On Sunday, after the Academy Awards, Giuliana Rancic, co-host of E!’s Fashion Police, made a few contentious comments in reference to the locs worn at the ceremony by 18-year old actress/singer Zendaya.
In a previous post, I touched on the complicated relationship many black women have with their hair. I shared that in the present day black women have faced reprimands and job dismissals for daring to wear their hair in natural styles. Giuliana’s language touched a sensitive nerve in many, including Zendaya who responded in an eloquently worded message posted on Instagram.
Many on Twitter objected to Giuliana’s comments with Vine clips of the episode retweeted like crazy. There were also the expected oppositional replies that disregarded Zendaya’s feelings.
These are the fiery retorts that almost inevitably materialize when someone objects to language steeped in ignorance, bigotry, prejudice, racism, sexism or many other -isms.
A quick scan of user photos when I searched Twitter for “Zendaya, sensitive” showed that many of the people instructing Zendaya to “stop crying” aren’t the ones likely to be impacted by negative hair stereotypes. Yet, they think they’re qualified to tell Zendaya how to feel and respond. They haven’t lived her life, but they have all kinds of opinions about it.
Who is anyone else to decide how another person should feel and react to their environment? Who are any of us to tell someone else they are being too sensitive? Why is it often that the folks not directly affected have the most to say about others’ sensitivities?
Giuliana issued a sincere and adult public apology to Zendaya, the type of which we rarely see when a celebrity atones for a public snafu. She accepted responsibility for her words. She referenced listening and learning why her comment offended instead of focusing on her intent and defending herself.
As someone who’s had a lifetime of people telling me that my own feelings and experiences are invalid because they don’t match the narrative of the dominant culture or viewpoint, my skin is pretty damn thick. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t last very long in this America where I am at a disadvantage from the jump just by being in the body of a black woman. A society that tells me that my gender is weaker, too emotional; my hair too nappy, my skin too dark, nose too wide, intelligence limited. To withstand years upon years of ignorance directed my way or anyone else who shares the designation “female” or “black.” A society that tells me I have to act, speak or dress a certain manner just to be respected. If I’m offended by someone coming at me with ignorant nonsense, it’s not because I’m weak. The “strong black woman” stereotype didn’t come from nowhere.
We have to get better at practicing empathy. We have to become comfortable with the idea that we may not always be qualified to speak intelligently on a subject. It’s okay sometimes to stop talking and typing and just listen. To dig deeper and THINK about why someone might be offended. We shouldn’t dismiss other people’s emotions and thoughts as less valid than our own. None of us is better than the other, even those born into royalty, wealth or the dominant ethnic group or gender.
Just because you’re not offended, doesn’t mean another person isn’t and doesn’t have the right to be. Not a one of us is the center of the universe.
Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?