It comes up early and often (if indirectly) in GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson's 1990 biography, "Gifted Hands." And it generated one of the biggest applause lines in the first GOP presidential primary debate.
The "it" here boils down to this: Carson, a black man and by all accounts a brilliant neurosurgeon, overcame all manner of disadvantage to become one of the nation's leading medical minds and now presidential candidates. He did not let poverty -- or, most of all, a burdensome set of distracting worries and excuses about white America's minimal-to-nonexistent racism -- stand in his way. By sheer will, determination and perseverance, he is the man and now the retired doctor and presidential candidate that he is today. And that, along with moral rectitude, is what the disadvantaged need, according to Carson.
It's a view that the GOP base devours. This view largely rejects the idea that social structures and institutions -- the tax code, schools, health care, jobs, policing, transportation options and even food choices -- have helped some Americans and stand in the way of others. As such, large-scale reforms or fraught discussions about matters like race are not only unhelpful but unnecessary and perhaps even unwise.
The same logic applies to our social welfare programs including cash welfare assistance and food stamps for the poor. They are also ideas that dovetail nicely with a political philosophy that prioritizes low taxes and opposes Obama-era health-care reforms.
Those are ideas that Carson shares. And that has helped propel him -- one of three people in the GOP field who have never held public office -- to fifth in an average of major national polls. Carson comes behind only Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee. And his polling average is better than that of candidates who garner far more coverage and attention, including Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, John Kasich, Rick Perry and Lindsey Graham.
The challenge for Carson and his party is that when Carson speaks this way about race, social policy and economic disadvantage, it's just what the Republican Party's base wants to hear, but his ideas have quite limited appeal outside that base.
Two early August polls -- one a Washington Post survey and the other from the Pew Research Center -- found that the vast majority of Americans, black and white, share the view that social and legal changes are needed to assure functional racial equality. (Both polls also found Republicans were far less likely to agree.)
Then, there's this: Despite the often-repeated and widely believed idea that voters of color are or will be more receptive if not outright excited about a black or brown GOP candidate, Carson's ideas are very much out of line with the political priorities and views with which most voters of color identify.
Carson's avowed opposition to the Affordable Care Act stands at odds with the significant gains in health insurance coverage rates that black and Latino Americans have seen since the policy and its features went into effect. Carson's claims that social assistance programs represent an ill unto themselves can sound, well, odd from a man who benefited from public aid at critical moments during his own impoverished childhood. And these programs have overwhelming support from blacks and Latinos.
Carson's insistence that racial matters amount almost to nuisance thoughts, pointless exercises and distractions can, at best, sound like deep denial and at worst like a willful effort to blame black America for its own problems. His insistence that the solution to the roiling issue of police conduct is character-building among young black men will sound particularly harsh to a black community that is overwhelmingly concerned about the police's treatment of it. A recent poll showed eight in 10 African Americans believe police are more likely to use force against them than against whites.
And this brings us back to the GOP. The party and its chief strategists have been frank: Its ability to win national elections hinges, in significant part, on appealing to a wider swath of America's changing population -- most notably blacks, Latinos and women.
As a black candidate, Carson would seem to further that goal. But his ideas on race and inequality don't seem likely to move the ball forward for his party.