What’s Behind the Grits Culture Wars

Whether served plain, salty, or sugary, the staple dish carries hundreds of years of history in its grains

Brooklyn White


Illustration: Stefanie Wong

CChance the Rapper closed out a September 2019 episode of Ellen with a performance of “Eternal,” a track from his debut studio album, The Big Day. A one-second-long clip of the performance went viral on Twitter, after viewers realized that he had not only said the N-word, but proceeded it with a resounding, “Grits!” After thousands of retweets, the snippet started a mass conversation about grits and rekindled the age-old argument about the “correct” way to eat them.

Grits are a staple in the Black community, and in addition to a shout out on “Eternal,” they have been included in a number of songs and popular culture moments. They have rich roots as well, due to the meal’s simplicity and place within Black American history over the past few hundred years. No matter how you dress them, grits are quite literally a part of the fabric of America.

Cynthia Greenlee, editor of Southern Foodways, shared with me that “Grits, and its variations, are centuries-old” and American interpretations are a mixture of native, African American, and White southern versions of the dish. “Growing up in the Deep South, I had grits more times than I can remember. I’ll never forget…