EXCLUSIVE: Jada Pinkett Smith on parenting, police brutality, and privilege
Jada Pinkett Smith just wrapped the first season of Red Table Talks and we caught up with her to get more insight on parenting her famous children, Willow and Jaden Smith.
In the latest episode of the Facebook Watch series that features Jada Pinkett Smith along with her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, and her daughter, Willow Smith joined by Jaden to discuss the pitfalls and victories of parenting privileged kids.
“I think that this world is moving at such a fast pace and we’re all trying to figure out how do you parent? Testimony is such a powerful gift and to discuss things that I’ve learned and the pitfalls of parenting, communicating or sharing your failures are just as helpful as the successes. All of these Red Table Talks are just testimonies and sharing what we have discovered,” she told TheGrio exclusively.
“I have learned that people who have had the courage to share their testimony with me have literally changed my life so I feel like we need more conversations about what’s going on with us. Not necessarily telling people what to do, but just sharing what’s happening. What have you been through?”
During the show, Willow Smith explains that her decision to shave her head was a rebellion against “Whip My Hair” persona and revealed that she was very unhappy with the direction her music career was taking at the time.
“That’s pretty much why everything stopped because she made it clear that it was something she didn’t want. At that time we just stopped everything and left everything alone,” Smith told the Trio exclusively. “She has been on the journey of discovering who she is as an artist and a musician so she put out a couple of projects for her own musical development and she’s still on that journey of figuring out what that is for her.”
Jada’s approach to parenting was very different from her mother’s and she highlighted how opposite her kids’ childhoods were from her own in terms of their socioeconomic status as well as going up in the spotlight.
“At times it has been really difficult but at other times I feel like its part of their journey. Being where I’m from, I’m always just grateful that that is their problem. There have been times I was really fierce about, ‘That’s not cool. Don’t do that.’ and I really had to stand up and say something. I don’t like watching adults attack my children and seeing them not having the freedom to figure out who they are as young people,” she explained. “As if young people are supposed to know who they are and have all the answers. It’s such an amazing phenomenon the thought that just because a young person is in the spotlight they are supposed to be exempted from the natural process of growing up. It is amazing to me. You do have a certain level of acceptance knowing that every life comes with their cross to bear.”
While Jada Pinkett Smith told us her kids have “never ever” done or said anything that floored her, she admitted her husband, Will Smith, had some questions when Jaden was offered a contract with Louis Vuitton Women.
“He called me about the campaign. He was OK with Jaden wearing skirts in his daily life but he was like, ‘A campaign? They’re trying to sign my son to Louis Vuitton Women. That’s different,’” she said.
“He was very clear that Jaden is very much heterosexual but just as a man, he’s like, ‘Wait a minute. You want to sign my son to Louis Vuitton Women? He’s gonna be in a global campaign?’ He came to terms with that. That was one of those moments as a parent that you have to start dissolving your concepts of what you believe your children are supposed to be. He and I have had a lot of hard core lessons about that.”
Willow and Jaden’s experience differed from their parents’ in terms of growing up with money and Jada explained how that gift can also be a curse after Willow recounted being upset when her friends expected to foot the bill during a trip to Disneyland on the show.
“They were always told, all this doesn’t belong to you. Daddy and I built this. What are you going to build for yourself? They had to earn things. They were always working even if it was in the house. They always had to figure out how to make money to have the things they wanted. That’s how I grew up and that was the only way I knew how to keep that internal fire burning. I couldn’t have children that felt as though, ‘Oh shit, y’all got it so I don’t need to do anything.’ I raised them how I was raised in regard to money. I had to go work for it and so did they,” she said.
“It’s part of that identity of what it is to be black. If you’re privileged, then you can’t possibly be black. You’re not black enough. That’s just not true and it’s a reality that most people won’t understand because it’s not the reality they’re living. It’s not a broad reality to be being privileged and black. It’s a world that isn’t really understood and so a lot of people think they don’t have to deal with all the things most black people have to deal with and that’s just not true. It might not be in the same way, but that’s not true. You can’t get away from being black.”
Even though Willow and Jaden have grown up in affluent neighborhoods with rich and famous parents, they’re not exempt from facing the same hardships as any other black teenagers, particularly when it comes to police.
“I never felt as though my kids were exempt because of who they are or the neighborhoods they lived in. What I did feel they would be exempt from was possibly neighborhood violence, but never had the idea they wouldn’t have run-ins with the police or face obstacles because of the color of their skin. I’ll tell you what, in these neighborhood that we live in you can actually be more targeted for being black. I had a nephew who lived with us and he was constantly being pulled over by police around here. Jaden has been targeted several times by police because of who he is. Several times,” she revealed.
“I have always talked to my kids about police and gangs. As a little boy, I told Jaden, ‘You can’t wear blue or red. You live in Los Angeles. That’s not happening.’ There are certain realities about being black. Willow got pulled over the other day and she just called me on the phone. ‘Ma, this is where I am. I’ve just been pulled over.’ Something was wrong with her tail light or something. You really just have to teach your children in general to be cautious. I have always from day one, since they were little, to be vigilant. It’s just part of my DNA because of where I’m from. I can’t get away from that.”
Although she implores her children to be vigilant and respectful of authority, she says it’s not about making them fearful of authority.
“It’s not about making you kids afraid. I’ll tell you what’s deep. I had my Godgrandchild living with me for a while, Kaliyah. She was five years old and we were at a park hiking and I had parked in the wrong place. We came back from the hike and the park ranger was waiting for us, writing me a ticket. The ranger looked like the police because of the uniform and that baby girl was terrified. She was hysterical. She’s only five. He handled it so well and gave her a sticker and explained he was there to protect her and did this whole beautiful explanation just to change her perception of what public authority is. What she had been exposed to in Baltimore brought her to tears at five. I mean, hysterical,” she said.
“It’s that conversation of being vigilant and respectful. These are police who are people who have their issues as well. We’re not always gonna come up on a police officer that is stable or has his nerves intact or is going to care for you because of your skin color or religion or what have you. These police officers come with their issues so we have to be int he position on our side to be able to deflate and see everything as smooth as possible until we can figure it out. That’s what I have taught my kids. Do everything you can to avoid…abide the law. If you do come in contact, be respectful and be vigilant because things can go wrong quickly.”