Dr. Donald E Grant, Jr. explains that urban Black America helped to create the empire that is now “The Smiths”, and hopes Will or Jada steps forward to discredit their son’s irresponsible messages about education.
Recently teen son of Hollywood elite, Will and Jada (Pinkett) Smith went on a Twitter crusade against education. Fifteen-year old Jaden Smith tweeted, “If Everybody In The World Dropped Out Of School We Would Have A Much More Intelligent Society.” This came only one day after he tweeted “School Is The Tool To Brainwash The Youth” and “If Newborn Babies Could Speak They Would Be The Most Intelligent Beings On Planet Earth.” These Tweets sent the Tweetosphere into a frenzy!
For many young Black boys across America education has been both a tool for success and an undesired indictment of assimilation. As a science teacher in Baltimore, MD I can specifically remember young Black boys cloaking their intelligence in an effort to “cool pose”. These boys, two of whom I learned have since been murdered, were high self-monitors who purchased social capital by minimizing their intellectual prowess.
Season Four of HBO’s series “The Wire” provided the most-clear picture of my first teaching experience. Unlike the West Baltimore middle school children on The Wire’s 4th season or those I taught my first five years out of college, Jaden and his younger sister Willow experience economic privileged and are home schooled. Prior to being homeschooled they attended the now defunct New Village Leadership Academy school their parents founded in 2008, strongly rooted in philosophy endorsed by Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard.
The Smith children’s existential economic space generates privilege that few adolescents of any ethnicity will ever get to experience. Academic disidentification, college attrition, violent death, fatherlessness, incarceration and joblessness are all factors that have high correlations to those who drop out of school. The Smith children’s privilege blinds them of these factors. If Jaden had exposure to the complex and insidious ills experienced by Black boys across this nation would his perspective be different? If he knew the three year old recently wounded in a Chicago drive by shooting would he have sent the irresponsible tweets?
Although none of my African American friends were as wealthy as the Smiths, many of them experienced great deals of economic privilege in the midst of their Black marginalization. Some of my closest friends grew up in elite Black organizations like Jack & Jill of America, their parents were not just members of Black Greek organizations but also of exclusive civic-social organizations like The Links and The Boule. In spite of this privilege, my contemporaries held a certain civic duty and awareness related to the modern struggle of the entire African diaspora.
Will and Jada have well-documented philanthropic efforts, yet I fear that their children are sending a message to contemporary young Blacks that is dangerous and void of social responsibility. It surprises me that their collective non-privileged, urban upbringing in Philadelphia and Baltimore respectively would allow for such negligence. Do Will and Jada owe America a response to their sons privileged adolescent Twitter rant?
When Jaden Smith is pulled over in his luxury vehicle while riding through Calabasas with his Kardashian girlfriend it is likely that he will be recognized as Hollywood royalty. Without a formal education, this young man maintains the privilege to avoid many of the pitfalls associated with under-education and functional illiteracy. Joblessness and poverty are not in his wheel -house, fatherlessness and criminality are not likely experiences, college attrition and gun violence are improbable. The young Smiths’ privilege creates a reality that need not concern itself with the risk factors associated with being a ‘drop-out’. Are Jaden’s 4.5 million Twitter followers aware that if he drops out of school tomorrow, he will be well taken care of…for life?
I believe that the Smith family has provided great gifts, both socially and artistically. Kids like me from poor housing projects and urban single-family homes across the country watched ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, leading Will to his successful mogul status. First generation college students like me cheered Jada on as she robbed banks in “Set It Off” and found love in “Jason’s Lyric”.
Urban Black America helped to create the empire that is now “The Smiths”. Despite popular opinion, I do believe that they owe something to the children of their original fan base. As parents they must diversify their sons worldview such that he has more respect for the power granted him simply as a result of group membership. I hope that someone in the Smith household comes forward to discredit their son’s ignorance as opposed to resting so heavily on the rock of individuality and child self-expression.
Photos: Associated Press