White Picket Fences

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 02 Jan 2019

Member Reviews

I have mixed feelings about White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege. There are a few things I agreed with, while others I did not. I am giving it three stars and believe it is worth a read.
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What a beautiful book. Amy Julia Becker has a way with words that paints pictures, conveys deep emotion and made me think long and hard. The way she addresses privilege - not in a preachy way but through personal stories and reflections - makes the reader feel as she is walking this journey alongside of them. I appreciated her moving away from definite answers and action steps and instead leading with hard questions and opportunity to reflect. The way she sees spiritual disciplines and concepts as so essential to the move towards a society where our "white picket fences" are torn down is both so simple yet so radical. Anyone trying to understand more about privilege and the often volatile world we live in should read this book!
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Amy Julia Becker's book White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege has such a nice title. . . but I don't buy into her argument.  She is in the school of thought that takes the short step from white privilege to white guilt.  She grew up in a world of privilege that the vast majority of white people would recognize as rare privilege: generational wealth, boarding school, Ivy League education, and all the social and career opportunities those things bring.  Like a lot of wealthy white liberals, she retains a hearty sense of guilt for the unfairness of it all.

Her experiences have been tempered by some of her life's circumstances.  She is a Christian, and sees her background and position as a part of who she is as a Christian.  She undoubtedly has a deep faith which informs her life and perspectives.  As a mother of child living with Down syndrome, her views on privilege have certainly expanded.  Like any parent of a child living with a disability, she quickly recognized the ways which society's structures work against the child's success.

As much as I admire and respect Becker's desire to live faithfully and to use her position and, yes, privilege to serve others, her views on race and privilege don't relate to most of the rest of the world.  I am grateful and blessed by the time and place of my birth, by the love and stability of my family, by the experiences I have had in my education, career, community, and church.  I don't feel guilty that other people have not had the same experiences.  I don't think I have to apologize for any of it.  I do believe that the point of life is to live for Christ and live for others, no matter where you started from.  I recognize that life is hard and unfair for some people all the time and for some people all the time.

I don't know Becker at all.  I suspect I would like her a lot.  But I really didn't like the premise of her book.  I tired of the apologetic, self-condemning tone of it.  She writes, for example, "Our affluence . . . fences us off from other people.  We can afford to pay for the 'best' of everything . . . and in so doing, we don't interact much with people who can't afford those opportunities.  Unless we consciously choose for it not to, affluence cordons us into relationships with other people with wealth."  She writes about their idyllic little New England town, where her husband is headmaster at an elite boarding school.  I want to tell her, don't feel bad!  You don't have to purge yourself and apologize for the path your life has taken!

At one point, I thought she sounded rather ungrateful.  While she and her husband celebrated all the seemingly providential ways it worked out for him to get his current job, the exact sort of position he had hoped for, she began to doubt herself.  It wasn't providence, she thought, it was privilege.  His getting the job was just a matter of the privileged education he had, the privileged circles he ran in, and the privilege of his birth.  

I guess I'm simply not comfortable taking God out of the equation of my life's circumstances.  I don't need to feel guilty or ashamed of my background, things over which I have not control.  I can't choose my parents or the place of my birth.  I can't choose my race.  I can't choose my physical abilities.  All of that is directed and orchestrated by God in his providence.  I can choose how I live my life, how I serve others, and how I trust God every day.  That, ultimately, is where Becker gets, too.  I just didn't like the guilt-laden path she took to get there.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!
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Definitely something to think about! Well thought out. Nicely done.
Thanks to author, publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book. While I got the book for free, it had no bearing on the rating I gave it.
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This book was enlightening and challenging. Having grown up in a lower middle class farming family, I would not have considered myself privileged. I had no idea. Reading Becker's memoir and thoughts on privilege made me realize I grew up privileged and still am.

Like Becker, I cannot change my ethnicity nor social status. But, like her, I should also realize that this privilege did not come because of my effort nor is it a sign of God's favor. (1748/2807) But it does come with responsibility. Like her, I must see privilege as an opportunity and responsibility to pass on the blessings God has so graciously given me.

Becker shares much of her life. Part of it is to show the transition in her thinking, moving to understanding privilege and its influence.  She shares where her life has not been all roses to show that, even in the midst of hardship, she was still privileged. She and her husband have a child with Down syndrome, for example, yet have access to special education programs and doctors.

Becker reminded me I have been given much I have not deserved. (1905/2807) She challenged me to explore how I can value every person, seeing each one as a gift, made in the image of God. Yes, there is sin and brokenness but Becker reminded me we are all broken in some way.

I recommend this book to readers who want to understand more about privilege and the responsibility it carries. Becker doesn't have the answers but she does know it involves sacrificial love. She gives some encouraging illustrations of people living out that sacrificial love and invites us to do the same. There are discussion questions included so this would be a good book for a reading group.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
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