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OK, I know social media is all about the snark and ratchet, especially around awards show time, most especially around BET Awards show time. But snark reveals a bit of truth about what the snarker believes. And if reaction to Willow Smith’s appearance on the BET Awards pre-show, where she debuted a new song called “I Am Me,” is any indication, we believe some pretty depressing stuff about black children — and black girls specifically.

Fall in line

If white kids can be goths and punks and skaters and metal heads and jocks and nerds, shouldn’t black children have the same latitude for self-expression? It is true that race changes things. I imagine there was a time when cautioning black children not to do their own thing was about survival — sometimes even life or death. Fifty-some years ago, it was hard enough being black and simply living life. When you can’t even reliably vote or get a decent education, there is no need to borrow trouble by adding defiantly quirky to your list of challenges. Black children and adults fell in line with rigid codes of respectability for a reason. But we’re not living in 1962, so I can’t imagine why so many people find Willow Smith’s sartorial choices and I-am-what-I-am ethos so threatening.

“Willow Smith, you’re 11 years old. Nobody needs advice about ‘being themselves’ from you. Call us back when you get your period” was tweeted and retweeted hundreds of times last night and Monday morning.

Don’t give me that an 11-year-old rich girl doesn’t have problems. Ask an average pre-teen or teen and they will share a ton of problems. It doesn’t matter that to adults the problems seem trivial. They don’t seem trivial when you are 11 or 15, do they? And I am willing to bet being the child of celebrity parents comes with some very real and unique challenges (like seeing speculation on your parents’ marriage on the cover of tabloids).

Considering what black children learn about blackness, subtly and openly, in the media and in American culture, don’t we want them to have the strength and resilience to say, “I am not your stereotype, but I am me”? Don’t we want them to feel comfortable in their skin? Don’t we want black children to be as free as other children? Don’t we want to inoculate little girls against the onslaught of shitty messages about black femaleness?

Perhaps we don’t.

I can’t help but set reaction to Willow Smith next to the plethora of young male performers who brag about swag and girls and money without raising so much as an eyebrow. But a little black girl sings “your validation is not that important to me,” and all hell breaks loose.

(Note to Willow: Watch out girl! Steve Harvey and Tyrese will tell you all that independence is gonna leave you manless one day.)

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  1. Doodle

    What I don’t understand is adults using the defense that she’s too young and then invalidate her feelings as an individual and bully her by calling her things that are ignorant. And unless you’re a licensed social worker, working for child services, I don’t think it’s your job to tell her parents how to raise her.

  2. God. Can I just take a second to comment on how simply GOOD this song is, and how amazing her voice is? Can’t wait to see what’s next for this chick. She needs to keep it up… haters gonna hate, for sure, but damn. She’s wonderful.

  3. Jameeha

    All I can say is I Love IT! Where was my willow smith while I was growing up. I grew up with kids that didn’t look like me it seems like a never ending quest to find myself. Fast forward I have 2 teen age daughters and I preach to them all the time you are what god made you so embrace and love yourself. You are not define by hair, clothes or material belongings. My own family tries to tell me to how my kids should dress, what’s the best hair style, etc. to me I think that is all an form of expression with boundries of course and dad always gets final approval on clothes. But my kids are free to express Themselves. When I compare my kids to family their age my children seem fearless ready to take on the world while other children seem trapped or content with not trying anything new.

    What I don’t get are the adults passing judgement, not everyone parenting styles are the same and what works for the Smith’s don’t work for the Jone’s.

  4. I really like the song. Love Willow. She looks so much like her Father.

  5. Myra Gabrino

    She is young and i think trying to find out who she is, but one thing i am sure of is she is gay.

    • Then you’re a dick. I was very much the anti-pink tomboy as a youngster and started liking cisgendered things when I was in my teens. I used to HATE wearing a skirt to school and wearing dresses to church. I am very feminine now at 25 years old. Kids try different things and assumptions about sexuality are assholish.

    • Who gives a crap if she is gay? Quite frankly, it’s not your place to be sure of anyone’s sexuality but your own. A person’s outward appearance, especially at that age, is never an indicator of their sexuality. And damn you for thinking it is, you are the problem.

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