grateful. And that’s a great instinct. But when it’s framed that way it’s easy to forget what that can communicate to people who haven’t been privileged in the ways that another person is.
And so this brings us to this megachurch pastor who wants us to talk about ‘white blessings” instead of “white privilege”. Most people are outraged by that suggestion and for good reason. But that good reason is something the outraged need to think about, too, because when someone refers to something they are grateful for as a “blessing”, unwittingly they do exactly what that preacher is trying to do: they erase the many unearned privileges that brought them to that place of gratitude.
If you’re someone who truly believes there is a god that prefers white people over others, chooses not to grant a good person who wants children a child but then also chooses to grant a child to horrible people who hurt and abuse their “blessing” to death, or thinks (as this pastor does) that “we miss the blessing of slavery that it actually built up the framework for the world that white people live in and lived in”, then this post is probably not going to move you.
But if you are someone who has used that phrase sorta mindlessly because you find it an easy shortcut to communicate both your gratitude and your faith, I hope you’ll consider my arguments here. Whether the privilege that brought you your “blessing” is linked to your biological luck, white, male, or other privilege, the socioeconomic status of you or your ancestors, or any of the other myriad ways some people have more unearned privilege than others, it’s still privilege. And when we erase that privilege with the term “blessing”, we are communicating something about others, probably unintentionally, that I doubt we are meaning to communicate.
The Atlanta pastor doesn’t just have it wrong, he has it backwards. It’s not that we should begin calling white privilege “white blessings”. It’s that often calling something a “blessing” erases our privilege.