Yup, he’s still talking. He’s still on the same subject too, but this time around Will Smith is expanding his musings on parenting beyond the Smith household to a few observations on African American parenting in general.
The actor sat down for a one-on-one with Haute Living to discuss his latest feature, After Earth, which he stars in alongside son Jaden, and the mag asked if there were any similarities behind the pair’s on-screen relationship and the one they share in real life. The 44-year-old said he and Jaden inevitably brought some of their own father-son dynamic to the characters, but the more interesting answer came when Will was asked whether there were any similarities between the way he was raised and how he’s raising his son and daughter. Here’s what he said.
“There are definite similarities. I grew up in a family business so my father, my mother and all my brothers and sisters worked in the family business, so that’s really the only way I know how to parent. In real situations, you are going out in the real world and you are earning real money. The things you say and do in the world will affect the family for real. My style of parenting is very similar to that of my parents, minus the concept of ownership. I think that, specifically in African American households, the idea coming out of slavery, there’s a concept of your children being property and that was a major part that Jada and I released with our kids. We respect our children the way we would respect any other person. Things like cleaning up their room. You would never tell a full-grown adult to clean their room, so we don’t tell our kids to clean their rooms. Actually, we tell our kids ‘you don’t have a room, that’s our room and we are letting you borrow it.’ So the same way you would say to an adult if you let them use car, you say, ‘Yo man, clean my car! Don’t drive around all filthy like that!’ And it’s perfectly reasonable for you to want an adult to clean your car, so we feel it’s perfectly reasonable to ask our kids to clean the rooms that we are letting them use.”
Well that’s an interesting nugget to think on. Slavery has certainly left African Americans with a number of mental scars and behaviors still running rampant today, but I wonder whether this is really one of them. I’ve most definitely witnessed the property dynamic among parent-child relationships but I’m not completely sure it’s a concept specific to African Americans or a result of enslavement. Plenty of parents, black, white, red, and yellow, seem to take an “I brought you into this world and I can take you out if you don’t fulfill the obligations laid out for you” approach to parenting simply because of the authority dynamic and the idea of giving life to someone and having control over how they live it as a result.
On a lighter note, Will addressed the emancipation talk that was spurred from another interview he and Jaden did in April. At the time, the hands-off dad seemed to be saying he was going to let his son emancipate himself and go out on his own at 14, but now he insists his mini-me isn’t going anywhere.
“Yeah, that was a joke! I made a joke. He is definitely not going anywhere; he is so scared of being out on his own. Willow is probably going to be emancipated before Jaden! I think I was in Tokyo where I made a joke that if he has a day where his movie is bigger than one of mine then there’s no reason for him to live in my house. His 15th birthday is coming up so he can probably be emancipated.”
Well that’s good to know. But back to this property business. Do you think African American parents tend to treat their kids as such because of slavery?