Willow Smith's Hair: Gender, Race, and White Feminism

Over the holiday weekend, this quote from Will Smith on his daughter Willow's choice of hairstyle flew about the intertubes, making the rounds of the feminisphere on tumblr, twitter, and showing up on a few of the bigger blogs as well:
“We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.”
I reblogged it when I saw it, with a comment about "Parenting, ur doin it right," as did most of the other people I saw reblogging it.

But this morning, as I was reading through my daily un-newspaper (the collection of blogs from which I get my news on a daily basis), I found the above-linked post by Renee of Womanist Musings, which addressed the quote in a context that focuses on the racial dynamic at play when you're talking about a young black girl's hair like that.

And I realized, as I read her commentary on the way white feminists picked up and passed around this quote, treating it as a statement on gender equality and encouraging a young girl's sense of bodily sovereignty while ignoring the girl's race and how that intersects to give the statement a totally different meaning and context...that I had done exactly that.  I read that quote and got excited about what it meant in terms of gender only, without taking into account the additional politics of black women's hair and how that was really the bigger issue being addressed here.

So I wanted to A: apologize for my personal intersectionality fail in how I viewed/addressed the issue when I saw it this weekend (though I didn't do it *here*; I will however be cross-posting some version of this to tumblr), and B: signal-boost a great post about the racial+gender politics of it, for those who similarly heard about this but forgot to look beyond our own immediate gendered oppression.


Vickiea13 said...

Yes, we need to take other things into account, but it was still an example of good parenting.  I wish more parents would allow children to make ANY decision, rather than "but what does that say about me" mentality.

Jadelyn said...

This isn't saying that it wasn't - neither is Renee's post, for that matter.  It's great parenting.  This is just commenting on the fact that it's great parenting on more levels than just "girls need to hear this", a fact which slipped right by a whole lot of white feminists like myself.  

otros_corazones said...

This is such a wonderful post, thank you!


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