When Zendaya and her glam squad settled on the inspiration for her Oscar night look, they decided to throw back to post- "Cosby Show" era Denise Huxtable. The fictional Hillman College dropout, played on TV in the '90s by Lisa Bonet, sported back-grazing locs and vintage duds. Yes, the eternally cool, boho mom IRL of Zoe Kravitz had a Free People-worthy wardrobe and hair that seemed to suggest: "I'm a free spirit, totally #TeamNatural and don't put me in your box."
Who wouldn't find that inspiring?
Well, apparently "Fashion Police" host Giuliana Rancic didn't.
While channel-surfing, I happened to catch the E! News correspondent and her fellow panelists assessing Sunday night's red-carpet looks. Just hours after Vogue gushed over Zendaya's "flowing dreadlocks: one part Lisa Bonet, one part Venus de Milo," under the headline "Who's That Girl?" Rancic tossed major shade at the 18-year-old, summing it up with, “I feel like she smells like patchouli oil ... and maybe weed.”
Not only did her stereotyping reek of racism -- after all, Rancic reportedly gave Kylie Jenner's similarly faux locs the thumbs up when the reality star debuted them on Instagram -- the TV host also breathed renewed life into super antiquated misconceptions about locs that black men and women, in particular, have pushed back against for years.
"There is already 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 rightly pointed out in an eloquent response to Rancic.
Seriously, locs are the domain of everyone from the director of Oscar-nominated film "Selma" to Harvard-educated historians, the "Replay" singer added. (Even the Selena Gomez lookalike who rang up my Whole Foods order tonight was rocking gorgeous, loose locs.) But you wouldn't know that hearing the E! star's careless observation, the kind that only perpetuates discrimination.
But the sideways glances aren't limited to those with lovely locs, whether permanent a la Lil Wayne or temporary like Zendaya's extensions. Black girls who've sworn off chemical hair straightening products to rock their natural curl, including this writer, can typically share hair horror stories about ignorant reactions to their tresses. Beyonce's younger sister, Solange, was the subject of widespread Internet scorn when she gave her flowing weave the B.C. (or big chop for the uninitiated) in favor of a liberating 'fro.
"I just wanted to be free from the bondage that black women sometimes put on themselves with their hair," Solange said back in 2009.
She tweeted her solidarity with Zendaya on Tuesday night (Feb. 24), sharing that she'd had her mane maligned by the "Fashion Police" too.
Rancic has since issued an on-air apology to the former Disney star, noting among other points:
“This incident has taught me to be a lot more aware of cliches and stereotypes, how much damage they can do ... and that I am responsible, as we all are, to not perpetuate them further.”
That's definitely a start. If there's any upside to this episode, it's that we're having a much-needed conversation about a subject we don't often discuss cross-culturally. And if you're still scratching your head by the end of this post, I recommend repeat viewings of this mid-aughts gem: