To read most business magazines is to think that success is born mostly of hard work, a great attitude plus a spark of creative genius. But the reality is that wealth, at least in the United States, has historically come from standing with one foot planted very firmly on others' backs.
You already know about the slave trade in the U.S. Did you know that slave traders covered men and women in iron chains, made them walk over raw terrain stretching not one mile, not ten, but hundreds? And sold them to other people who had little money themselves, but borrowed from the U.S. government to buy people and land, and lived off the loans and the labor to become extraordinarily rich.
Here is a picture of a group of "Breaker Boys," circa early 1900s, by Lewis Hine, a U.S. government photographer paid to document how children lived and worked at that time. Working in the coal mines, the kids were paid to pick out impurities from coal, one at a time, using only their hands.
Did you know that today, the average cost of childcare is about $12,000 per year, per child, in after-tax money? And that is for one shift; full-time parents actually work the equivalent of three. Historically, it is mothers who have done all this work. So if you assume one female raising two children, that's $36,000 x 2 = $72,000 per year of labor she is giving away for free.
And don't forget prison labor. In a 2015 article called "American Slavery, Reinvented," The Atlantic asks, "How is it legal?" There are more than 2.2 million people, earning "pennies per hour, if anything at all," doing "mining, agriculture, and all manner of manufacturing from making military weapons to sewing garments for Victoria’s Secret." That call center you've reached? It might even be staffed by a prison laborer.
You already know that prison populations are disproportionately Black and Hispanic.
A few years ago, an article in Global Research, taken from El Diario-La Prensa (2008) noted that many well-known brands in more than three dozen states are legally allowed to trade in prison labor: "IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more."
All of this activity is 100% legal, or at least it was during the time that businessmen (men) earned handsome sums of wealth from it - sums that, of course, grew bigger and bigger and bigger, almost un-countable from the perspective of the average you and me, by the time 2016 is just about to roll around.
Maybe it's time we stopped telling ourselves the story that money grows from a magical innovation tree that lives in Caucasian mens' minds.
Maybe we need to stop living in a branded, intermediated reality where the "truth" is defined by movies and magazines. And start looking at what's happening on the ground.
Maybe then we can start making things a little better in America, in reality, for the real people who suffer from our popular myths.
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Photo: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in "Mad Men" by Zennie Abraham via Flickr (Creative Commons)