Giuliana Rancic’s Racially Insensitive Hair Comment Was Just the Beginning

Zendaya ColemanThere was a lot of controversy surrounding the Academy Awards leaving African-Americans out of the major categories this year -- especially rankling since Selma was nominated for Best Picture. But the telecast was a catalyst other cries of racial insensitivity. For instance, when Giuliana Rancic joked that Zendaya Coleman's dreadlocks made her look like she smelled like "weed" -- well, that did not go over too well.


Zendaya (and I'm sorry but I have no idea who she is -- perhaps that makes me racist) sported very long, thick dreads over an off-the-shoulder Vivienne Westwood. Giuliana, for once playing the part of the acerbic one on Fashion Police, joked that the hair made her look like she "smelled like patchouli oil... or maybe weed."

It's the kind of comment Joan Rivers would have gotten away with unscathed, but gentle Giuliana came in for a round of finger wagging from Zendaya herself, who wrote on Instagram:

To say that an 18-year-old woman with locs must smell of patchouli oil or 'weed' is not only a large stereotype but outrageously offensive. I don't usually feel the need to respond to negative things but certain remarks cannot go unchecked ... There is already harsh criticism of African American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others base on the curl of their hair. My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.

While Zendaya didn't come out and call Giuliana racist, the inference was clear -- and media headlines filled in the blanks. Giuliana apologized profusely, tweeting: "I was referring to a bohemian chic look. Had NOTHING to do with race and NEVER would!!!"

Of course, we all know Giuliana was just making a snarky remark. She would have said the same thing if a white girl had shown up with blonde "locs." But we see racism everywhere these days, don't we? It's everrrrrryyyyyywhere.

Now let's get to that rabid racist Sean Penn (sarcasm alert!). Upon announcing that Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu won for Best Director, he cracked, "Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?"

Never mind that Penn spends huge amounts of time helping displaced Haitians, he was suddenly a card-carrying Klu Klux Klan member, judging by the howls of complaint to his "racist" comment.

Should Penn have delivered his joke to Iñarritu over a couple of drinks at the after-party? Of course. But I suppose it's easy to forget that you're being broadcast to hundreds of millions of people when you're "inside" Hollywood and know all of the players and hang out with them and get drunk with them.

There is a Buddhist precept about intention. We all occasionally hurt each other with hasty, ill-chosen words -- but what was the intent behind those words? Did Penn intend to hurt his pal Iñarritu or somehow suggest that Mexicans shouldn't be in the country? Of course not.

But just in case there weren't enough people getting offended that night, there was Patricia Arquette, who suggested backstage after her rousing Oscar speech for women's equality that it's time for blacks and gays to step up and help women. Yeah, some black women didn't like that at all! Help white women?! Whaaa?!!

And then there was DiGiornio Pizza, which tweeted about ovens during Lady Gaga's The Sound of Music medley. "The ovens are alive with the sound of pizza," some hapless social media manager tweeted -- obviously having no idea that The Sound of Music follows a family fighting Nazi rule. And the Nazis used ovens for, well, you know.

Insensitive? Absolutely. Anti-semitic? Of course not. Whoever made the tweet was probably an intern who had never even seen The Sound of Music. The only real lesson here is that companies might want to actually employ people who have some sense of history to run their Twitter feeds, but that won't happen, because they'd have to pay them a decent wage.

It's all good to point out insensitivity and to educate those who may not realize that their words can resound with unintended aspersions. But being called a racist is a BIG deal and it just seems that people are far too quick to do so nowadays.

More from The Stir: Pundit 'Appalled' by Patricia Arquette's Speech Needs To Do Her Own History

Recently, I took a vacation to Costa Rica. As I traipsed through the jungle with my Costa Rican tour guide, watching in awe as he literally called to howler monkeys, he sweetly suggested that I call him "monkey boy." When I explained that I could never in a million years do that -- that it could even be considered racist -- he looked at me like he thought Americans were the craziest people in the world.

And maybe we are!

Are all of these comments racist?

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