A few weeks ago, I saw a meme float across my digital newsfeed with a photo of Willow and Jaden Smith, dressed as eccentrically as usual, with the caption:
“Sometimes, I think we hate Jaden and Willow Smith because they are free black children and we don’t know what free black children look like.”
I immediately scoffed at the idea and scrolled right past it. It couldn’t have been more than two full scrolls before I saw it reposted again onto my newsfeed. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I saw it at least a dozen times. Now, I typically steer clear of Facebook arguments but I did have questions and wanted answers, so I did what any self-respecting person would do in that situation. I sat and pondered over that idea in the caption for a while. As I thought about why that statement was so ridiculous to me, I was introduced to an Op-Ed on NBCNews.com that nearly made me toss my laptop in a fit of rage. The title read:
So many questions ran through my mind. What is “the Revolution”? What is a “Free Black Child?” Why are they all rich celebrities? And suddenly it struck me. I was angered so much by these sentiments, because I was once a Free Black Child, as were many of my peers, but by nature of us boys wearing pants rather than skirts, or girls deciding they liked their hair straightened, we were indirectly deemed slaves. This idea that outside-the-norm behavior as a sign of freedom is enticing. To shed what’s expected of you and do exactly what you want because you want to do it. The only issue here is that the poster children are in exactly the positions that enable them to do so safely. Willow and Jaden Smith were born without ever having to worry about a 9-5 job. This is no slight to them. I appreciate their willingness to exist differently than expected. This is a slight to all of us for it seems that we can only take notice if a trend is accompanied by celebrity, and NO this “Revolution” will not begin or end with wealthy celebrities walking across red carpets in thousand dollar shoes and dresses. This “Revolution” for African-Americans will begin and end with the thousands of unseen Free Black Children who dedicate themselves to their crafts even while wearing traditional clothes or “mainstream” hairstyles. The “Revolution” will begin and end with unseen Free Black Children who excel in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The “Revolution” will come to fruition when we stop telling Free Black Children that they aren’t free because they aren’t “weird” like Willow and Jaden or because they don’t rock a full African locks or because they choose not to care that Vogue credits the Kardashians with starting a cornrow trend. There are plenty of Free Black Children and we know exactly what they look like. Look at the young Black scholars and innovators like Andrew Koonce who would be demonized for his “respectability”:
or Rochelle Ballantyne, who received a full scholarship to Stanford University due to her excellence in Chess. She is not flashy. She is not radically eccentric. But she certainly is Free:
I chose the two young Free Black Children (now adults) as their chosen crafts represent our stereotypical views of respectability. A violinist and a chess player. They aren’t movie stars or pop icons. They don’t feel the need to make elaborate and expansive statements. They simply exist, doing what they love. That is Freedom. So Willow and Jaden are absolutely free with their outlandish style and bonky thoughts on time and space, but to iconify them as the exemplars of Young Black Freedom is to thrust slavery upon thousands and thousands of Black Children exercising their freedom in ways that they see fit……Don’t do that.