Whiteness continues to prevail in media, fashion and mainstream pop culture. Eighteen-year-old Disney actress Zendaya hit the 87th Academy Awards red carpet in a beautiful, white gown with her hair styled in gorgeous, long, traditional locs. Commonly referred to as dreadlocks, locs are a common way for black men and women to style their hair.
E! Network host Giuliana Rancic displayed ignorance with her comments on Zendaya’s hair during a recent episode of “Fashion Police.” In regards to the locs, Rancic said the actress looks like she “smells like patchouli oil … or weed.”
Rancic’s comments come from a long history of the media’s degradation and criticism of blackness. Minorities are still grossly underrepresented in television and film, and existing representation is often littered with stereotypes and typecasts.
This year’s Oscars yielded an all-white group of actor and actress nominees, despite qualifying black actors in the film Selma turning in powerful performances. In the history of the Oscars, only four black men have won the Best Actor award, and only one black woman––Halle Berry––has ever won the Best Actress award.
American ideals of beauty leave no room for black women or black culture. The thin, white woman is the template for attractiveness and confidence. Every other woman is expected to fulfill this role as best as possible in terms of dress and appearance.
Any cultural influences on beauty are deemed as the “other.” Rancic categorized Zendaya as the “other” when criticizing a look that is different, or one a white woman cannot pull off. Black culture is not fairly represented in American beauty ideals because “American” has become synonymous with “white.”
White media’s criminalization of black people in relation to drugs also contributes to misrepresentation and stereotyping. The racist idea that anyone who smokes marijuana is a “thug” is why people like Rancic associate drug use with black people who have locs. Rancic correlates internalized racist ideas with Zendaya’s expression of her natural beauty and culture.
Zendaya has the potential to be a young, influential feminist icon. “There is already a 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 posted on Twitter.
She affirmed that Rancic’s comments were offensive and disrespectful, and that her decision to wear locs on the red carpet showed natural black hair in a positive light.
Other successful black women such as Solange Knowles publicly supported Zendaya on social media by posting pictures of her own natural hair and criticizing the negative intentions of “Fashion Police.”
Rancic’s insincere Twitter apology claiming she was equating locs to “bohemian chic” style shows her continued ignorance of black American culture.
Her addition of, “[It] Had NOTHING to do with race and NEVER would …” is a lazy excuse used time and time again by white offenders who cannot recognize their own internalized racism.
Actresses like Zendaya are what our media culture needs to improve representation and treatment of minorities as well as to combat exclusive beauty standards. While mainstream feminist actresses such as Emma Watson only represent the issues of white women, Zendaya brings attention to the unique prejudices experienced by black women in the media and how white culture misunderstands and exacerbates them.