Does Privilege Bring…Wisdom?


In today’s society, most youth are plummeting down the rabbit holes of their smart phones. Jaden and Willow Smith spend their time freestyling in the studio, contemplating Eastern philosophy, and the theory of relativity.  The young duo did an interview with the New York Times Style Magazine, talking about their music, and outlooks on life’s various subjects such as time, breathing, and school.

Reading through the interview, some statements were surprisingly profound ( The only way to change something is to shock it), while others elicit “Huh?” responses (“And the feeling of being like, this is a fragment of a holographic reality that a higher consciousness made.” ) that queue a whizzing sound over my head. The way we think is mostly dictated by our life experiences, so are their words just privileged perspective masquerading as universal truths? How do we differentiate between prodigious insight, or convolute statements that simultaneously mean everything and nothing? It’s hard to say if the Smith kids truths are flat out right or wrong. Almost every phrase could spark a thousand other philosophical debates, blurring the lines between imagination and wisdom.

However,  their opinions about school and formal education were problematic. Jaden states that “nothing is ever learned in school”. Willow says she only went to school for one year. Otherizing kids who go to “normal” school really illuminates how class informs politics and philosophies. Do the Smith kids understand that “They” (kids who go to normal school) are so “teenagery and angsty” because they have “normal” problems? It wouldn’t be hard to list a myriad of them, but one quick one is they can’t make the choice that they can decide to not go to normal school after one year.

Though privilege is relative (spans race, class, gender, religion, etc.), it isn’t equal. Anyone reading this article is more privileged than millions of people without ubiquitous internet access. Even the kids who attend “normal” tumblr_mzzrmeILfg1smzf5co1_500school are privileged to various extents. The Smiths themselves are getting many of these ideas from books, written by people who went to “normal” school. But when you are the offspring of arguably the biggest movie star in the world (and another who is a star in her own right), your life experiences and perspective are unusual. Not in the bad connotation of the word, but what it actually means: not usual. Their views are fundamentally different than a homeless child who is looking for her next meal. There’s no amount of philosophy or esoteric ruminations that can sooth her stomach rumblings, unless someone finds a way to cook ideas.

Although that was an extreme analogy, it highlights a key point about Jaden and Willow’s privilege: they are extreme examples of it. Perspective can cause us to see only what the world looks like on our side of the curtain. It’s incredibly easy for Jaden and Willow to not acknowledge that their freedom to “be themselves” is supported by the tremendous social and economic wealth they and their parents have. The relativity of their immensely privileged subject position either ironically goes over their heads or they fail to mention it when making these eclectic claims. Maybe these “universal truths” have only “revealed” themselves to the Smiths because they are truths that can only make sense in their universe. Being esoteric is luxury they are accustomed to.

tumblr_nf9eoixaBK1r4h45qo1_500But I don’t think the Smith siblings “weirdness” (if you want to construe it that way) is a bad thing. Their privilege allots them an amount of freedom most do not have; the freedom to not worry about money, time to make music, read “Quantum physics, Osho, The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life and ancient texts; things that can’t be pre-dated” or write their own novels at the age of six. It’s no different than how in many ancient civilizations, artisans, authors, philosophers, musicians, etc. were usually the sons and daughters of royal, wealthy families who could support the tremendous about of leisure it takes to hone these craft.

Like Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino), who is a big brother figure to Jaden mentioned in his Breakfast Club interview, a teen like Jaden “has a chance to fail and learn”. They can master several art forms and absorb vast amounts of knowledge, because they have the time and the money to try anything, decide they don’t like it, and try something else. Most do not have a surplus of either of these resources, but it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from those who do. They were born into a world where possibilities are clearly endless. But for most,  we have to navigate the world that is given to us. Maybe we should follow their example.

If I did have a problem with what Jaden and Willow say, it would be that their class privilege allows them to take the “objective” position of “teaching” the masses without really being apart of it, and certainly without digging as deep into how who they are dictates how they think, as oppose to diagnosing what’s wrong with the world. But while their points are often convoluted, it definitely is not impossible to excavate some type of wisdom from them. Jaden and Willow do offer some hidden gems in their interview, like “caring less what everybody else thinks, but also caring less and less about what your own mind thinks, because what your own mind thinks, sometimes, is the thing that makes you sad.” Maybe they are (consciously or accidentally) leveraging their privilege to show the world what is possible. I may take issue with why they see the world in the way they do, but that doesn’t stop me from learning something along the way.

After all, they did get me to Google “prana energy”.

We Out Here,

Josh A


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