Jaden and Willow Smith gave an interview to The New York Times’ T Magazine earlier this week that is incredibly smart—a fusion of Buddhist philosophy, physics and earnest idealism. But people are coming for Willow and Jaden—the children of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith—instead. Gawker called them “nuts.” The Grio called them “confusing,” a “nightmare,” an “SNL skit waiting to be made,” and accused them of smoking pot. Entertainment Weekly and USA Today called the interview “weird” and ABC called it “outrageous.” New York Daily News settled for “bizarre,” and Billboard rounded it out with “bonkers.”
Why? There is often an inherent assumption that the very young have nothing valid to say—this is why Dylan Farrow and other children are often shot down when making abuse claims, for example—but maybe it’s something more. Could it be that Willow and Jaden are two black kids barely into their teens, and black kids are stereotyped as acting a certain way (cue the ever-present “thug” slur that was thrown at Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and most black children), but that Willow and Jaden defy stereotypes? There is another long-held stereotype that black children are not smart and instead are troublemakers, manifested in disproportionate school expulsions and suspensions of black children over other races, beginning as young as preschool in the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
While black children make up just 18 percent of kids enrolled in preschool programs, they constitute 48 percent of the students suspended more than once. Across all grades, black students suffer suspensions or expulsions at three times the rate of their white counterparts. Black girls, in particular, suffer disproportionate rates of suspension; they receive higher rates of suspension ‘than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys,’ the report finds.
One can’t help but think that if Jaden and Willow were 10 years older and white, people might hail them as the second coming of Stephen Hawking and The Beatles and follow them around the country to hear what they thought of next. So here are 10 reasons why Jaden and Willow’s interview is the best thing ever.
1. They are male and female hip-hop artists and do not use the n-word, the b-word, the f-word or the c-word in their music. Really. Other people much older than them could take a lesson.
2. Willow is a feminist. A real one. It’s not just the fact that she has sported a t-shirt emblazoned “Ain’t No Wifey.” With her music, Willow is proud of being able to do “so much for young black girls and girls around the world. Telling them that they can be themselves and to not be afraid to be themselves.”
3. They are spiritual.
Willow: Breathing is meditation; life is a meditation. You have to breathe in order to live, so breathing is how you get in touch with the sacred space of your heart.
Jaden: Your mind has a duality to it. So when one thought goes into your mind, it’s not just one thought, it has to bounce off both hemispheres of the brain. When you’re thinking about something happy, you’re thinking about something sad. … That comes from a place of oneness.
4. They are creative.
Willow: I mean, the beat is usually what moves me. Or I think of concepts. Then when I hear a beat that is, like, elaborating on that concept, I just go off.
Jaden: She freestyles and finds out what she likes. Same thing with me.
Willow: You piece it together. You piece together those little moments of inspiration.
5. They’re more concerned with substance over fluff.
Willow: In my regular life, I put on clothes that I can climb trees in.
6. They like to think and are very smart.
Willow has been writing her own novels since she was six. She also admits to reading quantum physics. Jaden, on time, references Einstein: “It’s proven that how time moves for you depends on where you are in the universe. It’s relative to beings and other places.”
7. They actually want to learn things.
Jaden: Our learning will never end. The school that we go to every single morning, we will continue to go to.
8. They are independent.
When asked “How have you gotten better?” Willow responds with “caring less what everybody else thinks, but also caring less and less about what your own mind thinks, because what your own mind thinks, sometimes, is the thing that makes you sad.” This is called detachment, an aspect of Buddhist philosophy. Why is it that when a Buddhist monk like Pema Chödrön talks about detachment it is seen as genius, but when a black girl does it, she is called “bonkers”?
9. They want to work for social change.
Jaden: The only way to change something is to shock it. If you want your muscles to grow, you have to shock them. If you want society to change, you have to shock them.
10. They love babies and want to protect them.
In a world where grown men like Adrian Peterson and Dwight Howard claim there is nothing wrong with beating children so hard they scar, Willow and Jaden’s perspective is nothing short of refreshing. Listen to this exchange:
Jaden: When babies are born, their soft spots bump: It has, like, a heartbeat in it. That’s because energy is coming through their body, up and down.
Willow: Prana energy.
Jaden: It’s prana energy because they still breathe through their stomach. They remember. Babies remember.
Willow: When they’re in the stomach, they’re so aware, putting all their bones together, putting all their ligaments together. But they’re shocked by this harsh world.
Jaden: By the chemicals and things, and then slowly…
Willow: As they grow up, they start losing.
How about we support, rather than disparage children who are trying to learn and empower themselves to do positive things? Maybe we can learn something from them, too.