If You Haven’t Got It, You Can’t Show It. If You Have Got It, You Can’t Hide It

Zora Neale Hurston? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A quotation about success has been attributed to the prominent American author and pioneering folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. Here are two versions:

Those who don’t got it, can’t show it. Those who got it, can’t hide it
Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.

I have been unable to find this statement in her writings. Are these her words? If she did use this expression I would like to see the larger context.

Quote Investigator: In 1942 Zora Neale Hurston published an autobiography titled “Dust Tracks on a Road”, and it included the quotation; however, the wording differed from the two versions given above:

If you haven’t got it, you can’t show it. If you have got it, you can’t hide it.

Here is an excerpt showing that Hurston was discussing the future success of blacks in the United States and the world. In this passage she emphasized the perspective of the individual. Boldface has been added: 1

It would be against all nature for all the Negroes to be either at the bottom, top, or in between. It has never happened with anybody else, so why with us? No, we will go where the internal drive carries us like everybody else. It is up to the individual. If you haven’t got it, you can’t show it. If you have got it, you can’t hide it. That is one of the strongest laws God ever made.

Here are additional selected citations.

Several editions of “Dust Tracks on a Road” were released over the decades, and the text was sometimes changed between editions. Yet, the passage above was identical in the Harper Perennial edition of 2010 which was described as: “The restored text established by the Library of America”. 2

In 2007 a compilation titled “Wisdom for the Soul of Black Folk” was published, and it included a version of the quotation that matched the second instance listed by the questioner. The statement was credited to Hurston: 3

Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.
~ Zora Neale Hurston, 1891-1960 ~

In 2010 a message matching the first instance listed by the questioner was tweeted: 4

ROSALYN @AllAboutRosalyn
Those who don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it. -Zora Neale Hurston #blackhistorymonth
6:18 PM Feb 3rd, 2010

In conclusion, this expression was used by Zora Neale Hurston in her autobiography “Dust Tracks on a Road” in 1942. In modern times the wording of the statement is sometimes slightly altered.

(Great thanks to Jocelyn Stanton whose email inquiry gave impetus to QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1969, Dust Tracks On a Road, Chapter XII: My People! My People!, Start Page 223, Quote Page 245, Arno Press, New York. (Arno Press published in 1969 a reproduction of the 1942 first edition published by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia) (Verified with scans of Arno Press edition)
  2. 2010, Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston, Quote Page 192, (Revised edition of original 1942 edition), Harper Perennial of HarperCollins, New York. (Google Books Preview) link
  3. 2007, Wisdom for the Soul of Black Folk, Compiled and edited by Larry Chang, Contributing editor Roderick Terry, Section: Accomplishment/Achievement/Excellence, Quote Page 26, Gnosophia Publishers, Washington D.C. (Google Books Preview)
  4. Tweet, From: ROSALYN @AllAboutRosalyn, Time: 6:18 PM, Date: February 3, 2010, Text: Those who don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it. -Zora Neale Hurston #blackhistorymonth. (Accessed on twitter.com on November 6, 2013)