Rhonda Lee, a meteorologist for KTBS TV, the ABC affiliate in Sherevport, Louisiana was fired from her job after she publicly defended herself against a sexist and racist comment made by a viewer on the station’s Facebook page.
The viewer wrote:
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 its still not something myself that i think looks good on tv.
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 defends its decision to fire Lee, claiming that she violated a company policy, one that she has allegedly violated before, concerning social media.
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. Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance. She was fired for continuing to violate company procedure.
Lee said that she has yet to see this policy.
Lee’s response to the comment couldn’t have been more calm, focused, or right on target. It gave me chills to read it. How could someone in management (if they planned on responding at all rather than ignore it, that is, allow it) have responded any better than that? Do you think they would have or could have written:
Little girls (and boys for that matter) need to see that what you look like isn’t a reason to not achieve their goals.
No one could say that but Lee, the victim of the sexism and racism. She has to speak for herself, without shame. That is the lesson to teach kids about bullying, racism, and sexism.
But instead, the lesson learned is that when Lee refused to be a silent victim, she was punished. Fired. How can a nation that acts like it is concerned about bullying, whose President speaks on the issue and says its important one for the whole country, allow this to happen?
Livingston defended herself in an on air editorial that lasted longer than four minutes. She finished her statement by thanking her colleagues, family, friends and all the others who came to her defense. Her story made headlines and she was on “Good Morning America” talking about her experience.
Just like Lee, Livingston mentioned young people:
“This was a personal attack,” Livingston said. “Calling me obese is one thing. Calling me a bad role model for our community that I’ve worked at for 15 years and especially for young girls when I have three girls was a low blow and I thought it was uncalled for and I wanted to call him out on it.”
Livingston also urged children who were victims of bullying to defend themselves, a lesson she says she teaches her own daughter. By making her speech on TV, Livingston walked her talk.
It is particularly important that women speak out publicly because, historically, women have been shamed into silence. This shaming/silence tactic is evident with everything from rape to sex tapes; again and again, it is the victim and not the perpetrator who is supposed to be humiliated.
Just yesterday, Anne Hathaway was “shamed” when someone took a photo of her. When Matt Lauer smirked during a scheduled interview on the “Today Show” that he’d seen a lot of her lately, Hathaway didn’t hide away, but responded: “I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies the sexuality of unwilling participants.” By speaking out, Hathaway directed the shame back where it belongs, on Lauer for his idiotic comment when she was trying to promote her movie, on the photographer who took the photo, and on the one who paid for the picture.
The attack on Lee is sexist. No one would be upset about that hairstyle if she were male. The taunting and comments that women receive on the internet about our appearance is epidemic and shows that sexism is alive and well in America. Attacking women for how they look, just putting out the threat that women could be attacked for how they look, has been an effective way to keep women in their place for much too long. Courageous and public acts like Lee’s and Livingston’s show all women how to deal effectively with this kind of bullying.
Of course, the attack on Lee is also racist.
It’s great that media outlets, viewers, activists, and colleagues supported Livingston when she defended herself against a bully. Lee deserves that same support now. That racism and sexism are protected in America in 2012 so that a woman defending herself against it loses her job makes me sick.
Read Reel Girl’s latest post on the Rhonda Lee story: Black hair and feminism: Beyonce, Willow Smith, Chris Rock, and Rhonda Lee