Giuliana Rancic’s ‘weed’ joke disrespectful, not racist

By Managing Editor

Giuliana Rancic, a commentator on E! Entertainment’s “Fashion Police,” made a remark about 18-year-old Disney star Zendaya Coleman’s hairstyle during a Feb. 23 episode that covered celebrity fashion at the Oscars. 

     Coleman, donning a white Vivienne Westwood gown, wore her hair in dreadlocks. The racially mixed star—whose father is black and mother is white—said she chose the style to show that people of color don’t have to conform to society’s beauty standards in a Feb. 23 Twitter statement.

     In response to Coleman’s look during the Feb. 23 broadcast, Rancic said, “I love Coleman’s style, and I love when she has the little hair. I think she’s just such a tiny frame that this hair to me overwhelms her. Like I feel like she smells like patchouli oil or weed. Yeah, maybe weed.” 

     It is understandable that Coleman quickly took to Twitter, calling Rancic’s comments ignorant and prejudiced against black hair.

     “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,” Coleman wrote.

     Media outlets, Coleman fans and some of Rancic’s followers followed Coleman’s lead. While Rancic’s comments were stereotypical, her remarks were not racially charged, contrary to popular belief. Dreadlocks are an increasingly popular hairstyle worn by different races and cultures. 

     Rancic did not make negative remarks targeting black people, but she perpetuated the stereotypical characteristics associated with dreadlocks. She never identified one singular race, nor did she mention race at all. 

     In her statement on Twitter, Coleman identified black scholars, professors, actresses, authors and singers who have dreadlocks and noted that men, women and children of other races also embrace the hairstyle. Coleman’s acknowledgment that other races also sport dreadlocks proves that Rancic’s comments could have been applied to any person who wears his or her hair in dreads, not specifically the hairstyles that black individuals might wear. 

     Rancic’s comments are offensive in the sense that she directly associated the smell of weed with dreadlocks, but the two have been paired in stereotypes for a long time. According to a January 2013 Los Angeles Examiner report, during the Rastafarian movement—a religion that developed in Jamaica in the 1930s—marijuana was smoked as a sacred ritual to clean the body and mind. Ganja and dreadlocks were closely associated with each other because of the Rastafarian movement, which still has practitioners among multiple races today. Dreadlocks have a stereotype attached to them like any other characteristic that sets a person apart from the rest. 

     Dreads are not specific to one particular race; they are embraced and worn by people of various ethnicities and cultures from Crust punk to Hinduism. To say that Rancic was racist because she made a comment regarding the characteristics of dreadlocks themselves is not accurate. 

     “Fashion Police” has always been a controversial show, as many lines have been crossed and many outfits deemed a disgrace. Rancic’s comments are far less offensive than many of those that her co-hosts have made in the past regarding racial stereotypes. The late Joan Rivers, who died Sept. 4, was the show’s most notable host as she had the most controversial comments. 

     During an episode that recapped celebrity fashion at the 2013 Oscars, Rivers made a tasteless joke about a Julien Macdonald dress that Model Heidi Klum wore. 

     “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens,” Rivers said. 

     Rivers has been known to make shocking comments that were more extreme than Rancic’s remark. However, because Rivers is a comedian, the show’s viewers may have expected those

comments from Rivers and not from Rancic.

     Rivers and Rancic both later apologized for their remarks. Rancic tweeted an apology to Coleman on Feb. 24 followed by a spoken public apology that aired before a rerun of the Feb. 23 “Fashion Police” episode. 

     Following the apology, E! announced on Feb. 27 that commentator Kelly Osbourne would leave the show to pursue other opportunities. After the show aired for a second time on Feb. 24, Osbourne tweeted, “I did not make the weed comment. I do not condone racism, so as a result of this I’m seriously questioning staying on the show.”

    Black hairstyles have been scrutinized in the media for a while, and Coleman made a bold and commendable move by wearing dreadlocks to show that black hairstyles should be embraced and accepted in a society with narrow beauty standards. Although Rancic’s comment was offensive and it was clear that she had not thought it through, what she said about Coleman’s hairstyle was not pointed toward a specific race and should not be deemed racist.