The organization says Rhonda Lee’s managers missed a “golden opportunity” to engage its viewers in a dialogue about diversity.
(Photo: Facebook/Rhonda A. Lee)
The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) issued a statement in support of Louisiana meteorologist Rhonda A. Lee, who was fired when she responded to a racist Facebook comment made by a viewer about her natural hairstyle.
“What happened to Lee is disturbing. Although the nation continues to become more diverse, biases based on race, ethnicity, gender and culture persist in newsrooms,” the statement read.
Lee was fired for “repeated violations” of the station’s social media policy, which she claims she didn’t know existed, for the initial response and another, also related to a racial comment.
“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,” said KTBS 3 news director Randy Bain in a statement.
The incident stems from an Oct. 1 Facebook post that appeared on the Facebook fan page of KTBS that read:
"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)."
To which Lee replied:
"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.”
NABJ called the station’s response to the issue a missed opportunity “to initiate a community dialogue about respect, identity and diversity, particularly as it relates to redefining standards of beauty, what is aesthetically acceptable in television news and the value of on-air journalists beyond appearance.”
The organization and other critics of the station have contrasted Lee’s firing with the supportive response Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston received after she was heckled by viewers about her weight.
Lee says since her termination, she has been flooded with well wishes and support from around the country.
“I would never have dreamed in a million years that I would get all this support,” Lee told New York Daily News.
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