If you haven’t heard already, Jaden Smith was recently named as the face of a Louis Vuitton collection for women. A lot of people feel a lot of different ways about it.
Jaden’s never been afraid to push gender and societal norms, famously wearing an all white bat suit to Kim and Kanye’s wedding, and a dress to his prom.
The Internet predictably went nuts. Some went so far as to name Jaden’s most recent milestone as the death of the modern black man. Black men are now getting paid to flaunt feminine garments and sell it to the world as high fashion? This is America today? This is what freedom fighters and civil rights leaders died for? For the marginalized American black male to have the opportunity to further self-marginalize their own image by voluntarily wearing women’s clothing shamelessly in public?
Some have claimed Jaden’s gender fluid style is the great divide between ancient male archetypes and freeing our minds to a more robust definition of modern masculinity. But let’s be real – he’s not the first young man to throw on a dress. So why the commotion now?
Two simple reasons: 1) he’s black, and 2) he’s Will Smith’s famous son.
Now he’s not only famous for being the Fresh Prince’s offspring, Jaden has his own body of work we shouldn’t forget. It’s not like he’s a simple attention-starved child drowning in the shadow of his parent’s celebrity and talent. He’s got albums, apps, albums exclusively on apps, movies, other stuff, more stuff, and even the stuff he hasn’t told us about yet. In short, it’s not like he doesn’t have anything to lose by pushing societal boundaries.
And how many versions of the black male do we find acceptable as a culture? The athlete, the musician, the suit and tie business owner, the entertainer, the laborer, the convict? In spite of every data metric in existence, we even still struggle with the acceptance of a black male as a father.
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If we allow ourselves to flourish, black becomes a kaleidoscope of experiences and meanings. Black has never been and can never stand as a monochromatic palette.
We’ve all reminisced with our friends about the good ole days. The days when music was better, lyrics were real, movies were about something, and people cared differently than they do now. And it’s all bullcrap. We have a habit of romanticizing our own era to feel relevant. The past is always just as important as our present, because it all drives us to an inevitable future where the only thing we truly know about it is that it will be different from today.
Change is the only constant.
And whether we like it or not, the further we move away from slavery in our history, the more diverse the blossom of Black becomes in this country. If we allow ourselves to flourish, black becomes a kaleidoscope of experiences and meanings. Black has never been and can never stand as a monochromatic palette.
So it begs the question. After all we’ve been through culturally, politically, and socially. After Jim Crow and facing our criminal justice system, after the government’s war on drugs. After Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, and every other city across across this nation. After Donald Trump.
Is Jaden Smith really the end of black male American culture as we know it?
Are our kids ultimately worse off growing up in a world where Jaden Smith has the chance to thrive?
You might be asking yourself what does a father think when his son so boldly moves against the grain? Well, the BBC asked Mr. Big Willy Style himself recently, and this is how he responded:
“Jaden is 100 percent fearless. He will do anything, you know? So as a parent, it’s scary. It’s really terrifying. But he is completely willing to live and die by his own artistic decisions and he just doesn’t concern himself with what people think.”
Because from my perspective we’ve had much bigger problems for a much longer time that’s had a greater impact on black lives than having the option of shining as who we really are – and not as who we’re expected to be. Sounds like Jaden’s black father would agree. In what world full of free young fearless black minds with the courage to embrace themselves is that a bad thing?
But for the record – you’re not going to catch me rocking any of that stuff. I’m too grown for that nonsense.
BMWK – what are your thoughts?
Photo credit: Feature image sourced from a photo posted by Jaden Smith (@christiaingrey)