Coffee Rhetoric: Eau de Patchouli & Weed: Giuliana Rancic's Media Blunder & No Love for Black Girl Realness

February 24, 2015

Eau de Patchouli & Weed: Giuliana Rancic's Media Blunder & No Love for Black Girl Realness

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Zendaya Coleman at the 2015 Oscars
n 2013, Black women across the social media-sphere galvanized in support of 7-year-old Tiana Parker when administrators at the Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa, Oklahoma chastised, then sent her home for wearing her natural hair in dreadlocks, because they believed her hairstyle 
wasn't “presentable.”

That same year, 12-year-old Vanessa VanDyke was threatened with expulsion when Faith Christian Academy in Orlando, FL told her to cut her Afro (a natural hairstyle she’d worn her entire life), after her mother complained to school officials that her daughter was being bullied and mocked about her hair.

Additionally, last year the U.S. military faced criticism after rolling out hairstyle restrictions that seemed to target Black women, before deciding to allow natural hairstyles like two-strand twists and removing words like “matted” and “unkempt” from their style and grooming guidelines.

Needless to say, I can probably outline an entire list of incidents that illustrate the politicization of natural hair as worn by Black women and girls and the myriad ways we are disparaged for styles and attributes most commonly ascribed to us, while white women and young girls are lauded as trendsetters for appropriating those very same styles. But, alas, perhaps rapper Nicki Minaj was onto something when, during a 2013 appearance on the Ellen Degeneres Show, she said, 
“…It’s the ‘white girl’ thing. …If a white girl does something that seems to be, like, Black, then Black people think, ‘Oh, she’s embracing our culture,’ so they kind of ride with it; then white people think, ‘oh, she must be cool because she’s doing something Black.’ …It’s weird. But if a Black person do a Black thing, it ain’t that poppin,” when asked about Miley Cyrus being credited for Twerking.
And that seems to be the general sentiment of most mainstream media personalities and journalists who cover pop-culture, style and entertainment.
While little girls like Tiana Parker are ostracized for wearing dreadlocks and Black women come under fire for daring to wear a look that deviates from preferred beauty norms, white women are routinely hailed as being “edgy,” “urban” and “bold” for culturally misappropriating dreadlocks, Afros and cornrows without any regard or respect for the source of those hairstyles.

Giuliana Rancic
Recently, E! Entertainment’s favorite reporter Giuliana Rancic, learned a valuable lesson about echoing hurtful racial stereotypes, and upholding the media’s seeming disdain for carefree Black women who extol Black beauty aesthetics, when she critiqued 18-year-old actress Zendaya Coleman’s red carpet look at the 2015 Oscars. During E!’s ubiquitous and snarky Fashion Police panel discussion, Rancic expressed dislike for Coleman’s ‘protective style’ of faux-dreadlocks, saying the young actress looked like “she smells of  patchouli and weed"; notwithstanding that the media had just dubbed Kardashian spawn Reality-TV star Kylie Jenner as a “risk taker” for sporting her rendition of dreadlocked hair.

Zendaya immediately held Rancic accountable for the snide microassault and reminded the host that Black people with dreadlocks don't deserve to be reduced to nasty racial tropes. But as par for the course, Giuliana initially tweeted a terse and disingenuous apology and—since the media loves to paint abstruse portraits of Angry Black Women—Zendaya, and her supporters, were accused of  being “too overly sensitive,” of “lashing out” and of “blasting” the Fashion Police host, when Zendaya’s response was nothing but patient and eloquent.

Self-care is important, and it’s not always mandatory to call out every racial infraction perpetrated by the media, particularly since there’re so many and we'd run ourselves ragged trying to do so, but the misogynoir also gets tiring, not to mention it’s violent. And Black women have the right to defend ourselves when assailed with racio-misogyny and oppressive language, especially coming from white people with large media platforms, operating from places of pedestaled privilege, who are complicit in trying to push Black women to the fringe to uphold Euro beauty standards, while celebrating Black female aesthetics on white women. 

Black women have the right to reaffirm who we are without being dubbed as angry, irrational or thin-skinned. Giuliana Rancic was wrong. Period. And accountability--which she's finally fully realized and accepted--and focus should remain with her hurtful words, how she can work to do better in the future, and the ways in which mass media, and certain segments of the general public, trivialize and erase the humanity and feelings of those who often aren't offered the benefit of a widely distributed media voice and presence. 

If anything, Giuliana’s public gaffe just emphasizes the need for more media diversity and representation, especially in entertainment journalism, because she certainly isn't the only one who needs to learn a valuable lesson in media ethics. 
**Note: Some parts of this post were contributed to a piece by journalist Tracie Powell of allDigitocracy.