It all started when Guiliana Rancic, host of Fashion Police commented on Disney star Zendaya’s locs at the Oscars. She said it looked like it smelled like oil and weed. Zendaya responded, saying that her comments shamed black people.
At first, Rancic was immediately apologetic, but did seem to try to deflect the criticism, saying the comment was not about race at all.
Dear @Zendaya, I'm sorry I offended you and others. I was referring to a bohemian chic look. Had NOTHING to do with race and NEVER would!!!— Giuliana Rancic (@GiulianaRancic) February 24, 2015
Whether or not Rancic consciously thought it was about race, it ultimately had everything to do with race. Dreadlocks are deeply associated with black culture. Even if people of other ethnicities decide to adopt the style, it can’t be disconnected with its roots.
However, as a human who has made mistakes and has my own set of implicit biases, I think there is an important lesson to be drawn here. Most decent people don’t consider themselves racist, but the truth is, even non-racists do racist things all the time. We don’t always see how we subconsciously attach meaning to people or styles that derive from a negative and unsubstantiated bias.
That’s why I think Rancic did the right thing with her apology.
The apology sounds sincere. She indicates that her intent was innocent but doesn’t dwell on it, because as a public figure, she acknowledges her responsibility to be thoughtful and considerate about these issues. She doesn’t focus on herself and instead wholeheartedly issues an apology and says that she accepts her responsibility. I really have to applaud her for this. We are all human and we let things slip. The important part is that we own up to it.
But the really remarkable thing about the incident is Zendaya’s response.
For Zendaya, this isn’t about a child-like response to a bully on the playground. It’s about making a statement and making positive strides for the black community. She didn’t want to shame Rancic. She only wanted her to recognize the power and negative impact that her words could have.
In the age of Twitter where we shoot off the first thing that comes to our head, it’s admirable that a woman of just 19 years of age had the foresight to do her research, calm down, and compose a well-written response.
We think Zendaya has a bright future. Her response was intelligent and thought out. It was the perfect way to remember Black History Month. This month is a time to reflect on what has transpired, feel pride for all that has been overcome, and most importantly push forward to continue making progress.