Rhonda Lee is an experienced TV meteorologist. She is also a black woman with short natural hair. Apparently, this combination is too much for some employers and viewers. Lee told Soledad O’Brien that she’s been denied job interviews because of her hair; one news director told her that her hair “was too aggressive for Sacramento.” Recently, Lee was fired for politely responding to a rude Facebook comment asking her to “wear a wig or grow some more hair.”
Until recently, Lee was a meteorologist for KTBS-TV, an ABC affiliate in Shreveport, Louisiana. On October 1, a viewer named Emmitt Vascocu left the following comment on the station’s Facebook page:
the black lady that does the news is a very nice lady.the only thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. im not sure if she is a cancer patient. but still its not something myself that i think looks good on tv. what about letting someone a male have waist long hair do the news.what about that
Lee’s response is pretty much the definition of class:
Hello Emmitt–I am the ‘black lady’ to which you are referring. I’m sorry you don’t like my ethnic hair. And no I don’t have cancer. I’m a non-smoking, 5’3, 121 lbs, 25 mile a week running, 37.5 year old woman, and I’m in perfectly healthy physical condition.
I am very proud of my African-American ancestry which includes my hair. For your edification: traditionally our hair doesn’t grow downward. It grows upward. Many Black women use strong straightening agents in order to achieve a more European grade of hair and that is their choice. However in my case I don’t find it necessary. I’m very proud of who I am and the standard of beauty I display. Women come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and levels of beauty. Showing little girls that being comfortable in the skin and HAIR God gave me is my contribution to society. Little girls (and boys for that matter) need to see that what you look like isn’t a reason to not achieve their goals.
Conforming to one standard isn’t what being American is about and I hope you can embrace that.
Thank you for your comment and have a great weekend and thank for watching.
Lee was subsequently fired. The station’s news director released a statement saying she had “repeatedly” violated the station’s policy on responding to harsh viewer comments on social media. The station’s position is that it’s best not to respond at all, but if an employee must do so, they should just briefly provide a station contact and say they’d be happy to speak about their concerns.
Lee told O’Brien:
I feel like I was punished for defending myself; whereas other people are given platforms, I was given a pink slip instead. I feel that a lot of times, and particularly in the deep South, that racial issues can be scary, they can be very touchy and, as my former employer saw it, as controversial. … You may have the policy but I also feel there’s a responsibility to educate viewers and if that opportunity comes up, then grab it, take hold of it, embrace it, and use it as a platform for helping repair relations within our community. And I really feel that hiding is doing more of a disservice than actually helping to educate the viewing population when you have the opportunity.
The blog Sporty Afros, which (awesomely) covers the territory “where hair and sports collide,” collects a variety of previous responses by black newswomen who wore their hair natural (as opposed to chemically straightened, or relaxed). In 1971, for example, a New York City reporter named Melba Tolliver was banned from her studio when she began to wear her hair in a natural style. Her employers suggested she either change her style or wear a head scarf when she covered Trisha Nixon’s wedding a the White House.
Lee was not fired for wearing her hair short and natural, of course. But based on what we know so far, the station showed a level of insensitivity in reacting so strongly to her perfectly polite reaction to a viewer pushing some seriously racially charged buttons.