Diverse narratives: You do not always get what you want

Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich was released in 1937. This book is one of the top 10 selling self-help books of all time and has coined the term “Whatever your mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” In this book, he describes how to improve your mindset with 13 principles to become wealthy. The book was inspired by Andrew Carnegie and many other impressive people like Ford, Edison, and Rockefeller whom he interviewed before he wrote the book. Not until Kirk Landers and Michael J Ritt published A Lifetime of Successes, did anyone ever think about anything other than the success of Napoleon Hill. In this biography of Napoleon Hill, it is told how he was a fraud. He ran many different businesses that all failed and has no proof or notes of a meeting with anyone he stated the book was inspired by. Napoleon Hill, the man known to create the steps to success was all in all, charged with fraud twice and a compulsive liar, but people are still buying his book and using the phrase “if you believe, you can achieve.”

This false belief gave Black people hope that as long as they tried, better things would come. Due to the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments in addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1866 being passed, formerly enslaved Black people finally had a chance to learn key things on how to be a free man or woman which inherently gave them hope because they were willing to show up to be taught (Nast 1998). This was phrased as the reconstruction period in the South. This led to 17 Black Americans having a seat in the U.S. Congress and more than 600 in state legislatures. The ex-confederate members of the South did not favor reconstruction because the Black community started to own land, get educated, and get positions as government officials. As a result of Black people achieving these feats, the ex-confederate members started to retaliate through acts of violence against Black Americans to halt their success and to push them out. The empowered local governments started to enact laws like poll taxes, grandfather clauses, literacy requirements, and character tests, while other groups like the KKK and Redshirts commenced endless beatings and lynchings. South Carolina had a total of 90,000 Black voters during the reconstruction period and after it failed, the black voter turnout resulted to be fewer than 3,000. Black people started to migrate north and stopped voting to see a stop to the tragedies that were happening so frequently (Byman 2021). W.E.B. Dubois states in Black Reconstruction of America 1860-1880,

KKK meeting and burning cross. PhotoBy: IndianaHistoricalSociety

“One reads the truer deeper facts of Reconstruction with great despair. It is at once so simple and human, and yet so futile. There is no villain, no idiot, no saint. There are just men; men who crave ease and power, men who know want and hunger, men who have crawled. They all dream and strive with ecstasy of fear and strain of effort, balked of hope and hate. Yet the rich world is wide enough for all, wants all, needs all. So slight a gesture, a word, might set the strife in order, not with full content, but with a growing dawn of fulfillment. Instead roars the crash of hell…”

This quote gives light on how much Black Americans in the South hoped and believed that this was the turning point of their lives for the better but ultimately made things so much worse for them.

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Dubois says, “To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.” Listing only a few of the hardships Black people face today:

  • In Washington, D.C. there is a 7.2:1 black-white unemployment ratio (Moore 2022)
  • Black Americans are 3.23 times more likely to get shot by police than their white counterparts (Black People 2020)
  • Black women are 5 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related blood pressure disorders than white women (Black Women 2021)
  • Black men make up 13 percent of the male population but nearly 35 percent of the male prison population (Hinton 2018)
  • In 1979 black men earned 80 percent of what white men earned, in 2016 black men earned 70 percent of what white men earned (Karageorge 2017)

… the list goes on.

In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case outlawed segregation in schools. Three years before, students at a segregated school in North Carolina did a class project on what they thought a proper classroom should have and when they realized that their white counterpart school had these things, they led a student protest to get the funding to get the same materials. When they were denied, they informed everyone in the community and led a unified protest and after a week they were granted renovations and funding. But even with this change that school wasn’t desegregated until 1970, like many other schools in the south (School). Again, leading with the promise of better like the reconstruction period, this led to just another form of oppression. Even though schools were desegregated, this was only inherently done by race, Black Americans and other minorities now face income segregation through school zoning. “Nationally, high-poverty segregated schools with majority students of color have fewer resources, higher suspension rates, and employ less experienced teachers” (Bierbum 2021). These zoning laws keep not only people of the same community or city separated but also keep further generations socially separated and educationally differentiated. Every public school should have the same resources and opportunities but schools in poor neighborhoods have fewer resources than those in wealthier neighborhoods. This continues the separation since minorities mostly dominate these lower-income neighborhoods and do not give future generations the chance to do better than the generation before because they are not treated equally.

The suffering of black people in particular has a deeper and wider concept because it is conditioned by a person’s position in the community. The phrase “if you believe, you can achieve” is a statement that only provides false hope. The socio-political, economic, and education policies Black Americans have faced over the years and currently have no sight for their blind achievement. In other words, regardless of how much the Black community believes, there is certain conditioning that will restrict what they get to have in the system known as America.



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