There is little denying that we’ve been facing some dark days since January 20, 2017. A world that has taken a turn for the dismal and disappointing isn’t the type of environment that inherently breeds excellence and goodness. Particularly among young Americans, an environment that feels so thoroughly drenched in hopelessness isn’t exactly the ideal setting for encouraging and raising a new generation of achievers. But sometimes it’s when the people, politics and problems that surround you are at their worst, that the cream slowly, but surely, rises to the top. Zendaya and Yara Shahidi are this generation’s cream.
There is no doubt that in the last couple of years, these two incredible young women have taken flight. They have moved from being the cute child stars they once were to becoming women who understand that their fame and success afford them an important platform that they can use for the betterment of society as a whole. And both of these incredible ladies have taken that responsibility on whole-heartedly. Let’s start with Zendaya.
Singer, actress and overall style icon Zendaya has never shied away from sharing her opinion on some of the most hot-button and important issues in our world today. But instead of popping off at the mouth as many of us (young and old) would do, she has maintained a grace and eloquence far beyond her years. Not sure what we mean? Might we suggest referencing a few of these quotes?
From an interview with Flare: “A feminist is a person who believes in the power of women just as much as they believe in the power of anyone else. It’s equality, it’s fairness and I think it’s a great thing to be a part of.”
From an interview with Glamour: “As my social platforms grew, I realized that my voice was so much more important than I had originally thought. I think if every young person understood the power of their voice, things would be a lot different. And it’s becoming more popular to be outspoken. If people know your name, they should know it for a reason.”
In response to E!’s disrespectful comments about her faux locs: “There is already harsh criticism of African American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair … I suggest some people listen to india Arie’s ‘I Am Not My Hair’ and contemplate a little before opening your mouth so quickly to judge.”
At 21 years old (she’s a 90s baby!), Zendaya has masterfully and eloquently navigated not only general injustice and bias, but also unfortunate comments and stereotypes directed towards her. She understands that as a notable woman of color she is in a position to not only defend herself when attacked, but to stand up for society’s most marginalized or underserved communities.
Yara Shahidi has followed in similar footsteps to Zendaya. Not even in college yet (which, by the way, she is planning to attend Harvard and her recommendation letter was written by Michelle Obama), Shahidi’s personal opinions and professional body of work have all worked toward a similar aim: Being a role model for scores of women. As one of the stars of ABC’s “Black-ish,” Shahidi has been a part of some of the most enlightened and insightful conversations regarding race that we’ve seen in a long time on television. But beyond her work on screen, Shahidi has devoted herself to being the type of positive role model and source of pride that we thought would be stifled for the next three-and-a-half years. Her stunning speech at BET’s Black Girls Rock was just an example: “White taught me what Black was not. Male taught me what female was not. Straight taught me what gay was not. Sad taught me what happy was not. Law taught me what equality and equity were not. But our charge is not to live within this negative space of who we are not to be. Who are we not to be, after all?”
I’m sitting here right now snapping my fingers high in the air.
These two remarkable women have come of age in a time that on the one hand saw this country’s first Black president and on the other hand the rise of history’s most hateful commander in chief. Having hope and change snatched away the second a less tolerant administration comes to power is enough to make any young person, looking to get a handle on their own identity and beliefs, spiral into angry, hatred and counterproductive thinking. And while both of these ladies have shown that they will not stand for intolerance and disrespect, they have also embraced an optimistic outlook on the years to come. They haven’t given up on our world and neither should the rest of us.
And what’s even more impressive and what really fills our hearts with happiness is the idea that Yara and Zendaya are the role models for an entire generation of young women. Sure there are the same vapid pop princesses there have always been and the same celebrities who are disgusted by even the thought of addressing issues of world importance. But there are also celebrities like Yara and Zendaya whose wisdom is both stunning and unique.
There is no denying that this year has really seen a priority shift among young Americans. Political activism and social awareness are cool; being disconnected from the world around them isn’t. For a generation where gender identity, sexual orientation, racial equality (and inequality) are topics being talked about in school and at home, there is a growing desire to make their voices heard. And while sometimes this has the potential to manifest itself in counterproductive ways, having champions like Yara and Zendaya provide a guiding light for how to express oneself in an appropriate and useful way is exceptionally helpful.
And particularly given that Yara and Zendaya are women of color makes us even happier. Day in and day out we’re bombarded with negativity being spewed about and toward brown and black people. After feeling as if we had made so much progress under President Barack Obama, we feel as if we’ve moved 45 steps back under the Trump regime. Defense of Confederate statues, the marching of white supremacists on college campuses, the rolling back of DACA … while we were never foolish enough to think that racism was a nonfactor in this country, we at least enjoyed the discretion that vast swaths of the racist segment of this country employed. But those days are over. People of color are made to feel attacked and marginalized so often these days that it truly is refreshing to see two young women stand up for themselves and make us incredibly proud.
Ladies, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Thank you for being your awesome, gorgeous, intelligent and witty selves. Thank you for not allowing the negativity of a few dull your shine. Thank you for setting an example we should all model ourselves after. And, most of all, thank you for being you.
Who needs Wonder Woman? We have Zendaya and Yara Shahidi.