Back when I had a bulletin board, which was back when I had an office, which was back before every inch of my home was filled with children, I had a $5 bill that hung on the bottom.
It wasn’t currency.
It was a reminder of my currency.
In college, I participated in an activity that I will never forget. A group of students, all from different racial backgrounds, were all positioned at a starting line. Then, we were instructed to take steps forward or backward based on certain prompts. We were told that whomever got to the front of the line first won money in different increments depending on who finished first, second, third.
If you have ever been asked to speak on behalf of all who share your skin color, take two steps back.
If you have ever been to summer camp, take one step forward.
If you watch media and see people who look like you being portrayed positively, take two steps forward.
If you are the only one in your family to ever attend college, take one step back.
I was surprised by what was starting to happen. The longer the exercise went on, the closer I got to the front.
I found myself taking smaller steps, shrinking back from the exposed illusion that my hard work and innate talent were not the only reasons I had achieved success.
Despite my best efforts, I “won” $5 that day.
It didn’t feel like a reward.
After learning more, I began to understand those privileges and experiences I did nothing to earn have created for me a savings account of sorts, one I can debit from when my current efforts to succeed are not paying off. Those experiences create skills, perspectives, and connections that can be cashed in at a later date.
So, now, as an adult and parent, I do not worry about whether or not the neighborhood I raise my children in is safe. I don’t wonder if the values I have instilled in them and the bond I have created with them will be strong enough to withstand the pressure toward gang membership. The thought that I would need to convince the world that my children’s lives matter has never crossed my mind.
I did not chose my race, ethnicity, country of origin, family of origin, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or the historical period in which I was born, but they all give me a head start.
Yes, I am a hard worker. I am goal-oriented. I can chose long-term success over instant gratification. I am proud of those things, and they do help me succeed.
But, I often wonder if there is a minority mom out there somewhere who is living on welfare, or a transgendered woman who is dismissed and misunderstood, who might also have what it takes–who also knows about long-term investments, goals, and working hard–who doesn’t have my life even though there isn’t a single reason why not that she could have actually controlled.
To say that I’m thankful today seems disrespectful.
Of course, I am thankful, but it is much deeper than that.
I am privileged.
To say I am thankful infers that I was given something to be thankful for, which infers I was given something that others intentionally weren’t, which infers that the giver left others out on purpose, which infers they might not have deserved the privileges I have.
This mentality serves to perpetrate the insidious belief that the “haves” are better, or more deserving, than the “have nots.”
It also creates a picture of a God who is generous, but only sometimes, to some people.
So, why do (White) Christians gravitate so much toward the meaning of Thanksgiving? Why is it so much more than turkey and football to us?
For lots of reasons.
We understand that gratitude is important.
We understand we serve a good God and that the good things on earth come from him.
We understand that staying tuned in to our abundance can also keep us aware of the needs of others.
Those are all true and good things.
Lately, I’ve been feeling something else mixed up in there.
I’ve been feeling pride.
We have gotten being privileged confused with being deserving.
Being deserving is about us. About how good we are. It makes us feel noticed. It’s comfortable.
But being privileged doesn’t make us comfortable, it makes us responsible.
To whom much is given, much is required.
Being responsible is entirely different altogether.
Responsibility is uncomfortable.
And it requires action.
Thankfulness can be passive.
Thankfulness can be words we speak around a full table, in a safe neighborhood, with extra money in our checking account.
But thankfulness can also be active.
Active thankfulness is about recognizing our privilege and deciding to leverage it in ways that level the playing field.
What are we doing to to ensure that skin color does not determine a person’s opportunity to make a life worth living in our world?
Maybe today at our Thanksgiving tables, we can share what we are thankful for, because that’s important.
Maybe we could also share ideas for active thankfulness. Not a plan made up of grandiose gestures but rather simple decisions, intentional conversations, and small acts.
Instead of merely being thankful to God, we could create ways to actually be a representation of God’s heart toward the marginalized.