By TaMeicka L. Clear
I saw a conversation in a black lesbian Facebook group about Willow Smith being gay at age 13 and having a girlfriend. The conversation was about the probability that she is gay and if 13 is too young to be gay and have a girlfriend.
I was challenged by some of the comments and concerned mostly around the idea that Black folk seem to have around controlling the behavior and expression of youth. Parental control is a cross cultural issue, however I believe that issues of internalized slavery and colonization cause Black people to worry and attempt to protect Black youth from the ever present notion that “we can’t really do whatever we want because we are not as free as white people are”. I believe that systematic racism is real and ever present and unfortunately, white people (collectively) still tend to view the actions of one black person as the sentiment of the collective. Black kids are more likely to be arrested, shot, killed, and persecuted for being “young and making mistakes” in ways that white kids are allowed to make mistakes. I get it and I see this lived out every day and it makes me worry for us as well.
Here’s the deal. I think that 13 is a little young for a tongue ring. I also think that a decision like that is up to the parents discretion and I don’t think it’s “bad parenting” to allow a tongue piercing. I just think it’s different parenting. Besides that, I read somewhere else that it’s not even real! I also think that being famous makes things complicated for her adolescent existence as most of us get to make mistakes, experiment, and explore in the privacy of our own homes and communities and not have the world commenting on every little thing we do and condemning us for wanting to do it, afraid it will make our kids “WANT” to do it or worse, “make us all look bad”!
Controlling the creativity and expression of little black girls regardless of age can be stifling to say the least. When I was 13, I wore that ‘short in the top, long in the back’ haircut that most black chicks were wearing. I never understood why my hair and body shape made people think i was “too grown”. I wasn’t having sex yet and had only kissed my boyfriend once. I was a straight A student and like another parent to my brothers and sister. If anything made me “grown” it was all the responsibility I had and had been having since I was 10-cooking meals for a family of 6, cleaning and overseeing chores, checking homework, doing my own homework, being responsible for the well being of 3 other kids as well as my own until my dad and step mom got home from work. All of THAT made me “grown”. Not that stupid haircut.
I understand the desire to protect kids from the “chesters” and pedophiles. I understand wanting kids to know that there are consequences, good and bad; for their behavior and they are not always ready for them in the way they think they are. This understanding, along with what I stated earlier around race is why I think that loving, available, and approachable parents are the KEY to Willow and any 13 year old girl being safe, mentally stable, autonomous, happy, and self identified. These are things that can positively inform a young woman’s adult hood, not make her “grow up to fast”. I think she a 13 year old with parents that allow her a certain kind of freedom of expression that we are not use to seeing. NONE of this means she is promiscuous, sexually active, or any other rash assumptions made about her a other little black girls that are self expressive and opinionated. I honestly think that THIS is the real issue; equating being allowed to self-express to that of adult hood. Self-expression should start much earlier than some of us are taught. I believe there is a lot I would known about myself had I been allowed more freedom to be who and say what I think much earlier in life. I have watched many adults go through what I have always viewed as “a second adolescence” where they are desperately trying to figure out how they see themselves outside of their parent’s authority and opinion. To protect, guide, and “lay down rules” for your child is one thing, to CONTROL the self-expression of a child is another. I know I’m stepping on some toes with that one, but my mother didn’t control me like my father thought he had to. I interacted very differently with my mother than I did with my father because she would listen to my opinions and allow me my personality. My father was a tyrant in many ways though he did allow some room for self-expression (at my step mother’s prompting). What adjustment/awareness I do have to who I am, I really credit to my mother, and I have so much respect for her, that at 30 I struggle to curse in front of her and still say “yes ma’am” when she calls me from another room!
What I’m saying is that there is a fine line between policing self-expression/controlling a child and protecting a child. You don’t have to be controlling to set boundaries and protect your child. Contrary to popular belief, self-expression is a right. It can be a road to self-awareness, if given the right guides and protectors…i.e. parents that are loving, available, approachable, and responsible. Again, Willow’s little shaved head and even tongue piercing isn’t bothering me. If there is anything I think she is too young for, it’s FAME. The probability that she is gay and has a little girlfriend does not equate a grown up decision. But FAME, bless her heart, FAME at 13…now THAT I worry about.