A Jamaican Story
The epilogue to Outliers is deeply personal to author Malcolm Gladwell because it describes his mother’s own story and pathway to success. He starts by describing the history of his grandmother, a schoolteacher named Daisy Nation. She had twin girls who were able to secure scholarships to an elite Jamaican school, which enabled the girls to get into a London college. While there, that one of the girls, Joyce (Malcolm’s mother), met her husband.
Gladwell gives a bit of history to describe elements that contributed to his mother’s ability to succeed and go to school. When his mother was a child, riots and unrest in the region persuaded Britain—their sovereign at the time—to make a series of reforms. One of the reforms was offering scholarships to expensive schools to any good students on the island. Both Malcolm’s mother and aunt applied; his aunt got a scholarship but his mother did not at first. However, through pure luck, another girl ended up with two scholarships and the second was given to Joyce. Then his aunt got a scholarship to a London college, whereas his mother did not. To get money to pay for Joyce’s trip to England, her mother borrowed money from a shopkeeper.
However, this is not the entire story of Malcolm’s mother’s success. Gladwell backtracks to describe a very particular social phenomenon in Jamaica in which people with lighter skin were given more advantages than were people with darker skin. This came to be during Jamaica’s slave plantation history. Slave owners often had children with their black slaves; those children were given preferential treatment and allowed to be house slaves instead of working in the fields. This afforded them education, societal mannerisms, and further advantages from that point on. The lighter your skin was, the more privileges you were given, both socially and through the law.
Although slavery no longer exists in Jamaica, because of the long-standing history that Jamaica has with skin-color preferences, darker-skinned Jamaicans are discriminated against. Gladwell’s family had a long line of lighter-skinned ancestors, which enabled future family members to have more success. Daisy and Joyce both were very light-skinned. He ties this to their ability to secure funding to get Joyce to England when there was no money; the shopkeeper most likely would not have lent the money to a darker-skinned Jamaican.
Gladwell ends by saying that it would be dishonest of him to claim his mother’s success—and his own—was merely a product of hard work and determination, even though those were critical elements. In anyone’s story of success, including Gladwell’s own, we must take into consideration all of the cultural, situational, and environmental concerns that play a critical role.