I’ve thought a lot in recent years, especially at this season, about two somewhat similar activities: counting blessings and checking privilege.
The idea of counting blessings is far older than me. Some of my earliest memories of church services feature the chorus of a well-beloved old hymn: “Count your many blessings; / See what God has done.”
Checking privilege is a newer phrase, at least to me. It was alive and well on college campuses when I was in graduate school in the Ivy League in the 1990s. There I often heard the phrase white privilege and occasionally even the historically fraught white guilt. Over the next decade or two what I’d met in the academy infused itself into our broader culture.
On reflection I find moral worth in both activities — checking my privilege and counting my blessings — but I find some important differences too, and some risks.
One housekeeping note before we proceed: Returning readers may wonder, when they encounter religious content here, why this essay is at The Freedom Habit instead of Bendable Light. The reason is simple: I intend BendableLight.com to be a safe space from politics. When my other themes, including faith, overlap with politics, their place is here.
Check Whose Privilege?
There are two basic versions of checking privilege.
One version is second-person: check your privilege. This might be said kindly and with good intentions, but it’s often — and easily — weaponized. When it is, it becomes shorthand for “people like you have dominated everything forever; it’s time for you to shut up.”
(A certain sort of abuser could weaponize “count your blessings” too, but in my experience that is rare.)
The other, healthier version is first-person and introspective: check my privilege. One considers one’s own privilege in a mode of sincere self-evaluation. Only this version bears comparison to counting blessings.