Zendaya was just 19 years old when we first met for an interview. It was 2016 and she had just filmed scenes for Beyoncé’s Lemonade visual album and had also been the butt of some pretty poor jokes – one from comedian Julie Klausner and another from E News anchor Giuliana Rancic. (I’m not going to give the comments air time here, jump on Google if you want to know what was actually said.)
The last time I saw Zendaya was in Harlem in New York in September. She was the co-designer on the Tommy Hilfiger collection and I specifically remember her stomping around the runway prior to the show making sure grown men three times her age were in their places and things were running smoothly. Make no mistake, Zendaya was calling the shots that show.
Today, she celebrates her 24th birthday – and Timothee Chalamet had all the right words. “Happy birthday to one of the most inspiring people I’ve met on my short journey,” the Oscar-nominated star tweeted. “Someone with the strongest ethical character, and a moral compass that is in harmony with a totally fearless creative abandon. Happy birthday Zendaya, hope your day is beautiful, friend..”
Is it not the highest honor to be described as someone with a strong ethical character and moral compass that is aligned with being fearless? Well, it’s not a description that Zendaya has grown into – its someone she has always been, as proven by this beautiful essay she wrote for GRAZIA when she was 19. And on her 24th, it feels more relevant than ever.
Happy birthday, beautiful girl.
“Do you think, as a society, we’re making ground when it comes to engaging with women of color?
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 won’t 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 it’s 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.”