Why did Malcolm Gladwell succeed? Is he a self-made bestselling writer? Is his story different than the story of why some succeed and others don’t that we looked at in my previous blog about Gladwell’s book Outliers? Does he have none to thank except his own hard work and native talent? In the epilogue to his book, he offers an answer.
The story goes back to Jamaica in 1784. An Irishman by the name of William Ford, having bought a coffee plantation, also bought a slave woman who became his concubine, an Igbo tribeswoman from West Africa. Their son, John, “was, in the language of the day, a ‘mulatto’; he was colored–and all of the Fords from that point on fell into Jamaica’s colored class.”
Being mulatto worked to the advantage of the Fords because as a class they were freemen and held higher status than blacks. “Whites saw mulattoes . . . as potential allies, a buffer between them and the enormous numbers of slaves on the island.” Education and economic opportunity were possible, many holding a large percentage of professional and prestigious positions on the island.
John became a preacher. John’s son Charles was a produce wholesaler. Charles’ daughter, Daisy, married Donald Nation and the two were schoolteachers. Their twin daughters, Faith and Joyce Nation, won scholarships to a boarding school and were later accepted to University College, in London. There Joyce met, fell in love with, and married Graham, an English mathematician. They had three sons, one of whom was named Malcolm–our very same Malcolm Gladwell.
Malcolm’s grandmother, Daisy, had ambitions for her daughters that pushed them on the road to higher education and a better life. These ambitions in turn came from a legacy of privilege she herself inherited from her father, her grandfather and the particular social circumstances of Jamaica that made it possible for those of “mixed race” to succeed and thrive.
So even Malcolm does not take sole credit for his writing success. He has history, circumstances and a family heritage to thank. The more we can offer to others similar opportunities, the more successes we will also see.
Next Installment: “I Complained to God” (Outliers 3)