Well it turns out that the thing that Black children need to succeed is something the experts are calling, “grit!” This grit is the ability to persevere in the face of unbelievable odds. It is the ability to be resilient, optimistic, confident, and creative. It is the ability to set long-term goals, endure and follow through. These so-called experts also claim that Black children lack “grit” and if only they had some “grit” they would be successful and overcome all of the challenges they face. Can I tell you how absolutely sick of the “griterrati” I am these days?
Anyone who has taken 20 minutes to read anything about the history of African Americans would know that we are some of the founding fathers and mothers of grit. Let me use this blog to “deconstruct” the deep down grit that forms much of the Black experience. Please note: these may not be characteristic of ALL Black people, but I’ve had enough life experiences to share some widely shared insights:
Perseverance: This term means to continue on despite how long something takes. Black people continued on for over 250 years of chattel slavery. They continued on as second-class citizens from 1865 to 1965. They continued on despite not being able to count on White people to do the right and just thing. They continued on when all of the signs indicated they should have just given up. In more modern contexts I see Black people persevere on terrible jobs, in substandard housing, and lack of respect. No one has “continued on” as long as Black people. We are the poster children for perseverance.
Resilience: This is the ability to bounce back. Again, no group has bounced back more often and more consistently than Black folks. We were told we were not human, but we bounced back from that label. We were regularly lynched, raped, and brutalized but we bounced back from that. We were told that we would never be considered full citizens but we keep marching, protesting, and speaking truth to power. Do you realize how many times some Black people showed up at the Court House to be told they would never be eligible to vote? Did you pay attention to an entire year of the students known as the “Little Rock Nine” who were harassed, spat upon, and threatened each day as they tried to attend Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School? Getting up every morning and going back to that school was the very essence of resilience.
Optimism: Given the sad state of Black life in America we continue to believe in a brighter future. I am not sure I would say we were optimistic. No, I would argue that we are “hopeful.” The combination of our spirituality and perspective helps us to hope as we look toward a brighter tomorrow. Because we often think of things in more transcendent ways we may have this hope in a world beyond this one, but it remains a hope.
Confidence: The mainstream says confidence; we say “swag.” We witness it whenever a talented athlete slam dunks a basketball, smashes a home run, or scores a touchdown. We see it when a dope MC steps on a stage and brings the crowd to a fever pitch. We witness it on a Sunday morning when the preacher takes a text, lays bare an amazing exegesis, builds to a crescendo and drops the mic. We see it when a Sista sings an amazing solo that causes an audience to weep. Yes, we have confidence; we call it swag!
Creativity: One of the critical elements of the incredible cultural form known as hip hop is the ability to “flip something out of nothing.” This is acting imaginatively in the face of dwindling or missing resources. However, this element of hip hop is not restricted to the last 40 years of the artistic expression. No, my mother used to flip something out of nothing when she was able to get me an Easter outfit or Christmas presents when our family resources were stretched to the limit. I have seen Black women turn limited ingredients into sumptuous meals. I have seen Black people literally spin straw into gold and turn 2 fishes and 5 loaves into enough to feed a multitude. We have recycled, re-purposed, and reconfigured in ways to make old things new like no other people.
I would argue that Black people need LESS grit! We need the same supports as White middle class people that help make lives easier and less stressful. We need to start with some of their advantages. We need to have children who are permitted to have real childhoods as opposed to having to grow up before their time. We need to rest in the quiet assurance that our children will return home safely at the end of each day. We don’t need to be any “grittier.”
I am not at all persuaded that “grit” makes any difference in the lives of Black people and until I see White children persevere in the face of impossibility, show resilience after being regularly stomped down, remain confident after being told over and over that they are nothing and are entitled to nothing, and construct a life out of nothing, the only “grit” I’m going to deal with remains in a blue box with a little Quaker man on the package!
Stay Black & Smart!