Paul Thomas, a professor at Furman University in South Carolina and one of our most insightful scholars of race and inequality, writes that the narrative that “anyone can succeed with grit and education” is a myth, a veneer to protect white privilege (Thomas is white). The reality, he argues, is that race and class are powerful determinants, more powerful than effort and education.


He writes, with data to back up his assertions:


Political leaders and the mainstream media feed two enduring claims to the public, who nearly universally embraces both: Doing well in school and attaining advanced education are essential to overcoming any obstacles, and the key to succeeding in school is grit, effort and perseverance.


Education appears significant within race, but not the avenue to overcoming racism. Well educated blacks earn more than less educated blacks, but blacks and whites with the same education reflect significant race disparities favoring whites….Rarely do we admit stunning data on race/education inequity. Blacks with some college have similar employment opportunities as whites with no high school diploma….


Anthony Cody has now confronted the relentless and uncritical mainstream media fascination with grit in his The Resilience of Eugenics, linking claims about the importance of grit, the ability to identify students with grit, and the push to instill grit in certain students (brown, black, and impoverished, mainly) with Eugenics.


Cody’s argument has deep roots among many of us who have argued for quite some time that charter movements such as KIPP and grit arguments are not sound educationally, scientifically, or ethically. In fact, we have demonstrated that this entire package of narratives and policies is essentially racist and classist.


Certainly we should aspire to change our society so that education is more important than race. But we are far from that ideal now, and society is doing very little to alter the reality that race trumps grit.