Dassa’s Grit

Dassa was a black woman. A pretty young baby she was born to a poor family whose father drank. Her mother did the best she could but she herself was an orphan so there was no-one to protect her from the drunk. But she loved Dassa intently. As a baby and only child Dassa was surrounded by her mother’s love and the occasional presence of the father’s drunkenness. As a young girl she developed an interest in education but it was sometimes difficult because studying at home was hard. But her mother told Dassa that education was the way out of this life, and so Dassa tried. When Dassa was 13 her breasts were big for her age, her beauty continued, and her father’s interest was piqued. One night he came home from the club, and told Dassa how much he loved her and proceeded to demonstrate that love by raping her. Dassa gritted her teeth and bore it – he was her father. This happened a few times and then all hell broke loose when her father came home and the mother realised what happened. She pulled out her sharpest kitchen knife, and catching the father she held the point up to the crown jewels. For Dassa it never happened again. Despite this she continued to find respite in education, and worked well during school and after school clubs. She progressed through school at the top of her class, but this was not always easy. She was pretty so she had a problem with the boys chasing her. Normally the girls protected each other against the boys but the girls’ club had dues to be paid; the club required an agreement that they mattered more than school, more than anything else. But Dassa focussed on education , and tried to cope with the attention from the boys and the ostracising from the girls. In the end she learned to keep them all at arm’s length. At home her mother’s health had worsened, so the roles at home changed and she looked after the mother doing homework between her caring duties. But in her sixth form the mother died. She was 17 and the mother’ sister who enjoyed a drink and a social life took her in to look after her young. Dassa did this working between her caring as she had with her mother. Academically this worked and off she went to university. To begin with she was behind the others because they had all been to better schools, but she remembered her mother’s words and focussed on education. It was well known at university that within a term all these inequalities balanced out, and very soon Dassa’s dedication paid off and she began to fly. She had chosen law because law opened so many doors in business, and life seemed to be going well. But one night she got careless, and decided to join some friends at a dance. Very soon she got bored with this stupidness, and on her way home three rugby players saw this pretty lone black girl – none had any black notches on their bedpost. Each were used to getting what they wanted but Dassa didn’t want anything they offered. Soon drink took over their initial lustful but pleasant advances, lust combined with sexual frustration turned the three requests into the demands of the privileged, and Dassa learned that it wasn’t only black fathers who expressed love through rape. She had learnt from her father how to switch off during rape, and simply accepted the three privileged MAWPs who were not violent with her – just demanding their rights. Rather than a formal complaint she took to carrying a knife and spray, somehow just knowing in her mind that these weak bullies were not going to do this to her again was enough – she was never bothered. Of course she was never stupid enough to go out at night again, was careful to surround herself when going home, and took more taxis than most. Her dedication found her a good place in a law firm during uni, as a student she dressed down but formally, and when she qualified she had a job. Once working there full-time she saw the lie of the land – this was the land of MAWPs. She kept herself away from the sexual interactions and found her career wasn’t progressing well. Whereas other women less competent progressed by fanning the egos of these MAWPs, some also climbed the ladder of members. Dassa realised what needed to be done. She had to join this MAWP club and fan their egos. But the thought of having all these dworks gain their black notch with her filled her with disgust. There had to be another way. There was one white girl climbing the ladder because she aligned her success with a particular MAWP whose star was rising. She was known as his concubine and whilst she flirted with all the MAWPs as was prerequisite for climbing the ladder none touched her because she was the concubine of this MAWP. That was what Dassa would do. Which MAWP would she concubine for? She looked for a while and then she chose well. This man was a good family man but his star was rising. He had the usual MAWP “black notch syndrome”, and very soon Dassa saw her way through socialising into his bed. The other MAWPs accepted whose property she was, and because she now socialised with them they were happy and worked better with her. Her own star was rising as the star of her MAWP rose. She accepted the socialising as a job requirement, and was always invited to parties as MAWP families liked token blacks. Her passion was her home. She paid too much for a house in a white neighbourhood that wouldn’t welcome her, but she made sure it had a wall. The house was protected by the latest security, and was regularly visited by her security firm. When she didn’t have to socialise her home was her haven where she grew what she could of Guyanan flowers, and eventually grew fond of her rottweilers. Life continued for Dassa like this as she made Executive on the board of her MAWP, until he died. He had made sure she would become CEO by manipulating board picks and contracts. She accepted her duties as CEO holding an annual party at her home that the company took as a privilege to attend. She refused to give anything to the family she had grown up with. Her drunken father had been killed on the nest by an enraged husband, and the law made little effort to apportion blame as the husband was also black. The mother’s sister had once asked her for money, and out of a sense of duty she was tempted. But she knew any gift would invite hordes of requests, so she cut herself off from that family. When she died there was a quiet ceremony where only the firm attended. She left her estate to a Guyanan relief organisation.


Here is Angela Duckworth’s TED talk on grit – quite inspiring. It led to heavy investment into research into Grit. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Have you read Wild Swans? When I read that book, I came away with a tremendous respect for the way these women overcame adversity – Grit. Is Grit an Asian virtue? I hope that is not a racist question – apologies if it is, but it does not surprise me to see a woman of Asian origin raising the issue of Grit.

Let’s consider Dassa’s grit – determination. Her focus is powerful. I have great respect for the determination of some of the black students, especially girls, I have taught, they have dedicated themselves to education. I am not saying the students I knew had Dassa’s background – I know many didn’t, I also know that many who tried to accept the business path took respite in their family – Dassa is fiction. But the challenges that Dassa went through are real possibilities. Challenges that other people go through are also real. But many of such gritty challenges should not exist. It is typical for a 1%-system to attribute failure to personal weakness such as lack of grit. By blaming grit the system doesn’t have to address issues that should not exist such as MAWP and sexist exploitation.

In education failure is based not on human weakness such as “gritlessness”, but systemic weakness. Education should not be concerned with exams, education should be concerned with personal development. Education should not be concerned with fitting people into the 1%-system, failing people so that they will be grateful for a job. Grit addresses none of these issues, and 1%-support for grit research is looking to find a personal approach that avoids change. Hence the repeated edufashions that do not question the overall system.

In Buddhism there are the 4 Noble Truths, the fourth being the 8-fold Path, and the 6th of the Path is “right determination”. It does not say determination but right determination, it is determination in a context, overall – overcoming suffering but within a correct view directed by meditation. Throughout life I have seen many determined people who overcome incredible odds, they are tremendous people. When you see a disaster, you see courage and determination of so many who help. When I see this I have 2 reactions, the first is admiration, and the second is anger as so many disasters are made far worse by the way the 1% works. As the Buddha described there is a world of suffering out there, but this is made far worse by the greed of a few. Right determination helps us overcome suffering but how much of that suffering is unnecessary and caused by the greed of the few.

I would describe grit as a virtue, and would encourage all to persevere. But there are times when determination to succeed irrespective is misdirected – ask Dassa. At times it takes grit to stand up to the system and say it is time the system changed rather than demanding virtues such as grit to be misplaced within the system.

For me it is the adults who bear responsibility for this. It is adults who must change the system, students should remain single-minded and focussed on education. But instead of that education being there to make people better it is there to miseducate and make wage-slaves. Adult educationalists are responsible for this, it is their failure in collaborating with exploitation; it is their failure to show grit.

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Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.

Blogs:- Ginsukapaapdee, Mandtao, Zandtao.


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