All Articles Tagged "rhonda lee"
“After all the rain, the sun shines again!” That’s the weather report that best describes Rhonda Lee’s inspirational turnaround after getting fired from the Shreveport, LA news station KTBS 3 in 2012 for defending her natural hair.
Since then, Lee — a proud ‘fro-wearing meteorologist — received an outpouring of positivity and encouragement. “Being called an inspiration, for me, is completely overwhelming,” she told MadameNoire over the phone. “I don’t see myself other than plain ol’ Rhonda who does the weather.” Though the whole world seemed to pat Lee on the back, for over a year, she struggled to get interviews for employment.
But as MadameNoire reported yesterday, Lee recently nabbed position at Weather Nation, a TV network in Denver that reaches millions of households. Take that KTBS 3 news! You should expect to see her on Weather Nation on July 28th.
Check out our interview with the woman dubbed the “Rosa Parks of Natural Hair”!
MadameNoire: Congratulations on your new position at Weather Nation, Rhonda!
Rhonda Lee: Well thank you so much! I’m extremely happy. Surreal is the best way to describe it. [After I got fired], I really honestly said, ‘Okay, I’ll just get a nice station somewhere.’ And all of a sudden, somebody very reputable wants to work with little ol’ me.
MN: This just proves that you don’t need a wig or weave to be a successful black female professional.
RL: For me, getting a new job was validation for what I knew was right. It was a move of acceptance. Not one time during my interview [at Weather Nation] has my hair come up. It’s sad to say, but that’s kind of rare. I was always asked, “So, what’s up with this hairstyle?’ Without trying to be rude, I would always explain that I used to do a lot of things to my hair that just wasn’t healthy. [Going natural] was a health decision – my scalp was suffering because the chemicals were so harsh. That’s why I don’t wear my hair straight.
It was just one of those things I always had to have a planned answer for, but at Weather Nation, it never came up! They hired me strictly based off talent and the ability to do the job.
MN: Let’s go back to 2012, when things spiraled out of control. After replying to two racially-insensitive Facebook posts, you got fired. KTBS 3 released a statement saying they sent out an e-mail on August 30, 2012 about social media etiquette. They claim you failed to comply with this policy. Did you receive it?
RL: We had absolutely no social media policy – nothing! All I know is that once upon a time there was an ‘e-mail’ sent out and I don’t remember getting it. I found out about this e-mail later, [after my termination from KTBS]. I do remember getting an e-mail from somebody who wasn’t my boss, and he actually said that he wanted us to engage on social media, so please reply whenever we see fit. That’s why I replied to [Emmitt Vascocou]. It was just me saying “I’m proud to be Black, thank you for watching.” My bosses felt that what I said was controversial, which I thought was a little strange.
I never felt that I was being disciplined either! At one point, I even asked “Am I in trouble?””Oh, no no no,” they said. “You’re not in trouble for anything.” And then to get fired for the thing that I was fired for, which was replying to a viewer who took issue with black kids winning a contest that the station held? I don’t understand why I got fired for telling the guy that we pick our kids at random.
MN: In the same statement KTBS 3 issued, they mentioned that a white co-worker was dismissed for breaking the station’s social media policy, too. Who was that?
Rhonda Lee: I remember Chris [the white co-worker] replied to anti-gay messages that were on the KTBS Facebook page. [On the day of my dismissal], I asked, “Well what about Chris? Where is he right now?” They said, “We let him go this morning.” I was shocked. I thought, “Wow!” I asked them, “So you got rid of the gay male and the black female for defending themselves against those comments on your web page?” My boss said, “Yes.” And I asked, “And you’re okay with that?” And he said “Yes.”
MN: What do you say to people who maintain that natural hair is unprofessional and don’t understand why you won’t change your hair for better job prospects?
RL: I’ve read a few comments about my story: “Oh, I don’t see what the big deal is. If you need to get a job, then you should do what you need to do.” In theory, I believe this. But I feel that this is a unique problem that is geared towards people of African diaspora…
In my industry, you’d hear consultants say, “Well, why don’t you get a bob or lighten your hair a little bit” – which is fine. But when it comes to black people, we’re asked ‘Well, can you maybe grow it out?” You’re asking me to do something biologically different and that’s where I have to draw the line.
Sometimes, I get, “Oh no no no. It has nothing to do with that. We just want you to look a particular way.” Well, would you ask me to make my nose a little smaller or my lips less prominent? If you’re asking me to straighten my hair, then that’s what you’re essentially asking me to do.
MN: Your TWA (teeny weeny afro) is harmless! How could anyone at any station have anything to say about it?
RL: For the [African-American community], my hair wasn’t a big deal. But for a culture of people who don’t understand our hair, my [TWA] is a shock. Within my first few days working there, they specifically asked me, “Is it possible to grow your hair out?” At the time, my hair was bigger and I had more hair than what I had at Shreveport. They’d ask, “Why don’t you get a nice little cut like your co-anchor?” And my co-anchor was also Black, but she had a relaxer so her hair laid down. I said, “Well, my hair is actually longer than hers.” I pulled a strand and it had gone past my ear. If you could have seen the looks on their faces! They were completely perplexed. I explained to them: “If you want me to grow my hair, it’s not going to grow down – it’s going to get bigger like this.”
They just don’t understand our texture, so that’s why they say things like that.
MN: When it comes to the workplace, why do you think Black hair is more restricted by rules compared to any other texture?
RL: Our hair has always been seen as some form of rebellion. In the slave days, [suppressing our hair] was a way of keeping us in our place, maintaining control of over us. Those days of keeping us in our place are gone – directly at least. Today, a lot of it is indirect. It’s unfortunate that our biology is what’s used to keep women down.
MN: Have you ever, at least once, thought about changing your hair to fit into the status quo?
RL: No. Not really. There was one time where I looked up a wig online and then I said, “This is ridiculous.” I thought, “When I go to the store, do I always have to put this thing on my head?” People would come up to me and say “Are you the weather lady?” And I’d have to say, “Yeah…” Then they’d say, “What’s wrong with your hair?” So no.
MN: For women who come across employers who ask them to change their hair texture, what would you suggest?
RL: An honest discussion needs to be had. A lot of times, employers just don’t know what it is they just asked you to do; they don’t realize it. That goes back to the accidental racism that we see from time to time. I would say talk about it first. You do have rights – that’s very important to remember. If they are being violated, there are outlets – typically within the company — that you can report your issues to. But first, have a decent, adult conversation about your concerns. More often than not, this way, the problem can get resolved.
MN: Since your dismissal went viral, you’ve received an outpouring of positivity. You’ve even been dubbed the “Rosa Parks of Hair”! Throughout all of this, has anything truly touched you?
RL: A lot of times, I found myself tearing up by all the “thank yous” and “keep goings.” I feel so grateful.
This one woman had cancer — she was a white woman by the way – and she was really down about her hair from the chemo. She told me she was [so depressed], she couldn’t even get out of bed one morning, but then she said, “I saw what happened to you and how you stood up for being you, despite your hair. Now, I’m motivated and I’ve taken off my wig.” She’s now proud of who she is, she says, because of me! It’s like wow! Thank you!
MN: You gave birth to a beautiful baby boy last year! What’s it like juggling being a wife, mom, and career woman at the same time?
RL: Well, I have a husband that’s phenomenal. And honestly, everything I do, I do for [my son.] I never really understood that sentiment, but now that I’m a parent, I completely understand that. Everything I do now requires much more thought than I did before I had the awesome responsibility of raising this little black boy who, in my personal opinion, will rule the world!
This interview was edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Kimberly Gedeon, on track for a Masters degree in journalism, is an essayist at heart — she’s got a knack for persuasive writing and social commentary pieces. Follow her on Twitter: @sweetenedcafe.
It’s been a little over a month since Rhonda A. Lee was fired from ABC affiliate KTBS-TV in Shreveport, Louisiana for responding professionally, and ever so politely, to two racist Facebook posts written about her natural hair by viewers on the station’s page. Now that she’s had time to reflect on the incident, Lee says she would do it all over and defend herself, again. She recalls a manager at the station recommending she thank viewers for their oft-racially insensitive comments about her hair. “I remember thinking, No I’m not going to thank someone for being racist,” she says.
On whether or not things would be different if she started wearing a straight wig:
“I don’t think we would have received that first Facebook post from that viewer. He wouldn’t have had anything to talk about because, dare I say it, I would have been very status quo and looked like everyone else. But would I have done anything different with my hair, knowing the trouble I’ve gone through here in Shreveport? I went through the same trouble in my last job in Austin. That’s ever disheartening because it’s just been so hard over something that’s potentially so superficial, if we just let it be. I came to the station with my short hair and had to explain it to my viewers, which, to me, is not the biggest deal. It comes down to leadership, I feel. If the management will back you up, then you’re okay.”
About doing things differently:
“Goodness no. Not in a million years. I remember my general manager saying, the next time you get a Facebook comment like that, just thank the viewer for watching. I remember thinking, No I’m not going to thank someone for being racist. But, the man who wrote that post, Emmit Vascocu, did apologize. He is to be credited. He personally wrote me. I wrote him back and thanked him for his apology.”
You can read the rest, including Lee’s views on being called the “Rosa Parks of natural hair” over on ESSENCE.
Last week, two stories about black women getting fired from their jobs made the news, but only one of their firings really resonated with people.
The first was the story of Rhonda Lee, the black meteorologist who was fired for responding to comments about her ethnic hair, among other things, and the second story revolved around Dianne Brame, a black lunch lady in Missouri, who was fired for giving a needy student free lunch. Despite the almost identical arrival in the media, Lee’s story was the only one to go viral and receive real attention.
Well of course, you haven’t heard of the latter. But that’s my point. Anyway, here is the gist:
“Dianne Brame had worked in the cafeteria at Hudson Elementary in the Webster Groves School District for the last three years. This fall she noticed the family of a fourth grader on the free lunch program hadn’t renewed his eligibility and the child wasn’t coming to school with money to pay for lunch. Brame says the boy’s mother doesn’t speak English and probably couldn’t understand the paperwork. Brame tells News Channel 5 the child was supposed to be reduced to a cheese sandwich and a carton of milk for lunch. But she worried he’d be made fun of by the other students. So instead, Brame gave him regular meals, for free, for nearly two months. A co-worker caught on and alerted Chartwells, the food service provider for the Webster Groves School District. Brame says the company fired her on Tuesday.
Initially, Brame was given the option to be demoted and transferred to another school, but because of the financial difficulties acquired after the death of her husband, she didn’t have the transportation to get to her new site, so she was terminated. Brame readily acknowledges that she violated company policy, which says that only children enrolled officially into the program can receive regular free lunch; however, she said that morally it was the right thing to do to ensure that this kid continued receiving daily nutrition.
A few days after the story ran on one of the local stations, Brame was offered her old job back – under the condition that she would have to undergo mediation and a review of the company’s policy. However, there is a lot to be outraged about in this story. For instance, are we seriously firing people for feeding hungry children? And then accusing them of theft? Also, what kind of hateful coworkers do we have in this world that will turn in a person for feeding said hungry children? And why do we have a two-tiered lunch system in America? No wonder bullying is such a huge problem in our schools. Cheese sandwiches? For real? Isn’t that what we feed prisoners? And on a side note…are there not any fruits and vegetables? Here is a chance to talk about the impact that income inequality, immigration reform, governmental austerity measures and straight up bureaucracy have on people, but yet, this story failed to take wings.
Generally speaking, it is the poor, who not only suffer the worst in all social contexts, including racially and socio-economically, but find themselves routinely ignored by our national consciousness – unless of course, we are using them as statistics, or someone very capable does something to help the poor. When we do find ourselves outraged by stories from this section of society, it usually involves some scenario, in which they [the poor] are the perpetrators of some sort of atrocity or indignation as opposed to the victim. People like Brame are on the frontlines of how racism and classism affect the most vulnerable of society, the poor, and children, particularly poor children. And yet when it comes to the –isms in our society, it is stories like Brame’s, which seem to stir our emotions the least. But it was the hair and firing of Rhonda Lee, that had people really talking. What’s up with people not seeming to care about the struggles going on with poor people every day?
Speaking of poor people, in November alone, there were 149 shootings in Chicago, most propagating from black and poor communities. Hovering near 500 murders, Chicago has already eclipsed last year’s homicide rate and is expected to return to levels not seen since before 2008. In my enclave of Philadelphia, two teens shot into a crowded El train after a disagreement about – of all things – a Sixers game last Thursday night. But it would take the mass shooting murders of nearly 26 people – 20 of which were children – in Newtown, Connecticut, which occurred early Friday morning, for lawmakers in Washington to be inspired into action. Noting how our leadership only appears ready to act on gun control when the violence gets too close to their enclaves, Kelli Goff, of The Root, writes:
“After Columbine, some newly inspired gun-control activists, many of them upper-middle-class mothers from predominantly white communities, expressed regret to mothers of color for not being involved in the fight for gun control earlier, when gun violence claimed the lives of kids who didn’t grow up in leafy suburbs and whose deaths were not likely to garner extensive coverage on the nightly news. The activism ignited by Columbine resulted in more stringent gun control laws and more diligent enforcement of existing laws, particularly on the state level.”
And like clockwork, the Washington Post is reporting that several lawmakers in Washington are mulling over the idea to ban assault rifles in the wake of the Connecticut shooting. Unfortunately, for folks in metropolitan areas like Chicago, where revolvers and semi-automatic handguns are the weapon of choice in most crimes, a ban on assault rifles probably is not the gun control, or solution to the violence, that they were hoping for. But it puts some attention on a long overdue issue and that is a good thing…I guess.
Rhonda Lee, the Louisiana based meteorologist, spoke with Roland Martin on the Tom Joyner Morning show yesterday about her termination from KTBS, a local ABC Affiliate, for responding to derogatory comments about her natural hair, among other things, made on the station’s Facebook page.
If you haven’t read the full details of the story, Veronica Wells does a great analysis of the situation; therefore it is no need to reiterate again. But listening to Lee explain the sequence of events to Martin, there are two things to note about this story: First, Lee’s termination doesn’t compare at all to the story of Jennifer Livingston, a Wisconsin reporter, who took to the airways and responded to a viewer, who reprimanded her via email for being overweight, thus not being “a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular.” I have heard this comparison a lot since this story went viral. While both took a stand against bullying and harassment over the Internet, Livingston had the full support of her station (including her husband who works as an anchor for the station), who even carved out time in the news show’s broadcast for her to speak on the derogatory comment. Unfortunately for Lee, she did not have the same permission – although there is some disagreement over how this policy was or was not communicated.
Another thing to note is the difficulty in handling negative criticism, especially in this new digital age. In short, Facebook is getting more and more people fired and Lee is its latest casualty.
Nowadays, all you have to do is click-[Insert derogatory comment here]-click and boom! Instant gratification for them; instant bruised ego, hurt feelings and painful historical reminders for you. Nicci at FatFemPinUp recently listed a sampling all of the derogatory, vile and hateful comments she’d receive after posting a picture of herself via Twitter, with a caption, “450lbs *shrugs* and no, im not trying to lose or gain weight.” Most of the comments were so ugly and vicious that it would be hard to ignore them, if not take them to heart. And many of them could stand to get their feelings hurt from a verbal thrashing.
However, in order to survive in this new digital age, you need a new level of patience as well as tougher than leather skin to deal with the anti-social folks. But in those instances where the tomfoolery and shenanigans are too much and you lose patience, discernment is key. As Yvette Carnell, a writer friend of mine, bluntly said recently of this controversy, don’t engage crazy. Or in more universal terms, don’t feed the trolls. Reason being, you can’t change their minds and some folks really do thrive off of attention – no matter if it is negative or positive. And responding not only fuels their debauchery but tends to derail conversation on a thread. And if a couple of commenters manage to insult both black people and cancer patients in the same sentence as well as create an elaborate conspiracy theory involving little black kids winning a free shopping trip at Wal-Mart to the mayor of the town, I really don’t think that a response, no matter how well intentioned, is worth your time, effort and energy. Believe me, his/her stupidity is already duly noted.
In, The 4 Worst Things About Writing for the Internet, which is one of my favorite humorous articles about writing for online audiences, Cracked writer Daniel O’Brien speaks very fluently about how veteran professionals in this digital era end up dealing with some of the more colorful forms of feedback we see in comment sections:
“You can get over it. I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve gotten plenty of comments from both ends of the spectrum of Internet Commentary, from the lows of “You’re the worst thing to ever happen to writing, I fucking hate you,” all the way to the highs of “This article wasn’t a piece of Isht like your others, I fucking hate you.” I’ve read both of those comments and everything in between them enough times that it’s all basically white noise at this point. So there’s a possibility that you’ll eventually become immune to all comments. Or you could just develop a thicker skin. Or just not read comments at all. Or you can read and intensely focus on every single comment, (though only a total lunatic would do that). Whatever. The point is, you can get to a place where comments don’t affect you at all.
With that said what a lame reason to lose your job, especially considering how innocuous her response was. When I first heard of this story, I thought she went in on this jerk, with some colorful and derogatory language of her own. Instead she delivered a very thoughtful reply, in my opinion, definitely not worthy of being fired over. Exactly why you should never try to save your haters.
Apparently, it’s pretty hard out here for a black woman trying to make it in this world as a meteorologist. Rhonda Lee has learned this lesson over and over again in her career as a journalist. Most recently she learned that in addition to her race, her hair was another point of contention from a Facebook user. Her response to the racially offensive statement eventually led to Lee being fired from KTBS, the ABC affiliate station in Shreveport, Louisiana.
It all started on October 1, when Emmit Vascocu commented on KTBS’ Facebook page, questioning the station’s choice to let Lee report the weather with a short afro. Here’s what he had to say:
“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).”
As someone who works for a black women’s website, I can say that these comments are not uncommon. When people are afforded anonymity through the internet, some very hateful, often racist things are stated. But just because you work for the media, doesn’t mean you have to just shut up and take the abuse. So in defense of herself and her hair, Rhonda Lee responded to Vascocu, very politely if you ask me.
“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.”
The conversation should have ended there; but Vascocu responded with this:
“. . . this world has . . . certain standerd (cq). if you’ve come from a world of being poor are you going to dress in rags?. . .”
Do I really have to break down everything that’s wrong with the logic above? Is accepting a classist, societal station the same as accepting and embracing the natural, genetic combinations that make us appear the way we do? I think not. Moving on. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last time, a viewer used the station’s Facebook page to address what they felt was a racial “issue.”