Show me your grades!
Grillz. The latest fad that has evolved out of the hip hop industry (meaning the economic exploitation of the culture, generally not benefiting those creating it). These comical mouthpieces became mainstream over the past year, particularly due to the success of Mike Jones and Paul Wall, the Houston rappers who both scored platinum CDs last year to accessorize their platinum grillz.
And now, many aspiring rap artists believe that grillz are necessary equipment as a part of their overall image. With rap artists helping to dictate fashion for young people, they are now spending lots of money on grillz.
The recent cover story for the Arkansas Times was a fascinating look at this phenomenon. I chuckled at the local rappers who tried to intellectualize these accessories. One argued that the more “ice” you have in your mouth, the more attention you receive. Another says it shows the world that you’re on top. Keep in mind, they may have platinum in their mouths, but they don’t have platinum sales, and as far as I know, that’s the only tangible proof you’ve made it musically. In fact, the biggest selling artists last year, 50 Cent and Eminem, are basically grill-less.
Someone had the audacity to declare, “I’d rather black youth spend their money on a grill than on something that doesn’t have any value.” A grill as an investment? Let me toss out my 401K immediately and go spend $10,000 on a grill. All we need is some buck dancing and cooning to go along with teeth permanently altered with diamonds, probably conflict diamonds at that.
Grillz are nothing more than another superficial symbol that so many black kids have chosen to chase as a means of self-esteem building. As the song “Grillz” says, “Smile for me daddy. Let me see you grill.”
Instead of seeing their grillz, I want to see their grades!
Over the past month, I have really struggled with the state of black student achievement in Little Rock. Simply stated, black students are not competing academically. This was made painfully clear at the Little Rock School District Academic Signing Day. I think this is a GREAT event. I didn’t get any students last year, but vowed to have at least one this year. I got two to come to Philander Smith College (and should have had three, but that’s another story). I watched the 67 students announce and share their college choices. And being the black man that I am, I counted students that looked like me.
Fourteen. Fourteen out of 67, or 21 percent.
Based on data from the Arkansas Department of Education, I know that the five public high schools in the Little Rock School District are a combined 67 percent black. So, in essence, 33 percent of the population received 79 percent of the recognition that day.
Black America is losing the war against the Cult of Anti-Intellectualism, as John McWhorter calls it. Our kids are more concerned about showing their grillz than college scholarship offers. We settle for being pictured prominently in any news story showing us as metal-mouthed minstrels, but for an academic signing day photo shoot, we’re largely absent.
Grillz are not an investment — education is. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of us selling or buying it.
Dr. Walter Kimbrough is president of Philander Smith College.