Do you consider yourself privileged? What does a life of privilege look like?
I was privileged to grow up in a Christian home with Christian parents. I’m privileged to be happily married with three children and live on a small farm. But why shouldn’t I be? Shouldn’t everyone be so privileged? Is there something wrong with being privileged?
Maybe there is, if I allow it to stand in the way of reaching out to others and living like Jesus. Maybe there is, if I merely rest in my privileged ease and comfort. Maybe there is, if I selfishly hoard my time, talents, and the things I’ve been given. Maybe there is something wrong with being privileged if I don’t share my wealth with others who may not be as privileged.
Reading White Picket Fences by Amy Julia Becker helped me understand privilege a little better and see it for what it truly is: a precious gift to hold carefully and use wisely. White Picket Fences challenged me to see my life through a different lens than I normally do. My eyes were opened to the fact that I – indeed, many of us – unintentionally exclude others simply because we move in different circles, a direct result of a privileged life.
I’ve always understood that I’m privileged. However, when I read the back cover synopsis of White Picket Fences, somehow I still assumed the author’s life was one of extraordinary wealth. I was curious what that life looked like and why she was compelled to discuss privilege from such a perspective. As I began the book, I quickly came to see that I was every bit as privileged as the author.
Part memoir, part study/musings, Amy Julia’s story of growing up in a post-slavery southern community is fascinating. Her insights into privilege are arresting and thought-provoking. Instead of providing a checklist of shoulds and should-nots, White Picket Fences gives food for thought as we explore what privilege looks like in our individual lives and how we can make a difference in others’ lives.
As a Canadian, I found myself wishing the author could provide such a compelling personal glimpse into uniquely Canadian issues. However, she offers many insights that are just as applicable to any country and situation as they are to the southern states.
We may wonder how the subject even affects us if we don’t intentionally exclude anyone and aren’t particularly poor or wealthy. However, that doesn’t exempt us from the discussion; the subject of privilege affects each one of us. Wealth is far from the only indicator of how privileged we are.
Although Amy Julia does not explore this particular topic in the book, I found myself wondering how this discussion about privilege might differ from and yet also apply to Christians and the church. As Christians, we are called to live like Jesus, not chase down the most comfortable path possible. My mind has been opened to more ways I can and should reach out and serve my community. At the same time, I have unanswered questions.
We as Christians are to be “set apart”, “the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5:14) How can we use our light to shine in ways that beckon and welcome instead of exclude and ignore those in the valley below us?
How can I find ways to reach out to those who are less privileged and live in circumstances I don’t understand? How can I be more like Jesus and reach out to others whose lives don’t look just like my own?
Maybe it comes even closer to home. Maybe I already donate or volunteer where I can. Perhaps I have my neighbors over for tea and reach out to those around me. Or perhaps at this stage in my life, there doesn’t appear to be as many opportunities to reach out to others as I’d like.
WHAT DOES PRIVILEGE LOOK LIKE FOR STAY-AT-HOME MOMS?
What does privilege look like for an average stay-at-home mom with a few small children around her feet, a pile of dirty dishes and another of dirty laundry looming, and a long bus route to drive this week?
Maybe instead of collecting more things to pamper my life and pad my ego, I give up something for those less privileged than myself. It could be anything. Am I collecting accolades for my clean house? Maybe I can stop cleaning my home long enough to read a story to someone who can’t read (my sons, for instance).
Am I too busy trying to keep up with it all to open my home to others? Can I recognize the wealth already before me instead of feeling like I’m never enough – like I must do all the things and be the perfect housewife? Can I stop obsessing over my mess, my inefficiency, all my inferiorities? Can I see how I am already surrounded by privilege and quit wishing for the things that are just beyond my reach?
Can I see that my clean-enough house and nutritious-enough meals are, without doubt, a privilege many don’t enjoy? Can I accept that these are indeed privileges I can share even if they are not award-worthy?
Can I see that my talents – my sewing skills, ability to paint, sing, bake or write, my organizational talents, the experiences I’ve had – are privileges that I can choose to either hoard or share with those less fortunate?
It’s uncomfortable to call others less privileged just because they don’t have the same talents I do. Of course, strictly speaking, they are not less or more privileged than I am merely because we don’t have identical talents. Yet if no one shared their talents, we would all be bereft. We are needy people; each of us needs the inspiration and practical help of someone else’s skills.
I hope I can see how privileged I am instead of only seeing what I lack. When I recognize my wealth for what it is, it’s easier to share it. It may not be the solution to the world’s problems but it might be the solution to some of my own.