Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Louisiana TV Reporter Allegedly Fired For Responding To Facebook Rant About Her Natural Hair?

By Tenisha Mercer

KTBS Meteorologist Rhonda Lee fired for responding to a post about her natural hair

A story about a Lousiana meteorologist who was fired for allegedly responding to a Facebook comment about her natural hair is bringing the issue of natural hair in the workplace to the forefront again.

Rhonda Lee worked at KTBS,  an ABC affilliate in Shreveport.

The Rant About Natural Hair

An Oct. 1 Facebook post questioned if Lee should wear her short TWA, and suggested she put on a wig or grow more hair. It was allegedly written by a viewer identifed as Emmitt Vascocu:

“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 (cq).”
 How Lee Responded

This was Lee's response: “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.”

KTBS Fires Lee

KTBS alleges that Lee's response was a violation of company procedure.

This is what KTBS News Director Randy Bain said about the comment on Facebook:

“If harsh viewer comments are posted on the station’s official website, there is a specific procedure to follow. Ms. Rhonda Lee was let go for repeatedly violating that procedure after being warned multiple times of the consequences if her behavior continued.”

Lee claims she "has yet to see " a policy or procedure, but the station claims it sent an email to staff on Aug. 30 about the policy.

"When we see complaints from viewers, it’s best not to respond at all. … If you choose to respond to these complaints, there is only one proper response: Provide them with [redacted name] contact information, and tell them he would be glad to speak with them about their concerns. Once again, this is the only proper response."
Lee Says KTBS Ignored the Comment

Lee claimed she felt the need to respond because “the station didn’t do anything” after the comment was on the station's Facebook page for six days.

“Racial instances, racial comments can be very sensitive and if they’re allowed to just sit there, to me it’s almost condoning harsh comments like that,” Lee told CNN.

CNN's O'Brien said the conversation could have led to a conversation about why natural hair is scary to some, but Lee said she wanted to educate.

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.
Some news anchors have had different experiences, with at least one TV news anchor getting nothing but positive reviews about her natural hair. And recently, Wisconsin TV anchor Jennifer Livingston made national news after she responded on-air to a viewer who made derogatory comments about her weight on Facebook.

It's interesting to note that Livingston became a cause celebre for online bullying among adults. I see it no differently with Lee: This viewer made a bullying comment about her hair. The difference was that Lee's station did not back her up and, instead, fired her. An educational moment was clearly missed.

 My Thoughts

As a former journalist, I can say that TV news reporters are particularly challenged by wearing their natural hair. Not only are hairstyles strictly regulated -- even spelled out in contracts -- with some stations, those journalists have the added pressure of ratings and whether viewers will like their hair. Superficial, I know, but very true.

The issue, IMO, becomes was this really about natural hair and does a journalist have a right to respond to an attack on their heritage? If the station fabricated a company statement about responding to Facebook, this case just got national attention and Lee is probably going to walk away with a healthy settlement and possibly a new job after all this national media attention.

It's easy for blogs to say this journalist was fired for wearing her natural hair, but to me, it seems that she was fired for responding to a post about her natural hair. There is a big difference and the question becomes did she violate station policy?

What This Means For Natural Hair In Corporate America

I found what Lee told CNN's O'Brien about her natural TWA particularly interesting:

“I even had a news director once say that my hair was too aggressive for Sacramento,” Lee told CNN's Soledad O'Brien, and said her natural hair has led to her not getting interviews.

It also shines a brighter spotlight, unfortunately, for women who are afraid to wear their natural hair at work, who see this story and think, "See, THIS is why I can't wear my natural hair."

What do you think?

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