Friday, September 17, 2010

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.
On what you could be.
It was this I was thinking about when, earlier this week, the e-streets were clucking about Willow Smith, daughter of Hollywood power couple Will and Jada, becoming a pop star. In case you’ve been living under a rock/in a coma/stubbornly resistant to staying up on pop culture, I’ll recap: Willow, at the tender age of 9, became an overnight rap/singing sensation when her new single, “Whip My Hair,” became a viral smash, getting more than 100,000 hits in its first day of release on the YouTube yard. Since then, rapper/producer/world dominator Jay-Z has signed Lil’ Ms. Smith to a recording deal with his Roc Nation label and compared her to a young Michael Jackson.
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...

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  1. Amen, Denene. I have one of *those* children, too. Unbreakable...and, fortunately, because this mother has a lot of work to do in the area of figuring out how to let him be who he is and remain sane. LOL! But, on my best days, my mission is simply not to kill his spirit, because now only would he suffer...the world would, too. There is no doubt that he's been put here to do something really special, even if it wears my behind out. Too many of our children, boys and girls, have their spirits squashed so early in their lives, and I'm determined to minimize any squashing done by me...although, I admit, it's a process, learning to not-squash.

    Point is, I completely feel you on this, and I admire the parents that Will and Jada seem to be. Be free, Willow!

  2. This is the first I've heard her single. The song shows she has oodles of talent, way more than some of the that older music "artists" that are out there. Go Willow!

  3. Having been one of those children, even coming of age in the early seventies I applaud this. My mom gulped when I shaved fourteen inches of curls at 14, almost passed out when I caught the bus to go see soul train in Orlando at sixteen...but I know she was proud 'cause O didnt allow it to mess with my 4.0. Now at over 50, I am still dancing to inner music as I watch my grand princessa who is playing keyboards art 18 mos. do likewise. Right ON!

  4. Willow's song is dope by the way! But, I'm so with you on this. And just image how the world would be is everyone's parent's "allowed" them to be who they are and express to be free to express themselves at an early age

  5. I'm a firm believer of free expression but I also feel that as parents, we have to still give them guidance too. We don't have to stifle them, but guide them so if they are growing up way too fast or hanging with folks that are too mature and promiscuous, then, be the parent. I have seen parents that allow their kids to act like brats, demanding and rude and the parents call this their self-expression stage. I think not. There's just a fine line between allowing the kids to do what they want to do and placing logical boundaries as well.

  6. This is my first time hearing about the situation and the song. I don't avoid celebrity gossip, I just get months behind since I don't watch TV and I hardly listen to the radio (too busy) so I'm glad I was able to catch up. Thanks for being up to date and sharing. Successful people have it very difficult because there are so many haters out there.

  7. While I might not agree with everything the Smiths do I admire that they do what works for their family and it works for them! Kudos to being a force to be reckoned with.


  8. As usual, Denene, you hit the nail on the head! Not only is my daughter one of these free-spirited children, I was too. If you told me to color in the lines, I was coloring out the line in pencil with instead of crayons. My mother stifled me. She wanted me to be normal; I wanted to be free. I guess that is why ultimately she and I don't get a long. At. All.

    I applaud The Smiths for their choice to allow their children to develop their own personalities. I am disheartened that we still live in a world where labels are so rigidly formed that is one dare to step outside the box- even a child - he or she is ridiculed to the extent of Salem Witch Trial horrors.

  9. I'm not at all surprised at the person Willow is becoming. Big ups to Will and Jada for doing what they do as parents, and not giving a darn what people say on how they bring up theirs. When little Willow was first introduced to the world, I thought with a name like that, I expect a mini powerhouse! Now look what we have.

  10. Turn outs I live on a rock not under it:-) This is the first I have heard of it. Cute song. Age appropriate and her parents are in the business so it's only natural that she might want to follow in their footsteps and they would want to encourage her.

  11. Dropping by to let you know that I just gave you a blog award simply because I think you and your blog are fabulous :) Stop by to pick it up when you get a chance


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