The evolving masculine imagination includes (l to r): Jaden Smith; Mykki Blanco; Jidenna; Brother Earth by Brandon Stancell; A$AP Rocky; Raury
The teen’s sartorial choices may be perplexing to some, but it represents the exciting new ways in which young black men are challenging ideas about masculinity. If young black women like Zoe Kravitz, Solange Knowles, Zendaya, and Willow Smith have become the poster girls of #carefreeblackgirl, then black boys and men including Jaden Smith, Frank Ocean, Jussie Smollet, and Dev Hynes are the epitome of the #carefreeblackboy.
Weirdness or quirkiness are not traits that have often been praised or even acknowledged in the black experience. There have been very few depictions of black alternative characters in media — perhaps Lisa Bonet’s Denise Huxtable is the earliest example, but she’s one of very few. With so few reference points, young black people have not been given the same freedom as white kids to embrace nonconformity. That inability to explore and experiment has, in many ways, been detrimental.
In a society that deems young black men hyper-aggressive and hyper-masculine and teaches boys across the spectrum to bury their feelings, being carefree in any capacity is a way to push against those unfair expectations.
Concurrently, there’s an increasing prominence of black gay artists that probably tracks with the country’s increasing acceptance of gay issues. I can’t imagine that this shift isn’t having some effect on notions around black masculinity.