Why Zendaya's 'Fashion Police' Retort Is Important

by Jodie Layne

Earlier this week at the Oscars, the only thing that struck me about Zendaya Coleman's look on the red carpet was how stunning she was in her Vivienne Westwood gown. At just 18, she looked age-appropriate yet timelessly elegant and the dreadlocked hairstyle she chose for the evening was just as flawless. Unfortunately, Fashion Police host and E! red carpet co-host Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne didn't feel the same way — and made some comments about Coleman's locs that went beyond Fashion Police's usual brand of distastefulness. Rancic commented that Coleman's hair "made [her] feel like she smells of patchouli" and Osbourne added (to raucous laughter) "or weed." So here's my question: Don't we all remember when people were calling Kylie Jenner's dreadlocks "edgy" and "trend-setting" only a few weeks ago? I mean, I know that the trend cycle on the internet can be short, but come on. This is a bit ridiculous, no? I guess things are only cool when a wealthy white girl related to the Kardashians does them.

Almost immediately after the statements were made on Fashion Police, Twitter was blowing up and pointing out that the comments weren't just disrespectful to Zendaya, but that they were also inherently racist. It wasn't long before Coleman herself was speaking out about the comments on her personal Twitter and her response was absolutely perfect:

Rancic immediately tweeted an apology, saying the remarks "had nothing to do with race and NEVER would!!!" Over on The Root, Yesha Callahan wrote, "Sure, it’s never about race when people make comments about a black person’s hair (sarcasm)." Callahan makes a good point and we need to talk about Rancic's non-apology: The simple truth is that it's not up to white people to decide what is and/or feels racist to others. Sure, maybe Rancic didn't intend for her words to have that impact — and living in a society ruled by inherently racist institutions means that we all have some deep-seated thoughts to unpack. However, intentions don't mean anything when the damage is done — that's why manslaughter is a crime. Even when we don't mean to hurt someone, we still can — and that's what Rancic ultimately did. That being said, there's more at play here — I mean, her entire show is about making fun of the way people look!

No matter how progressive we consider ourselves to be, or how conscious of our own racism (or lack thereof) we are, there's still a chance that something offensive or oppressive will make its way out of our psyches. The best thing we can do is acknowledge it, own it, apologize and continue to learn from our mistakes. See, for example, Benedict Cumberbatch's apology for calling black actors "colored" earlier this year. When people have told us something is harmful and racist, we have to believe them. If we mess up — as we likely will — we must take steps to issue a proper apology and educate ourselves on why what we did or said was not cool. Giuliana: Your non-apology leaves so much to be desired. You've made fun of a natural hairstyle and stereotyped the people who choose to wear their hair in that manner, so now it's time to prove that you understood why that was wrong and apologize for real.

Images: Getty; Twitter