I’ve realized I certainly live a privileged life.
But, after reading “White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege” by Amy Julia Becker, I understand privilege differently. That’s what sharing stories does for people. In this book, Amy Julia shares her story and challenges us to think about our own.
I especially loved chapter nine when Amy Julia redefines privilege. Then in chapter ten reading about Penny’s down syndrome diagnosis and her understanding of it reminded me of my own three kids and how their adoption stories will influence their identity.
“Privilege means being given a special status – legal or social – by virtue of something you didn’t earn. Privilege means being undeservedly yet unquestionably singled out. The way we typically assign privilege – based on race or gender or religion or economic status – distorts our humanity. It cuts us off from one another. But in those times of hardship, I experienced a different kind of privilege, a kind of unearned beauty and promise and grace that did not emerge from anything having to do with wealth, education or ethnicity. …. It was the privilege of being singled out for something purposeful, being the undeserving recipient of the gift of human connection.”
– Amy Julia Becker in “White Picket Fences”
My own perception of privilege has been shaped by adoption – my relationships with my kids’ birth moms; interaction with a social worker that didn’t believe we should be open to children of any race because we live in a small, predominantly white town; our ability to provide more than everything our kids need; and the community of adoptive and foster moms around me. But how I view the perks and hardships of privilege has also been influenced by my upbringing by two educators, being the oldest of three kids, and marrying into another family of entrepreneurs who came to know their own privilege.
“White Picket Fences” would make a great book study because there are so many discussion points. I’ve actually already recommended it a few times to real-life friends because certain passages reminded me of them or I recognized the importance of this message.
“The privilege of whiteness and wealth can become a wall against the privilege of being human, loved not for status or performance but simply loved, and able to give love in return not because of obligation but in grateful response to an invitation. I have been given much that I do not deserve, and my very real social privilege has cut me off from others as much as it has also made my life comfortable. But social privilege is not the end of my story. The real privilege of my life has come in learning what it means to love others, that love involves suffering and sacrifice and sleepless nights and tears and heartache and great gifts. It makes sense to talk about privilege in terms of access to private clubs and schools and bank loans and preferential treatment by authorities. It makes sense to expose the injustices of privilege and call for them to be rectified. But there is also the privilege of cleaning the wounds of people you love, of participating in healing and new life, of becoming vulnerable and needy and receiving love and care. There is another type of privilege, privilege that connects instead of divides, that shimmers through the air like a line of light, available if only we stop counting the coins and look up.”
– Amy Julia Becker in “White Picket Fences”
About the book
“White Picket Fences” is a gentle invitation into the challenging topic of privilege. The notion that some might have it better than others, for no good reason, offends our sensibilities. Yet, until we talk about privilege, we’ll never fully understand it or find our way forward.
Amy Julia Becker welcomes us into her life, from the charm of her privileged southern childhood to her adult experience in the northeast, and the denials she has faced as the mother of a child with special needs. She shows how a life behind a white picket fence can restrict even as it protects, and how it can prevent us from loving our neighbors well.
“White Picket Fences” invites us to respond to privilege with generosity, humility, and hope. It opens us to questions we are afraid to ask, so that we can walk further from fear and closer to love, in all its fragile and mysterious possibilities.
This 240-page paperback book is published by NavPress (Oct. 2, 2018).
About the author
Amy Julia Becker is also the author of “Small Talk: Learning From My Children About What Matters Most” (my review), “A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations and a Little Girl Named Penny,” and “Penelope Ayers: A Memoir.” A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, her essays about faith, family, and disability have appeared in the Washington Post, USA Today, Christianity Today, the Christian Century, and online for The New York Times, ABCNews, the Atlantic, Vox, and The Huffington Post. She lives with her husband Peter and three children, Penny, William, and Marilee in western Connecticut.
Keep up with Amy Julia at her website.
I received an Advance Reader Copy of “White Picket Fences” as a member of the launch team, but I’ve been discussing this book with other early readers and truly am encouraged and challenged by the message.