Sometimes realizing your privilege starts with looking at your bookshelf.
Amy Julia Becker, author of White Picket Fences, began to consider the whiteness of her bookshelf, a bookshelf found acting “not as a door but as a mirror, a mirror that shows me my white skin, my stable and traditional family, my remote and safe neighborhood, and little of the expansive world outside [her] door” (19). As Becker quickly discovered in an attempt to read quality children’s literature with her three children, privilege often starts with noticing who’s not on your bookshelf – which for her meant realizing that there weren’t any books that featured children of different ethnic or racial backgrounds.
Nearly every character in the books she loved and filled her shelves with was white.
Connecting the dots from her bookshelf to her identity as a white, straight, middle-to-upper class, educated woman meant coming to grips with the reality of a privilege that had always been hers. But if waking up to the reality of privilege ultimately means learning to use and lay down this same privilege for good, a journey of noticing and deconstructing first must take place.
Like her previous books, A Good and Perfect Gift and Small Talk, Becker’s writing centers in story and in the art of telling good stories about herself and the people in her life. Perhaps most profoundly, the author is most able to identify privilege through her relationship with her oldest daughter, Penny, who was born with Down syndrome. Had it not been for Penny’s presence in her life, she might still feel dismissive or even bewildered by controversy (136), but being in intimate relationship with her daughter helped her make connections to other injustices bought by the price of privilege.
“As I have learned more about the history of people with intellectual disabilities,” she writes, “I have seen the parallels in their treatment to that of other oppressed groups” (137). I found myself nodding my head in agreement, because when the conversation becomes personal, we are changed. When we see how the heights and depths of how oppression affects those we intimately, actually know, then we are changed.
Although Becker writes to a Christian audience, the message is universal: if love lives at the core of our identity as human beings, then the power of love is big enough to change the way we interact with the world around us – just as it’s big enough for every single one of us to not only be given a seat at the table but to be offered the seat of honor and lifted up to a place of power.
And in that way, I hold onto a little bit of hope. Amy Julia Becker shows me that the tides of white supremacy and colonization might actually be turning, one conversation, one lament and one realization of privilege at a time.
If there were ever a writer who can wrest beauty out of deep complexity and pain, it is Amy Julia Becker. Written with elegant honesty, her new book explores the burden of privilege and the responsibility and call to steward it well. I’m grateful for Becker’s willingness to wade into deep waters and to emerge from them with a timely vision of human flourishing for all.
Without shaming or victimizing, Becker considers painful truths and beautiful possibilities for healing the divisions of our present moment.
A deeply human book. As a woman who shares many of Becker’s advantages, I’ve been immensely helped, by Becker’s words, to begin believing that God can use our suffering—and our privilege—for good.
Amy Julia Becker allows us to enter an important—but not easy—spiritual journey of awakening and enlightenment. Beautifully and elegantly written in prose that does not allow us to shrink from a painful reality, Becker challenges us to move out of the stagnant state of “benign” racism. Without “white-explaining,” Becker presents a convincing story of everyday privilege, a disruption of that privilege, and a necessary transformation.
Amy Julia is an exceptionally skilled writer, no doubt about that. But what I admire most about this book is that she is opening herself up to being raked over. She doesn’t have to do it. Nevertheless, it is obvious she believes that coming to terms with white privilege and naming it for what it is matters more to her than her reputation. She doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad, and the ugly of her privileged upbringing. While gentle and beautiful, this book is hard-hitting and will force us to confront the truth about our history. The question is: Will we?
Discussing the reality of privilege is both uncomfortable and essential. In White Picket Fences, Amy Julia Becker explores this critically important topic without being heavy-handed or didactic. I was pulled in from page one by Amy Julia’s writing, which is warm, honest, and inviting as she beautifully explores her own life and story of privilege. Compelling, wise, and vital.
As a white mother of black children, this topic is nuanced and highly personal for me. Amy Julia masterfully created a safe space for my heart to explore what has otherwise felt like a loaded subject. This is a book for every thoughtful soul.
Renouncing privilege isn’t always possible—or even desirable. In White Picket Fences, Amy Julia enters this conversation with wisdom and candor, inviting the reader to consider the transforming power of grace and gratitude to direct what we’ve been given to do the work of love.
A writer of beauty, bravery, and compassion takes on a topic as searingly painful as it is depressingly timely. As she shares her own journey so unsparingly, Becker nudges readers toward self-reflection, inspiring hope for new beginnings and opening hearts to healing.
Through Amy Julia’s raw and vulnerable story-telling, I discovered not only the harm my own privilege has caused but also a God-birthed desire to actively engage in reconciliation and healing. Captivating and deeply personal, White Picket Fences is Amy Julia’s best work yet.
It takes a special kind of writer—a special kind of person—to write about privilege in a vulnerable way. Amy Julia Becker is exactly such a writer and such a person. Becker offers an unflinching examination of what obligations and obstacles come with privilege in a world marred by so many injustices done to those without the advantages many of us take for granted. White Picket Fences is a must-read for all who wish to break down the barriers that divide our communities and our nation today.
White Picket Fences bravely confronts privilege whilst challenging readers to do the same. As Becker gets personal with her reader, she offers more than perceived answers: She offers space and grace. At a time when allies continue to peel back the layers of privilege in their lives, White Picket Fences is timely!
I want to read every word Amy Julia Becker writes. No one I know captures so completely the ache and the joy of being human. White Picket Fences is her most compelling book yet, tackling one of the thorniest topics of our time and illuminating it with honesty, humility, and hope. Privilege so often involves a conspiracy to forget, and this book gently, unflinchingly insists that we remember. But it also helps us believe that in a world so often torn by violence and indifference, love can still have the last and best word.