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Daisy Nation gave birth to twin girls in 1931 in Jamaica. She and her husband were both schoolteachers. When the twins were eleven, they received scholarships to a boarding school near the north coast. After boarding school, both twins attended University College, in London. One of the twins, Joyce, fell in love with a man named Graham; they got married and moved to Canada. Joyce became a successful writer and gave birth to the author, Malcolm Gladwell.
Gladwell points out the many opportunities that his mother was given. She and her sister received scholarships to boarding school just a year after those were instituted, and Joyce was only able to continue attending because her sister earned two scholarships. Daisy Nation borrowed a large sum of money to pay for Joyce’s tuition in England.
Daisy Nation also benefited from a series of opportunities. Her great-grandfather was William Ford, an Irishman who moved to Jamaica in 1784. He purchased a West African slave as his concubine and had a son. Unlike the American South, Jamaican society had many more opportunities for the “colored class.” Skin color was, however, still a factor: the lighter one’s skin tone, the more he or she could accomplish. In addition to being descended from mixed-race ancestors, Daisy was also surrounded by educated family members and successful businessmen.
Even from the time of Daisy Nation’s great-grandfather, Jamaican families put all of their resources into whichever of their children had the lightest skin, and people often ignored the branches of their family with darker skin. When Joyce first lived with Graham in England, they were once evicted when the landlord found out that Joyce was Jamaican. Joyce, initially angry, realized that in her life, she had treated people poorly because they had darker skin than she did. Gladwell reviews all of the opportunities in the various stories throughout the book, and the series of opportunities that brought his mother to a college in London. He submits that many more people could have fulfilled lives if they had the same opportunities.
Throughout Outliers, Gladwell shows that success does not come merely from individual achievement but from a variety of factors, including cultural legacy. While he plays the role of a journalist, focusing on the examples of other individuals, he turns to his own story and the story of his family, specifically, his mother. Gladwell can’t talk about his mother’s opportunities without talking about his grandmother’s. He focuses on the opportunities Daisy Nation had in Jamaica because of her skin color. She also benefitted from a legacy of a family who believed in education and had a knowledge of business. Like others Gladwell introduced throughout the book, his grandmother’s cultural legacy contributed to her success, as well as the success of her children and grandchildren. Gladwell shares that his mother and grandmother both had complicated feelings about Jamaican cultural beliefs surrounding skin color, having faced discrimination because of the system but also having benefited from it. Gladwell closes the book reinforcing for the final time that the most successful people don’t rise on their own, but as a result of history, legacy, community, and fortunate opportunities driving their achievements and making them possible. The self-made man or woman, the rugged individualist, is a folk tale.