By Grace Vanriel.....
Based on a lifetime of expert experience as a Caribbean-American Black women I immediately recognized that the comment made by Giuliana Rancic about Zendaya Coleman's hair involved stereotypical imagery based on race and culturally biased perceptions and I'm outraged. The very talented multiracial 18 year old singer, actress and dancer Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman (professionally known as Zendaya) fought back eloquently in writing to what could only be interpreted as a nasty racial slur over the dreadlocked hairstyle she sported at the Oscars. The budding young star's hairstyle was gorgeous however during the airing of the television program Fashion Police on which the proclaimed fashionista Rancic is one of the show hosts, she commented that Coleman must of “smelled” of “patchouli oil and weed.” Most people are familiar with the smell of weed but I had to look up the oil only to discover two things. First, it's an essential oil so no problem with that until I read that according to UrbanDictionary.com the street reference to patchouli oil is for “an oil worn as perfume by dirty hippies in lieu of showering or bathing in any way. Used to mask the scent of marijuana and week old body odor...” Really? Giuloiana Rancic, where I come from when you call someone nasty and stink you gone well clear of a joke cause dem is bloodclot fighting words (although many of us prefer to lick-shot pon paper!) Two apologies later it should be clear to everyone that Rancic is more concerned about protecting her reputation or loosing her job more than regretting such filth left her lips; yet, she still does not seem fully grasp what actions are needed to effect a “sincere” apology.
This entire incident took me down memory lane. As a pre-teen I remember many long adult-like conversations with the late Barbara Terry (aka Songa) who created the concept of extension hair braiding and the technique for its application starting in her home in the 1960's and later opening two of the first ever such salons in Harlem, NYC in the early 1970's called Songa Hair Beading and Braiding. Songa would tell me that wearing ones hair naturally was one of the most significant self-expressive steps Black women could take to free their minds from oppressive thoughts and behaviors and that doing so helped us to come to terms with our true identities and better understand our natural spiritual inclinations. In other words, chemically untouched hairstyles are extremely liberating and empowering because it's in contrast to how a racist society dictates we should look and, doing so involves intentionally going against the grain involving “conscious” decision making skills. To this day Black women in natural styles are viewed as in some way militant! Songa rarely allowed clients to look while your hair was being done and I remember hearing stories about woman looking into the mirror when their hair was completed and crying happy tears at the sight of their natural hair selves for the first time. As she would often explain wearing your hair naturally whether Afros, braids or in locks would not be an easy transition for most because the negative stereotypes of Black women in American society were strong, persistent and in stark opposition to the image “they” wanted us to buy into. Was Songa ever right! As an adult I felt forced to wear straight-haired wigs to job interviews to conceal my braided hair, a phenomenon Dr. Ella Edmondson Bell calls “Bicultural Stress” describing the very real “psychological barrier black professional women feel when they are compelled to suppress or diminish one part of their identity in order to exist in either of the cultural contexts where they work or live.” Outside the work environment I regularly faced lengthy impolite stares and ridiculous questions like “can you (or do you) wash your hair?” Far too many times complete strangers attempted to reach out and touch my hair, without permission. To a lesser degree I still get the questions and stares although the frequency is in recent times beginning to diminish.
Insert Coleman reply here
One might think that Rancic would realize the complete error of her comment but apparently not. First she issued a brief apology but only after Coleman said something first and, her reply was extremely brief and dismissive reading like an absolute denial: “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!!!” Just last night the public got a more carefully worded crisis management type orchestrated apology that aired on Fashion Police and then immediately released via YouTube. Rancic apologizes again but it's still unbelievable! You've made an outrageous statement that totally offends Coleman (and “others”) so why aren’t you letting the public know how you are personally trying to contact the person you offended and asking for a one-on-one meeting to apologize in person??? – that to me would be more sincere and respectful than 1,000 official statements! And why are comments disabled from your YouTube PR apology to Coleman? Could it be that you are not interested in hearing from the public especially from the “others” to whom you continually refer?
And while I we are talking about Ranic, let's not forget British actress Kelly Osbourne who is the other host on Fashion Police and allegedly a friend of Coleman's. The way I see it, rather than speaking up right when at the very moment the statement was made she took the silence highroad although recently threatening to quit if the matter remained unresolved. To that I say OK, we'll see. I was also very offended by People.com's report referring outright to Rancic's comment as a “joke.” Once again I say really? All this reminds me of the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." With this latest case of Giuliana Rancic's insensitive comments we are all reminded that racial prejudice towards Black women and men exist today as it did decades ago in the minds and mouths of people who have a public responsibility to everyone. To those people I say, grow up and get over it – Black women proudly sporting natural hair is on the rise and the trend is here to stay! Songa who's vision it was in part to see the majority of Black women in natural hairstyles based on increased self-awareness was way ahead of her time. She must be looking down from heaven and saying “I told you so!!”
Article by Grace Vanriel, Editor in Chief for Live Reggae NYC, CitiLyfe Magazine Senior Editor, Senior Correspondent at ReggaeReflection.com and ReggaeVibe.com; Contributing Correspondent Where Itz At Magazine. Find her on Facebook at LiveReggaeNYC
Photo Courtesy: by Steve Granitz/Wireimage; Jason Merritt/Getty