What the Zendaya hair controversy says about casual racism

During last night’s Fashion Police Academy Awards special, host Giuliana Rancic described singer-actress-dancer and talented-beautiful-smart-amazing-human Zendaya’s hair as making her look as though she “smells like patchouli oil,” to which Kelly Osbourne piped in, “Or weed.”

Zendaya’s hair, for the record, was in locs and looked absolutely stunning. It was a gorgeous new look for the young star, who we recently saw with a pixie cut. Saying that her hair looks like it smells of patchouli or weed is offensive and, as many have pointed out, plays into ridiculous racist stereotypes.

Here’s the E! clip.

The comments were immediately met with a flurry of criticism on social media, and rightfully so. 

Rancic took to Twitter last night to apologize for her remarks. 

While Rancic probably didn’t mean to offend, her comments reflected an ignorance that needed to be called out and used as a teachable moment. (Some have even pointed out the hypocrisy of Rancic referring to Kylie Jenner’s locs a couple of weeks ago as “edgy.”)

Black hair has historically been criticized and policed by mainstream culture—and many Black hairstyles which have historical connections to African and African-American cultures continue to be scrutinized and considered “less than” because they do not adhere to traditional white beauty standards. Last night’s “fashion policing” served—knowingly or not—to perpetuate racist stereotypes and misrepresentations.

Meanwhile, Osbourne also addressed the remarks this morning on Twitter.

But just because someone is a friend doesn’t absolve you of saying something offensive about them, especially on a public medium like Fashion Police. 

Zendaya responded to the comments this morning on Twitter.

Her response is incredibly powerful, and choosing to spotlight other individuals who wear their hair in locs is such an important and unifying moment. She writes, “Do you know what Ava DuVernay (director of the Oscar nominated film Selma), Ledisi (9 ttme Grammy nominated singer/songwriter and actress), Terry McMillan (author), Vincent Brown (Professor of African and African American studies at Harvard University), Heather Andrea Williams (Historian who also possesses a JD from Harvard University, and an MA and PhD from Yale University) as well as many other men women and children of all races have in common? Locs. None of which smell of marijuana.”

She continues: “There is already harsh criticism of African-American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair. My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.”

Zendaya’s response was as powerful as it was empowering. If her locs make her feel beautiful and strong, who is anyone to deny Zendaya that beauty and that strength? Just like we should stop policing women’s faces, we should likewise stop policing women’s hair—particularly, and perhaps most essentially, women of color.

(Image via.)

Filed Under