In the South, we talk a lot about blessings. It's standard for sports and entertainment figures to talk about being blessed when they are awarded, we say "bless you!" when we hear somebody sneeze. Fast food workers tell us to have a blessed day as they hand over our fries, and the phrase "bless your heart" doesn't always mean "you are a damned fool." Sometimes it means "I'm sorry, and I love you.""Bless" is a sacred word, a word from God and faith, a word that also means, for us, a blanket of grace and protection and benevolence that settles around our shoulders and keeps us safe.
I count among my blessings, then, the fact that I am surrounded by a wonderfully diverse group of people...MY people. My friemily, who exist in spaces where I can touch their faces, and in spaces where we can only dream of hugs as we exchange love over the internet. My friemily contains people of color and people who are in the LGBTQ community. I love people who are of varied faiths and no faiths, who are American citizens and who live oceans apart from me. I am loved by men who shoot turkeys for Thanksgiving dinners prepared by their wives, and by women who are fiercely, breathtakingly, gloriously unattached to that traditional picture, who rage against it. These people whom I love are blessings to me.
But those blessings sometimes come with a curse, a thorn twisted, cunning and sharp, in the threads of the blanket, waiting to pierce my skin and wake me up. Maybe the curse is the blessing. Maybe it's all the same.
There's a video going viral on social media right now, one more way for people to try to explain privilege to the privileged. People line up on a field for a race, only to be held back by things that they can't control, mainly having to do with financial stability. If you'd like to look at the video, you can find it here. It's pretty good, really, a nice little exercise using kinetic learning that seems to be reaching some folks. The focus is on race, a throw-away line near the end, and so it leaves some things out. It leaves out gender (often a factor in economic mobility), it leaves out religion (also a factor depending on one's community), and it leaves out sexual orientation (which the current administration is now saying is not protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in terms of employment.) It also leaves out the implications of culture, and the damaging effects that privilege, specifically white, heteronormative privilege, can have on our culture and our selves.
Yesterday, my brother and his partner were targeted for being gay in public. That's the only thing they were doing "wrong": they were existing in a grocery store as a homosexual couple. It started with a family giggling and pointing at them. It ended with a manager putting his hands on my brother, calling him a faggot. It ended with police officers treating my brother, who called 911 because he felt threatened, like a suspect.
Privilege isn't just being able to win the race of life. It's being able to go to a grocery store and get a candy bar without people pointing out that you aren't like the majority. It's calling the police and knowing they will believe and protect you. If you are a person who doesn't ever think twice about those things, you are privileged. If you are almost always a member of the majority in any situation, you have privilege. This is galling for some folks.
It's galling for me, when just yesterday I was laying claim to the Me Too hashtag. As a woman and a girl, I've been sexually harassed and assaulted. My gender removes some of the privilege my skin color and sexual orientation lends me. But even though I flinch under that thorn, I can shift the blanket. I can snuggle up safely under a different corner of my blessings. Even my brother, who is in pain this morning, for whom I want to burn down the world right now, even he can shift his blanket and find safety in his color, in his gender, in his economic stability.
There are people in my friemily whose blankets are so thorn-twisted that they live their lives in discomfort. They are hurting, they are angry, they are agitated by the pain. Can you imagine trying to find rest under a blanket filled with thorns? I can't, and because I love these folks, it is my responsibility to ease their pain, to share my blanket. Better yet, it's my responsibility to pick out the thorns from their blanket. It's my responsibility to make sure that the blanket factory is discarding the thorns before they become part of the fabric.
That is what is happening in our country right now. Thorns are being woven into the fabric of our lives. Racism and sexism have always been there, tangled in the warp and weft of our history. Some of us bear scars from generations of scratches. Homophobia and religious bigotry have marked some of us, too. But it seems worse right now. It seems impossible to find a soft spot, a piece of comfort as the duly-elected president and his administration drive thorn after thorn into the skins of our brothers and sisters. It feels, to be honest, that regular citizens feel empowered to hurt others. Their prejudice is okay--it's protected by their privilege. Every day, there's another story of a casual racial epithet, a religious slur scrawled on a building that's not a church. Every day, there's another story about a member of the president's cabinet or one of his nominees or politicians he's endorsed or people he's called "fine" wanting to hang gay people, or outlaw Islam, or prevent women from voting. Everyday, the blanket feels coarser, pricklier, harder to breathe under.
In the South, the weather is finally turning. The air is growing cooler, Visiting Season has begun, and we're drawing closer to the ones we love. We are blessing the season's first sneezes, and saying the blessing over autumn feasts, and counting our blessings with thanks. We are drawing blankets over our loved ones' shoulders, snuggling closer, loving a bit more tenderly. I hope that this change of season will bring a change of heart, too. I hope that we'll start looking more closely for the wounds our loved ones carry, and that we'll be willing to remove the thorns that caused them.
I hope we can learn to be blessings and not curses. I hope it's not too late to heal.