Much has been said recently about privilege and, specifically, white male privilege. How it feeds into the success of many people, especially those who benefit from institutions that privilege whiteness, maleness, and more specifically, maleness that falls within the strict bounds of gender and sexuality norms. It has been said that it’s impossible to separate the role of privilege from one’s success. That they are tightly coupled, and to suggest that one can have success without acknowledging the role of social privilege is highly disingenuous and tantamount to thievery. In other words, check your privilege. This is an attempt to put my story in this context and to show how conventional wisdom doesn’t always apply to individual stories.
To demonstrate this. I’ll take you, dear reader, through a tumultuous time in my family’s history. Ours is not a story of privilege. This is a story of traditional American values, rags to — if not riches then something better than rags — pluck, and the ever-present story of pulling oneself up by their own proverbial bootstraps. This is the story of how a family made their own success and triumphed, even if only a little, when the odds were against them. This story covers the period from the late 1970’s through the early 1990’s. During that time, we lost everything and then managed to gain it back, and then some. This is all the more impressive when you consider that we never had much to begin with.
My father was a Southern Baptist minister in southwestern Missouri in the early 80’s. He had worked in the ministry in east Texas and northwest Arkansas for nearly 15 years as a music director, youth minister, and associate pastor before finally reaching the position of head pastor in 1980 at a small church in southwestern Missouri. After 4 years there, he succumbed to burnout and depression. He quit, leaving the family in the lurch with no job prospects or income. We lost our home and were forced to move to less accommodating housing in 1984. That winter, we nearly froze while trying to keep our heads above water financially.
During this time, we had to face a difficult proposition: do we take government benefits? Our family prided itself on not taking handouts, and we were determined not to do so in this case, lest we become hypocrites — we had decried the interference of government into the liberty of…