Reviewed by Sylvia Kocses
Like others at Stone Hill, I am also seeking to understand what "privilege” means, and I want to be part of a solution because of the social and political issues that are deeply dividing our country today. For that reason, I was anxious to read White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided By Privilege, by Amy Julia Becker (NavPress, 2018 ), because I briefly knew Amy when she and her husband Peter attended Westerly Road Church. Could this book help me to open up the conversations I want to have, answer the questions I am hesitant to ask, and lead me away from fear and toward love?
I already respected Amy Julia as an author. When their first child, Penny, was born,pre-natal tests and sonograms didn’t detect that she had Down's Syndrome. In her award-winning book A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny, Amy Julia explains how Penny experienced social disadvantages, obstacles and exclusion based, not on her worth as a person, but on genetics over which she had no control. White Picket Fences takes that same theme of disadvantage and privilege, but expands the definition of privilege to explore the unwarranted benefits accrued to many of us by virtue of race, place of birth, educational opportunities, and other factors.
In the first seven chapters of her new book, Amy’s aim is to help us to acknowledge that privilege exists and to identify its wounds. She repeats often that privilege harms everyone, both those who are excluded from it and those who benefit from it. For Amy, the wounds of privilege meant expectations of perfect performance and high achievement, which led to self-destructive behaviors. Thankfully, a confident and lasting belief in God that started in high school began to change her life.
The remaining seven chapters urge the reader to respond to privilege by contributing to its healing. Amy longs for a way to understand identity that allows for diversity and particularity without necessitating division. She believes it will require love as the foundation, sacrifice in the process, and a response to the call of Jesus for repentance from the sins of tribalism, the blight of envy, the destructiveness of incivility—and a huge dose of humility, listening, forgiveness, and trust.
This book will resonate well with women. Amy Julia provides 22 questions for discussion, which makes it ideal for book clubs. For further reading, there are extensive sources cited in the notes. But a word of caution: Some theologically conservative readers may be disappointed by few statements that reflect liberal theology. The author treads lightly on presenting the person and work of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
The African-American novelist and social critic James Baldwin, who wrote searingly about racism, says of writing that "The point is to get your work done, and your work is to change the world,” and in that regard, White Picket Fences exceeds that goal by adding much to the ongoing conversation about privilege.
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