Zendaya, Zendaya, Zendaya. Say it three times fast and success and acclaim will soon be availed. From a child actress/performer as Rocky Blue on the Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up, to an adult with landing a spot in the Hollywood Juggernaut Marvel Cinematic Universe as Spiderman’s MJ, to awards and critical acclaim for her starring role in the prestige cable TV drama, Euphoria, it feels like everything the young woman touches is blessed by the Universe itself. That doesn’t even account for her wins in music and fashion. That is a whole lot for someone who’s just crossed his or her 24th birthday.
it’s zendaya’s world and we’re just living in it pic.twitter.com/MsBhTHoTDe— b (@ruesmjs) September 24, 2020
Not all are sold on her talent, however.
Some on Twitter (where else?) posit that her success, to some degree at least, is due to her relative proximity to Eurocentric phenotypes. Or, as they called it, “Light skin Privilege.”
remember when zendaya did this pic.twitter.com/71XUQwZ0lz— ً nicole is semi-ia (@SAPPHICANNE) September 26, 2020
For the uninitiated, Colorism, is the relatively better treatment one may receive in society over darker skinned people of the same ethnicity. As the old saying went, “If you’re white, you’re alright; if you’re brown, stick around, but if you’re black, get back!” It is a phenomenon in African-America that extends back to slavery in which the bi-racial offspring of a slave owner would sometimes enjoy certain benefits that other slaves would be barred from partaking in. Those benefits could entail permission to learn to read, a dedicated room in the big house, or even emancipation and a modest inheritance.
And we can’t deny it adds to their success. Dark skinned girls with the same talent don’t get the same love— JustKeepSwimming (@PhosphorusL6) September 19, 2020
In entertainment, Blacks have had a few lighter skinned women garner success. Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Diahann Carroll, Vanessa Williams, Halle Berry, Beyonce, Rihanna, and Mariah Carey are just a few names to come to mind. All possess a complexion fair enough to pass the infamous Cotton Club’s “paper bag test.”
Zendaya herself has spoken up. On the subject, she’s previously stated that “ [she does] have a bit of a privilege compared to [her] darker sisters and brothers” in the film and television industry. She added, “If I get put in a position because of the color of my skin where people will listen to me, then I should use that privilege the right way.”
Some are saying that the sister musical duo Chloe X Halle bear the same privilege.
Others are rolling their eyes.
Zendaya is bi-racial, her skin tone is noticeably lighter than average, her hair texture appears to be fairly straight and her facial features are moderate. Chloe and Halle, are the children of two Black parents, wear un-straightened, natural hair styles (locs, mostly) and their skin tone, while not dark, isn’t exactly light either.
The Chloe x Halle of it all pic.twitter.com/OBDPTuYNLm— mani⁷ⁿˣ (@hoseokmani) September 27, 2020
What gives? These young musicians from Atlanta represent Blackness in fashion and image with more consistency and esteem than other any teenage act in recent memory.
I know 2020’s got a lot of us in our feelings, and often for very real, valid, and compelling reasons. But trust me when I say, “this ain’t it, fam.”
Others have tried to contrast their successes with the struggles of Normani and Justine Sky, other African-American artists with a darker hue. While it may be true that Colorism, the byproduct of racism, hinders Normani and Sky’s ascendency, it’s a stretch to say that deserve to be on the level of a Chloe X Halle.