What's wrong with Jaden Smith? Nothing

Having enjoyed Jaden Smith’s performance in The Pursuit of Happyness, (a film I liked very much) but uninterested in his current flick, The Karate Kid I had somehow missed the pop-controversy over whether or not young Jaden is a likable kid, or a brat.

He seems quite alright, to me. In fact, the kid seems better than alright; he may be that Hollywood creature so rarely-seen-in-public, the product of a happy childhood. Jaden Smith strikes me as an intelligent and mannerly kid who spends the bulk of his time with adults who do not condescend to him. He says he is close to his brother, Trey, and his mother, Jada Pinkett Smith has a longstanding reputation as a forthright, no-nonsense sort of woman. What I see is a young man with his father’s charming ease of manner, his mother’s directness, and the sort of age-inappropriate-seeming confidence one may pick up while spending time with an older sibling; it dissolves when he grouses about not being able to kick his sister. None of that seems obnoxious to me. On the contrary, aside from his propensity to do that annoying strut-with-hand-wagging-thing that 11 year old boys currently do, I find Jaden Smith utterly refreshing.

What is obnoxious is the smugly lazy determination by Entertainment Magazine’s Owen Gleiberman (whose reviews I enjoyed, 20 years ago; perhaps he is too long insulated in his job) that anyone who finds Jaden Smith to be less-than-charming must be a racist!

I wonder how Jaden Smith would respond to that condescending message: don’t worry, kid, the fault can’t be yours; they’re just racist. They can’t get past your skin color. And I can project that on to them, because I am fixated on race; I am hyper-aware of your race specifically so I can call-out others for their racism, but I’m not racist, myself. I’m just race-fixated; that’s a good thing. It means I’m sensitive and tolerant. I can see the whole person you are, through the prism of your skin color, and I love it all, and anyone who doesn’t love it sees you only through the prism of your skin color; and that is what makes them racist. But I’m not racist; they are. I’m just, you know, aware of how racist the world is except for, you know, us; people like me and you. Did you know you’re black, Jaden? Not that there’s anything wrong with that . . . it’s just that’s why they hate you. If you were white, that hand-wagging thing would be a turn-off, and some older Americans might think you’re not humble enough before your elders; if you were Asian, forget about it! You’d be a disgrace! But in your case, anyone who doesn’t love you can only be a racist. I know this because when I see a person, I don’t see the person first; I see what identity-group they belong to, and make my determinations accordingly.

Jaden Smith is an 11 year old boy with the conversation skills of a thirty year old. He seems pretty self-aware, too, and wise to the world around him. David Letterman talked to him in the pandering tones that most kids despise but do not feel free to reject. Smith did feel free and he answered like an adult. I liked that; he reminded me of my own kids, and my nieces. Having endured a timid childhood where I dared not speak up or defend myself, I am happy when I see children exhibit intelligence, confidence and well-defined boundaries.

But others may not find it charming. People have their own ideas of what children should be like, and how they should comport themselves around adults. Those ideas–whether anachronistic or not–have nothing to do with race; they are not adjusted in accordance with melanin levels. It is the authentic racist who fixates on that stuff, and uses it either to excuse or accuse.

Doubtless Gleiberman would not find his rush to project racism onto others to be evidence of something unsavory within himself, but I wonder if he realizes how he has exposed himself as intellectually lazy, and insensible. John Nolte, writing at Big Hollywood, notes Gleiberman’s illogical self-contradictions:

I’m forced to interrupt this critic-ry insightfulness in order to salute Gleiberman for doing the incredible detective work needed to uncover the stunning fact that the very same people who once praised Jaden Smith’s performance in “The Pursuit of Happyness” are now lashing out at him due to the color of his skin.

Imagine the amount of journalism that went into discovering this red-hot smoking gun of hypocrisy. Imagine the comment boards our intrepid critic must’ve scoured throughout Al Gore’s brainchild to compare and connect various IP addresses to years-old opinions of Jaden’s performance in “Happyness” until, UNTIL, UNTIL!… Aha! Look! The very same people who once loved Young Smith now don’t…because he’s black!

Jaden Smith may not be “adorable” as he was, six years ago. That’s because 11 year-old boys are not especially “adorable.” They are challenging and exasperating, as any parent knows. It’s possible that some of the people who loved him when he was 5, find him to be 11, now. Not everyone loves 11.

I suspect that Gleiberman simply needs to get out more, and mingle with ordinary folk for a while. He might find out, ala Archie Bunker, that among us great unwashed there are “some good ones,” who seem sane and reasonable. He might even discover that in real life very few people will see a kid get the better of another too-comfortable, too-bitter man in a too-insulated world and put aside long-held ideas on comportment, in order to fixate on race.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://Radiopatriot.wordpress.com Andrea Shea King

    He’s engaging and quite self-possessed. Love the mannerisms. It’s evident he is emulating his older brother who he obviously adores. Nice piece about a somewhat precocious but charming young talent. Enjoyed the read!

  • Doc

    Anchoress, that translation of the entertainment writer was a classic. It’s what would have been produced if he was given a truth serum.

  • Sue from Buffalo

    Oh man, that cracked me up! I’m still laughing. He could put Letterman in his place just…like…that!! And you could see the wheels turning when people were laughing and he didn’t quite know why.
    I liked him. I think it really spoils it when people demand that you like someone otherwise you get branded a racist. I mean for crying out loud! Can’t I just like someone because of who he is?? You really hit it when you spoke about that columnist being race fixated.

  • Joe

    I saw the Karate Kid with my son (who is eight). It was a great kid’s movie, veryclose to the original in script, but well done as a remake. Jaden is a talented actor, especially for a 12 year old. Ralph Macchio was in his twenties when he did the first one.

    Talking about Ralph Macchio, he is trying to make a come back. This mocku-mentary video is very funny (language warning though!).

  • Joe

    Excuse me, 11 year old.

  • http://domestic-vocation.blogspot.com Christine the Soccer Mom

    Perhaps it’s the crowd I hang out with (homeschoolers, mostly), but he is a lot like most of the 11 year olds I know. My own Big Girl is 11 1/2, and I can TOTALLY see her answering the school question that way. (“*Right now*, I’m not in school. Because I’m here with you.” Deadpan.)

    Perhaps it’s because Jaden has been homeschooled and has been treated like an intelligent human being (coupled with his parents high expectations – I remember reading an interview with Will where he said his kids – elementary kids – were reading Plato’s Republic) that he is at ease conversing intelligently with adults. That is one witty kid. I get the feeling that he’s pretty pleasant, too.

    One other note about Will Smith: I also remember seeing an interview with him a long time ago, and he was lamenting that too many Black people purposely acted dumb, and that the stereotype was helped along by the media seeking out the stupidest person on the scene to give an account of the happenings. In the same interview, he mentioned one of his pet peeves was the mispronunciation of “often.” (The “t” is silent. I think of him nearly every time I hear or say the word now!) Will Smith struck me as someone who sees real value in education, not merely as a tool to get somewhere in the world, but as a tool to better one’s self.

    [I read that interview, too, and same with me--whenever I use or hear "often" pronounced incorrectly, I think of Smith! How funny! -admin]

  • http://www.savkobabe.blogspot.com Gayle Miller

    Jaden Smith is an utterly charming 11 year old boy and I like him as he is because he is charming, with good manners, and clear intelligence. If he were an obnoxious brat, I’d say so.

    None of this has the slightest relationship to his skin color – and until I read this review I didn’t even consider his color to be inoteworthy!

    I do not, however, particularly like the idea of an 11-year old boy, however charming and talented and savvy, being out there in the working world so young. For heaven’s sakes, their childhoods are short enough – let’s not make it worse, shall we?

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  • Joe

    My 11 year old does theater in the summer. The group she is with is very professional–they do full stage musicals. That training makes you perform at a very high level when on stage. Then they come off stage and tranform back to normal 11 year olds. I suspect Jaden does the same when he is at home. I am pretty sure his parents treat him as a normal kid, pay attention to him and do not neglict him, and do not spoil him. That type of parenting shows.

    Jaden is a smart young man. And he is a very good actor.

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  • elmo

    “they are not adjusted in accordance with melatonin levels. ”

    I agree with you, Anchoress except I think you meant to write “melanin” not “melatonin”, unless you were making a point about expectations being adjusted when we don’t get enough sleep — which is certainly true in my case!

    [ROFL! This is what I get for working late on no coffee! -admin]

  • 227

    I tried to read this, but you’re overdoing it with the commas, and that can be a problem! Obviously someone criticized your use of commas in the past. It’s really distracting and in many cases, not correct.

    And the argument is the same old right wing talking point. Anyone that points out that racism exists is a racist.I don’t agree with Gleiberman concept is wrong, but so is yours.

    [You meant to write, "I don't agree with Gleiberman; his concept is wrong, but so is yours," right? I mean, if you're seriously into punctuation, and all. ;-) I will re-read the piece; it's possible there are too many commas, as I was writing very late, and in patches. Thanks for joining in. I don't think it is a "same old" or even "tired talking point" to point out race-fixations, particularly in an era where the accusation is being rolled out for anything and everything -admin]

  • Lily

    I read the Gleiberman article and then watched the Letterman interview. I did not see Jaden as anything but a witty, charming 11 year old boy. I think the negative talk Gleiberman referred to has more to do with our current culture than with race – people are free to say anything they want without repercussions as long as they are anonymous online.

    A note on the pronunciation of the word “often” – the dictionaries I have referred to show it is correct to pronounce it with either the “t” silent or articulated. This may be of interest:

    Usage Note: During the 15th century English experienced a widespread loss of certain consonant sounds within consonant clusters, as the (d) in handsome and handkerchief, the (p) in consumption and raspberry, and the (t) in chestnut and often. In this way the consonant clusters were simplified and made easier to articulate. With the rise of public education and literacy and, consequently, people’s awareness of spelling in the 19th century, sounds that had become silent sometimes were restored, as is the case with the t in often, which is now frequently pronounced. In other similar words, such as soften and listen, the t generally remains silent.