It always bothered author Amy Julia Becker that other people didn’t have the same advantages she did, just because of who they were.
But the deep questions of privilege didn’t really hit home in her heart until her daughter Penny was born with Down Syndrome.
As Becker watched Penny move through the world, it was obvious that her daughter had some of the same advantages she did: Penny is white, has parents who are married, and comes from a family with wealth and access to education. But Becker could also see that because of Penny’s genetic condition, people made assumptions about her and left her out, for no good reason.
“My experiences with her changed the way I see privilege,” Becker says. “But they also changed the way I respond to discrimination outside the disability community.”
Becker’s first book, A Good and Perfect Gift, told the story of her early years with Penny and traced the shifts in her thinking about what makes a person valuable. In 2011, when it was released, it was named one of the top books of the year by Publisher’s Weekly. Her most recent title, released late last year, is White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love In A World Divided By Privilege.
Becker didn’t set out to write on privilege. She thought she was working on a book about reading aloud to her children. “I began to think about books as doors or mirrors,” Becker says. “So many of the books I was reading to my children were mirrors of their lives, rather than doors into other experiences.” Before she knew it, she was confronting the questions of privilege: “the reality of it in my own life, what it means to acknowledge it, and how we can respond to it with love.”
One of Becker’s realizations, she says, is that a world divided by privilege isn’t good for anyone -- even the people who have it. “Over time,” Becker says, “as I came to recognize the tremendous gift that Penny is, I recognized that as a person of privilege, I have also been cut off from the wonder, beauty, and wholeness of humanity, our full human diversity. I had been cut off from those things by my privilege.”
On Tuesday, April 30, Becker and fellow author Andy Crouch, who has written on the power of vulnerability in his book Strong and Weak, will join in conversation on the Upper West Side at W83 Ministry Center. They’ll be joined by presenters from Do For One and Young Life Upper West Side’s Capernaum program, both local organizations that work to build bonds between people with and without disabilities. “It’s an invitation to participate in a deep healing work,” says Becker, “in our own lives and in our culture.”
In book events for White Picket Fences, Becker says, she has noticed “a deep desire for honest conversation, for a way through these topics that actually does address historic wrongs and leads to more equality and mutuality in communities.”
Becker’s book is an invitation to enter those conversations with openness and hope. It can help people believe, says Crouch, “that in a world so often torn by violence and indifference, love can still have the last and best word.”
The event starts at 7:00 pm on April 30. Tickets are available at turningtowardlove.eventbrite.com and Becker’s book will available for purchase at the event through Book Culture.