Here’s the thing: despite all the noise and the “what she say?” and the snatching of edges and the change.org petitions and Twitter apologies and whatnot, the fact still remains that Giuliana Rancic said something incredibly dumb about teen actress Zendaya’s hair and really, we’re the fools for getting all bent out of shape about it.
By now, you should know what Rancic said about the Disney star, considering it’s being covered on TV, websites, radio shows and blogs with the importance of, like, Watergate, the Kennedy assassination and the capture of Osama Bin Laden. But in case you literally just crawled out from under a boulder, here’s the skinny: in a post-Academy Awards segment on her show, Fashion Police, Rancic and her co-hosts were critiquing Zendaya’s red carpet Oscar outfit when Rancic joked that she thought Zendaya’s hair, styled in faux locs, made the 18-year-old look like she “smelled of patchouli oil and weed.” Stereotype much?
Mind you, when Rancic critiqued Kylie Jenner’s faux locs on an earlier show, they were “cool” and “edgy” on the white girl. But Lord, let a young Black woman (yes, Zendaya is biracial but has publicly identified as Black) wear a hairstyle honoring the way our hair grows out of our heads and, well, all that “cool” and “edgy” takes a backseat to confusion and disgust.
Not to worry: Zendaya got Rancic together real quick on Twitter, where she posted a statement calling Rancic’s racially-loaded comments “ignorant slurs” that were “pure disrespect” not only to her but to the scores of loc-rockers who proudly wear the style, sans weed smoke and 125th St. oils, including her daddy, brother, best friend and cousins, plus a league of Black intelligentsia that includes everyone from award-winning Selma director Ava DuVernay and Grammy Award-winning songstress Ledisi to author Terry McMillan and grip of Harvard professors.
“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,” Zendaya wrote. “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 showed far more class and restraint than some think Rancic deserved, believe that. Folks are all over the innanets, acting like they’re ready to toss the reality show star’s head on the grill and serve it with a platter of plantain and rice and peas.
I can agree that the madness that flew out of Rancic’s mouth was in poor taste—fighting words, certainly, in the MyBrownBaby household, where natural hair rules and both my older daughter and I proudly wear locs, along with everyone from my in-laws and nephew to a few of my best friends. But you know what? This is what Rancic, Kathy Griffin and the rest of the Fashion Police talking heads do: they flash pictures of celebrities on a screen, tear them down from head to toe with tasteless disses they think passes as critical commentary and “comedy,” and then collect checks for the trouble while mainstream media hails them as arbiters of fashion and taste.
But that’s what mainstream media does. In the back rooms of magazines, TV shows and the like, mostly lily white staffs create the beauty standards and celebrate those who meet their limited, non-sensical, impossible-to-meet, homogenous criteria. But this is not what we do. We Black folk know better than to buy into the foolishness that finds its way to the covers of white beauty and fashion mags, that gets celebrated on white blogs and in commercials, that gets critiqued on dumbass shows like Fashion Police. Sure, decision-makers have their “pets” of color—Lupita, Kerry, J-Lo—but, for the most part, they spend an inordinate amount of time ignoring the shit out of all things blackety black, and no amount of think pieces, hashtag campaigns and online petitions is going to ever change that. Simply put: Rancic let all that anti-locs/natural hair judgement spew out of her mouth because she knows nothing about Black hair politics, doesn’t give a rat’s hairy patootie about it, and, despite her initial (non)apology and a more in-depth on-air mea culpa, probably isn’t interested in locs or natural hair on Black women and will never be required to talk about either ever again.
And why would we want her to? Neither she nor her mainstream beauty/fashion/mainstream media cohorts will ever truly “get” us. Not like Essence does. Not like Afrobella and The Curvy Fashionista and She Slays and Tia Williams and The Style and Beauty Doctor do. Not like your mama and your aunties and your sisters and fly best friends do. Who needs Rancic’s negative, clueless, tragic gaze when we know we know better?
Now, I came to this understanding a long time ago, but you know who solidified this logic for me? My girlpie, Mari. I called myself trying to help her understand and digest fashion by picking up copies of Teen Vogue and Lucky for her at the grocery check-out line. My thinking: she’s a growing teen and she’s going to need to know about the fashion and beauty trends of kids her age as she starts thinking about her own sense of style, so let me grab what appeals to teens and get it into her hands.
I noticed about four months in that the magazines were just laying around the house, completely unread. An inquiry into why she wasn’t paying them any kind of mind yielded this nugget: “There’s nothing in there for me.”
That was my “duh” moment. Of course she didn’t see herself in there. No locs. Little chocolate skin. No curves. No hip hop. No celebration of us. No Black teen stars. No stories about the things she thinks about as a Black teen in America. Zero flavor. Mari wasn’t about to waste her time on that foolishness.
And we shouldn’t either. Go off on Rancic for her ignorant remarks, sure, but put more of that passion into supporting those of us who celebrate us without apology. Who love us unconditionally. Who think we are unapologetically beautiful, exactly the way we are.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.