White Picket Fences – Review

White Picket FencesThe concept of privilege, especially white male privilege has been prominent in the media and elsewhere. I will confess that I have struggled with how to respond to the concept.

Many of the discussions have stated explicitly or implicitly that white males are bad people because our privilege has led to the lack of opportunities for others. When we are told to own our privilege, it is meant that we are to feel shame for having privilege.

My instinct is to push back. I have never sought to hold onto power based on my gender or ethnicity. I also notice that privilege as it manifests in the United States may look somewhat different in other countries, including my home in Canada.

And yet I still am the product of privilege. Things haven been easier for me by being a white male, even if I have not sought that advantage.

This brings me to Amy Julia Becker’s White Picket Fences. This is the book on privilege that I have been waiting for.

Becker doesn’t attempt to beat people over the head with the accusation of privilege. She identifies privilege and owns it as a part of her own experience. She shares story after story of how her own privilege has given her a different experience than others.

I appreciated the way that she shows the subtle ways in which privilege appears. It is about the books on our shelves and the “innocent” assumptions we make. Privilege is a reality, no matter how well-meaning or openminded we may be.

Another thing that I appreciated is that she includes disability in the discussion. Too often privilege is limited to categories of gender, ethnicity, economic status and sexual orientation. Somehow, disability is left out, even though it can easily shape the experience of the person. Becker, as a parent of a child with Down Syndrome, brings disabilities back into the conversation.

Most of all, Becker helped me to become more aware of privilege without making me ashamed of who I am. There are things I can do to be sensitive to concepts of privilege without hating myself for my gender or ethnicity.

Although White Picket Fences is about the things that divide us, it has the potential to help bring us back together. I’m thankful to Amy Julia Becker for talking about this in away that draws people in rather than driving them away.

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