Credit: Instagram @zendaya

Being a millennial musician, model, actress and style wunderkind doesn’t come without its downfalls. And 20-year-old Zendaya Coleman (who celebrated her birthday yesterday), while all of those coveted things, knows this sentiment well. 

In 2015 the ex-Disney star made her Oscars debut in Vivienne Westwood, adorned in Chopard jewellery and…dreadlocks. As you are aware, E! News anchor and Fashion Police commentator Giuliana Rancic said on air that Zendaya’s African-American hair appeared as though it would smell of “patouli oil. Or weed”, a seemingly racial slur Zendaya deftly spoke out against.      

Then, in March 2016, comedian Julie Klausner attacked the teenager tweeting Zendaya’s apparent retort to Rancic was “starving herself down to the size of one of her elbowz” and insinuated the naturally thin star had an eating disorder.

Now, in a GRAZIA exclusive – and as she represents multigenerational black girl issues in Beyonce’s Lemonade – Zendaya discusses how she deals with racial insensitivity and attacks on her appearance. Her method is to teach the ignorant. And in her opinion piece below, we see her plight to teach young women as well to, once and for all, make a stand next to one another.

Not bad for a 20-year-old.

Credit: Instagram @zendaya

“Do you think, as a society, we’re making ground when it comes to engaging with women of colour?”

“The fact we’re talking about this means we’ve made progress. There were times when people didn’t even ask the question or didn’t even care to ask it and now things are different.

“Even though criticism and insults to black women are still happening – and they are definitely still happening – at least we’re having this conversation right now, we’re talking about it and we are getting the ball rolling.

“You can’t tell anybody how they’re going to react or behave when hit with a racist insult but, all that aside, I’ve learned that you have to learn to love and respect yourself first and foremost. Why? Because, if you’re confident within, that’s the only way attacks wont be able to personally effect you.

“In my opinion, it does come down to situations where people are saying ignorant things – or you can tell people aren’t educated about some things – and you do have that education and therefore that ability, in a sense, to help them.

“Yes, you could easily be ignorant yourself and say a rude comment and then create a back and forth negative experience. Or, you could teach that person about what they’re saying and doing and hopefully allow them to learn from the experience and actually make a change. Being aggressive and saying the first thing that comes to mind – I know that feeling, I know what its like to say hurtful things and then just go off. But it’s always more powerful when you think about it and use the brain you have.

“Because, at the end of the day, we are all in this together. Humanity, that is. There’s only one earth we can live on and we can’t just get up and leave whenever we want to. We’re all stuck here together and we’ve got to appreciate each other and love each other.

“For me, with certain situations in the past and whether it’s to do with racial insensitivity or body bashing, I look at it as others needing me as their voice. In reference to Julie Klausner’s comments, fortunately I’ve never had a problem with my body or the way I look, that’s just not something I’ve had to deal with. But I know too many people who have. I have way too many family members and friends who have to deal with not being happy in their own skin literally on a daily basis. That’s a serious issue and it’s not something you joke about. It’s not light, it’s not funny, it’s not comedy. It’s real. 

“And just because it doesn’t effect me, doesn’t mean I’m allowed to let someone say those things, you see what I’m saying? There’s too many people that need me to address those things and too many people who haven’t found their voice yet. So here’s mine: Sometimes silence is the best option. Sometimes it’s not. And that’s ok.”