05/28/2013 02:57 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2013

Will Smith and the Misunderstanding of Black Parenting

Dear Mr. Will Smith,

I first want to commend you on being a great entertainer whose career has spanned decades. You have starred in numerous box office hits, grabbed a Grammy and some Oscar nominations, and have raised a successful black family with three talented children. Mr. Smith, your hard work paved the way for you to do unorthodox things like travel around the world, act in films with your kids, and allow them the freedom to not necessarily go through some of the adversity you once did.

However, when I heard about your interview with Haute Living to discuss your new film After Earth, I found many of your comments about black parenting out of place. When you stated 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," I was appalled. How could you correlate a gross moment in history to parenting and then generalize an entire race of people of possessing such?

As a fine result of black parenting, I must disagree full heartily with your sentiments. I think you personally have missed the point of what it means to be told to "clean your room" and what it means "to be grounded." It is not being property or being a slave, it's called being held responsible for your actions. In many ways, black parenting is no harsh difference from the way most minority families raise their children in general. Have you ever heard of "Tiger Moms?" What is the root of the way they raise their children since it is not slavery? Mr. Smith, slavery has nothing to do with the way black parents raise their children. To be quite frank, being 21-years-old, I am thankful that my mother did instill many values in me that has led to me attending an Ivy League institution where she doesn't have to pay for my tuition.

What you have failed to realize is that what you consider "property" is actually a misinformed interpretation of responsibility. Growing up, I lived in a community where many parents were not as active in their children's lives or really taught them a sense of discipline. As a result, those were the same children that were often not on track to graduate high school on time and choose alternative lifestyles that were detrimental to their well-being. I was fortunate to have a strong mother that really stayed on my butt to not fall into traps that many around my age could easily slip into. This was called love, not slavery.

I have learned that my mother made me a priority and even though at times I resented not being able to have my way, I can now look back and understand the rationale. Because what you neither fail to realize in your logic Mr. Smith, is that children and adults are not exactly the same, nor should be treated as such. I am actually happy that I now have the structure and manners that I can now apply into adulthood. Some of my peers lack common decency and self-respect that my mother would say back in the day would not have been as frequent.

As this generation begins to see more issues develop among teens, and even more within minority youth, parents should be expected to intervene more to ensure their child's success. At the end of the day, parents raising their children and disciplining them is not some old concept. You might feel as though these principles are backwards given your Hollywood lifestyle, but with all due respect Mr. Smith, you don't have to face much of the heat and pressure of middle-class American life.

You don't have to worry about your black son walking down the street and getting frequently racial profiled. You don't have to worry about making sure he has his pants pulled up when he crosses the corner because he is probably most likely hanging with Justin Bieber and thinking stuff like that is "swag." You don't have to really get on your children about making good grades and making it out of their communities, because chances are, your superstar status will bring those contracts and gigs they just have to show up to.

That was the world I lived in and if I had a parent with your skills, I would have probably been a brat that wouldn't have understood the harsh realities of my environment. How you raise your children works for you given the wealth and privilege they have. In recognizing such, it does nothing for you to raise your nose up and condemn the parenting of not just black parents, but minority ones that recognize the inequality and injustice in society for them.

The time outs, the washing dishes, the pops on the butt when I was out of place, actually made me the responsible, respectable person I strive to be today. If some people take it a step too far and go above and beyond the role of a parent, that isn't called parenting, it is child abuse. Black parenting isn't child abuse or slavery, Will Smith. It is a more invested interactive experience fostered to prepare children for the world they will face. Perhaps it was the very same parenting that made you the legendary man who you are today.

There is no one way to raise children, but there is no way one should condemn the reasoning behind the way others do. Mr. Smith, you have been fortunate to not have to face some of the social ills of raising your children in middle-class society. Some of the values and ideals the very industry you work in has made things a lot harder for how youth view themselves and treat the rest of the world. Perhaps you would be more useful in scolding them than you try to do black parents.


Ernest Owens
A young adult who most likely wouldn't have made it without black parenting