Intent is not enough: What we can learn from Guiliana Rancic’s dreadlocks scandal
It would be an understatement to say that the comments made on E!’s “Fashion Police” push boundaries in the name of humor, but a history of controversial, largely unfiltered fashion criticisms hardly shields the show’s hosts from backlash when their statements go too far. This was made clear recently when one of hosts, Guiliana Rancic, came under fire for her criticisms of the decision of Disney’s Zendaya Coleman to wear her hair in dreadlocks at the Oscars.
Rancic poked fun at the hairstyle, making the derogatory and thoughtless joke that Coleman’s hair looked like it must smell of patchouli oil or marijuana. Coleman came forth with a mature and passionate response to Rancic’s comments, which Coleman claimed reflected extremely offensive and ignorant stereotypes.
According to Coleman, the decision to wear her hair in dreadlocks at the Oscars stemmed from her desire to showcase the hairstyle in a positive light. She wanted to inspire people of color to see their hair as a symbol of strength and beauty, not as something that is not good enough because it doesn’t fit into the mainstream ideas of beauty.
It did not take long for Rancic to come forward with an apology, both on Twitter and on air. She expressed her regret over the comments she made, claiming that her intent was not to offend, but that she has realized intent is not enough when people’s feelings are at stake and has found this to be a learning opportunity. Coleman responded with a statement accepting the apology and expressing her hope that others who were offended by the comments could do the same.
The course of events in this case demonstrates a clear example of positive crisis communication and management. Upon the onset of the scandal, Rancic was swift in her efforts to come forward and address the issue, and managed to do so in a way that came off as genuinely sincere and contrite. Coleman’s subsequent acceptance of Rancic’s apology further pacified the crisis, allowing the scandal to gain a sense of closure from which the parties involved could move forward.
However, even as an example of positive crisis management, what is most important to learn from this instance is not how to handle a crisis, but rather how crises of this nature can be avoided. Specifically, the important point to take away from this is that which Rancic herself highlighted in her apology: intent is not an adequate defense to controversial missteps.
In a day and age when we are more interconnected than ever, we have ample opportunity to understand one another across cultural, religious, and racial divides. With the presence of that opportunity, it becomes increasingly unacceptable to remain obtuse toward the weight of comments made out of ignorance or lack of attention and responsibility.
More important still is that this particular scandal highlights a cultural change that needs to take place on a societal level. The issue here has less to do with the fact that a public figure made these ignorant and offensive comments, and more to do with the fact that we live in a society where such comments hardly register as ignorant and offensive until they are out in the open and called out for it.
That such notions have still not come to be inherently associated with negative and unacceptable connotations to the point that they wouldn’t cross our minds, let alone get said out loud, is the real problem. As we make our way to a more competent and compassionate society, we can recognize that a crisis, once managed, may reduce the need for widespread crisis management of this nature moving forward.
How do you think the “Fashion Police” scandal contributes to the conversation on race and stereotypes at large? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi