Zendaya is opening up about her experience as a young Black woman fearing for her family amid racial tensions in America and reflecting on how she uses her platform to bring light and love during difficult times while being careful not to call herself an activist.
“I have always hesitated to use the word ‘activist’ for myself. That is a lifestyle. That is a choice every day to be doing the work and devoting your life to a cause. And I don't feel I am deserving of the title,” the 23-year-old Euphoria actress told InStyle for the September cover. “There are a lot of words that better describe what I do. I'm an actress, but I'm also just a person who has a heart and wants to do the right thing.”
During current conversations around racial injustice, sparked by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the actress admitted that she had trouble figuring out what her role was.
“I didn't know what I could do to help,” she said. “Because at the end of the day, I'm just an actress, you know? And I don't pretend to be anything other than that. If I don't know something, then I ask people who are actually on the front lines doing the work. I'm up in the bleachers, not on the field. So I always think, ‘How can I cheer you on and be a part of something greater than myself?’”
As a Black woman, however, the way that Zendaya has related to and even experienced uncertainty as a result of racial injustice is enough. She even spoke about a time that she feared for her father’s life after hearing about the deaths of two Black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, at the hands of police officers days after one another in 2016.
“I care about human beings, so this time is very hard to talk about. It's painful,” she explained. “I remember when I was with my dad in Atlanta shooting the first Spider-Man movie, and it was around the time that the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling happened. I was extremely emotional, and I remember thinking about my dad, who was out picking up food at the time. And I started worrying and calling him like, ‘Are you OK?’ I didn't want him to go out and do anything. But my dad is a 65-year-old Black man. He's been on this planet a long time, so he knows what he knows. But I still had that fear, and that scared me.”
Expressing these feelings publicly is something that Zendaya has long had to do, whether she likes it or not, as she entered the spotlight at age 13. Despite the anxiety that saying or doing the wrong thing may give her as a result of that, she’s set on not allowing her exposure to have such a strong effect on her actions.
“A lot of people are watching, so I can't necessarily make the same kind of mistakes that people make in their 20s and just forget about it. So now I'm trying to learn to not be afraid of making those mistakes and how to put myself out there more,” she said.
In fact, the actress praised those around her for using their voices to express themselves in vulnerable and emotional ways, especially during such an important time.
“For me, it's important not to entirely give up hope and faith in humanity,” she said. “There is hope in the youth. That makes me want to keep going. And more than anything, I just want to tell people that your voice does matter. The little things do matter. And continue to use your emotions. They are sometimes considered a weakness, but in this time they are very powerful.”
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