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That New, New: Willow Smith, The Hair Whip, and Coloring Outside the Lines
About this, I’m really clear: If Lila, my littlest one, were left to her own devices (and her parents had more time, cash, connections and people), she’d be off somewhere fancy, ordering up room service, sipping a Sprite with lime, twirling about in her favorite sparkly black and hot pink Twinkle Toes sneakers and a wild, flashy dress that would make Lady Gaga look demure, talking ‘bout, “Can somebody turn my mic up high when I hit the stage Mommy?”
Yes, Lila is that kid.
Full of spirit—wild and free.
Oh trust: Nick and I have tried just about every disciplinary tool we could think of to tame that kid, but she remains thoroughly unbroken. Shoot, she isn’t even bent. And on our good days, we admit to a certain amount of grudging admiration for her strength of will and busy ourselves with an deep curiosity about what this child will grow up to be. The fact of the matter is that she is who she is and, tempted as we may be to want her to tamp down the 500-watt sparkle and shine, we’re working really hard to let our babies—even, and especially, the wild one—be exactly who they are.
This is a new concept around my way because my parents’ generation and the generations of African Americans who came before that ruled their homes with iron fists, thick, fresh, prickly switches and The Code: Children are to walk the line—to be seen, not heard. Coloring outside the lines—whether it be the way we dress, talk, act or just are—was a huge no bueno.
Which, I guess, worked for our parents. But not always for us. I’m passionate about instilling confidence in my kids and write about it often, simply because I know firsthand what being forced to color in the lines can do to a girl’s self-esteem—how being quiet and tragically deferential and afraid to express one’s self out of an abiding belief that you have no right to speak up can get you walked on. Make you miss out on your blessings.
Willow follows in the footsteps of her brother, Jaden Smith, who got an early jump on his career when he made his film debut in “The Pursuit of Happyness”—at the tender age of 8.
And, in typical fashion, folks were all over the internet, bashing the song, questioning Will and Jada’s judgement as parents, breaking on Jay-Z for signing a 9-year-old to a record label that boasts provocative rappers, launching mean-spirited comments about the girl’s shaved hair and clothing choices. I mean, you’da thunk the girl knocked back a fifth of bourbon for breakfast, ate small children for lunch and then strolled the red carpet with Satan.
Like, come on, folks: Willow Smith is the child of a rapper-turned-actor who is, perhaps, one of the most well-respected, famous, and loved performers of his generation. His wife is no slouch in front of the camera, either, and their son is an official international heartthrob in his own right after his star turn earlier this year in the new “Karate Kid.” The Smith Family entertains. And it does it well. And a huge part of the world they live in has an obvious belief that you let your kids express themselves—that you don’t stifle their creativity. Isn’t it only natural, then, that Willow wants to follow in those footsteps? And that her parents oblige her by letting her be exactly who she is—shaved hair, shades, glitter, animal print knee-high boots, microphone, rap career and all?
I won’t even get into the sexism of it all—how nobody had a problem when The Smiths let Jaden become a child actor and wear his hair wild and wooly and be exactly who he wants to be at age 8. That’s for another post. No, this post is about how Will and Jada’s decision to let their daughter be who she is—full of spirit and wild and free—smacks up against the conventional wisdom of black America that children—especially girl children—are to live by The Code: Sit back. Be quiet. Play the rear. And always—always!—color within the lines...