What was a harmless joke to Giuliana Rancic and Kathy Griffin is a constant reminder to Black women of how our hair is perceived.
At Sunday’s Oscars ceremony, Zendaya arrived on the red carpet looking fabulous in an ivory Vivienne Westwood gown and a new hairstyle: gorgeous, thick, flowing locs. While most fans and admirers were praising the singer and actress for red carpet look and new ‘do, the Fashion Police had a different opinion.
“I feel like she smells like patchouli oil . . . ,” Fashion Police host Giuliana Rancic said, sparking laughter from the studio audience.
“Or weed,” added an off-camera voice (suggested by many to be co-host Kathy Griffin), to which Rancic responded, “Yeah, maybe weed.”
I don’t need to explain in length why this in fact is racial, whether the Fashion Police meant for it to be or not. 18-year-old Zendaya has already spoken for herself by releasing a statement on Instagram, in which she expressed her pride in wearing locs, something that she has in common with loved ones and many prominent black Americans. She said that she wore locs on the red carpet because black hairstyles receive too much criticism, and “to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.”
I don’t think that the Fashion Police hosts are out to get black women — racism isn’t always that simple. Sometimes, people mess up and words just come out the wrong way. But if we put intentions aside, it’s still racism. Invalidating how black women look is about as old as colonialism, and it happens on an institutional level as well. The U.S. military once had restrictions on certain hairstyles that are typically worn by black women. Last year, a meteorologist for a TV station in Shreveport, Louisiana was fired for defending her natural hair. In 2013, a 12-year-old in Orlando, Florida was threatened with expulsion after refusing to cut her natural hair, which the school considered a distraction.
What was a harmless joke to Rancic and Griffin is a constant reminder to black women of how our hair is perceived. It is a reminder that the way our hair comes out of our head, as determined by our DNA, is neither pretty nor professional. It makes us unfit for military service, an education, and careers in our chosen fields.
Rancic seems to understand how harmful it is to perpetuate negative views about black hair. She said in her on-air apology:
“I just want everyone to know that I didn’t intend to hurt anybody, but I learned it’s not my intent that matters. It’s the result. And the result is people are offended, including Zendaya. And that is not okay.
Therefore, I want to say to Zendaya, and anyone else out there that I hurt, that I’m so sincerely sorry. This really has been a learning experience for me. I learned a lot today and this incident has taught me to be a lot more aware of clichés and stereotypes, how much damage they can do. And that I am responsible, as we all are, to not perpetuate them further. Thank you for listening.”
It’s funny how I don’t remember anyone guessing what Kylie Jenner smelled like when she was wearing locs just several weeks ago. And this is what bothers me the most. Not only are things that black women do for beauty inherently wrong, but people seem to think that these looks are better on white people. There are several examples of this, for instance:
Kylie Jenner’s lips have been one of the most talked about topics in celebrity beauty over the past several months. The beauty community continues to be fascinated with emulating the look. Kylie Jenner lip tutorials seem to be everywhere, and she’s not the only celeb who’s into the overdrawn lip.
When CTV’s The Social posted this tweet about Jenner´s lips on January 9, Black Twitter was swift to call them out on their offensive use of the phrase “beauty trend.” Some sarcastically expressed how a common facial feature for millions of people can be “trendy,” while others voiced their frustration at the fact that it is only so because of a white woman. Black men and women used the hashtag #TwitpicYourTrendyLips to post selfies of their suddenly in vogue lips that they’ve had since birth.