Does a quote like this exist?
July 28, 2022 12:22 PM   Subscribe

I remember reading a nice quote expressing the point that there are uncountable geniuses that don't get to contribute their potential to the world because of things like poverty, discrimination, etc. I'm not too concerned about finding whatever it was I originally read, but I'd like to read words on this topic from people more eloquent than me.
posted by BuddhaInABucket to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Kind of sounds like Stephen Jay Gould: “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”
posted by miltthetank at 12:24 PM on July 28, 2022 [31 favorites]

Best answer: Stephen Jay Gould
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:25 PM on July 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: In two minutes. Amazing. Thank you Miltthetank and paper chromatographologist!
If there are other writers on this topic, I'd still be interested in their takes, so please share if you have them.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:27 PM on July 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This may be on a slight tangent, but today I discovered Bertolt Brecht's Questions from a Worker who Reads.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:36 PM on July 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Somewhat similar is Orwell in 'Looking Back on the Spanish War':

"When I think of antiquity, the detail that frightens me is that those hundreds of millions of slaves on whose backs civilization rested generation after generation have left behind them no record whatever. We do not even know their names. In the whole of Greek and Roman history, how many slaves’ names are known to you? I can think of two, or possibly three. One is Spartacus and the other is Epictetus. Also, in the Roman room at the British Museum there is a glass jar with the maker’s name inscribed on the bottom, ‘Felix fecit’. I have a vivid mental picture of poor Felix (a Gaul with red hair and a metal collar round his neck), but in fact he may not have been a slave; so there are only two slaves whose names I definitely know, and probably few people can remember more. The rest have gone down into utter silence."
posted by robself at 12:43 PM on July 28, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Tressie McMillian Cottom talks about just this in her great Ezra Klein interview.

"you can be everything that a culture values and not be in the right body for the culture to value it, and that is going to shape the limit of your life"

"My success is always limited by how well other people can imagine the possibility of me."
posted by jebs at 12:51 PM on July 28, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

… Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or wak'd to ecstasy the living lyre.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood….
posted by LizardBreath at 2:14 PM on July 28, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Related:

"Here and there a cygnet is reared uneasily among the ducklings in the brown pond, and never finds the living stream in fellowship with its own oary-footed kind. Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances" [...]
posted by soylent00FF00 at 5:11 PM on July 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: "Talent is equally distributed. Opportunity is not."

I've seen that attributed to multiple people, but the earliest source I could find is this op-ed by Darren Walker.
posted by yankeefog at 4:41 AM on July 29, 2022

W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk (1903) touches a lot on this idea, particularly in chapters five (Of the Wings of Atalanta) and six (Of the Training of Black Men), though this is kind of fundamentally what the whole book is about.

Here is one passage from chapter six that covers it (copied and pasted verbatim):

"Yet after all they are but gates, and when turning our eyes from the temporary and the contingent in the Negro problem to the broader question of the permanent uplifting and civilization of black men in America, we have a right to inquire, as this enthusiasm for material advancement mounts to its height, if after all the industrial school is the final and sufficient answer in the training of the Negro race; and to ask gently, but in all sincerity, the ever-recurring query of the ages, Is not life more than meat, and the body more than raiment? And men ask this to-day all the more eagerly because of sinister signs in recent educational movements. The tendency is here, born of slavery and quickened to renewed life by the crazy imperialism of the day, to regard human beings as among the material resources of a land to be trained with an eye single to future dividends. Race-prejudices, which keep brown and black men in their “places,” we are coming to regard as useful allies with such a theory, no matter how much they may dull the ambition and sicken the hearts of struggling human beings. And above all, we daily hear that an education that encourages aspiration, that sets the loftiest of ideals and seeks as an end culture and character rather than bread-winning, is the privilege of white men and the danger and delusion of black."

And also:

"Above our modern socialism, and out of the worship of the mass, must persist and evolve that higher individualism which the centres of culture protect; there must come a loftier respect for the sovereign human soul that seeks to know itself and the world about it; that seeks a freedom for expansion and self-development; that will love and hate and labor in its own way, untrammeled alike by old and new. Such souls aforetime have inspired and guided worlds, and if we be not wholly bewitched by our Rhinegold, they shall again. Herein the longing of black men must have respect: the rich and bitter depth of their experience, the unknown treasures of their inner life, the strange rendings of nature they have seen, may give the world new points of view and make their loving, living, and doing precious to all human hearts. And to themselves in these the days that try their souls, the chance to soar in the dim blue air above the smoke is to their finer spirits boon and guerdon for what they lose on earth by being black."
posted by urbanlenny at 7:55 PM on August 2, 2022

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