We all remember Jennifer Livingston, the overweight news anchor who defended her appearance on air after a viewer emailed comments suggesting Livingston wasn’t a good role model for girls. I shared her story on my Facebook wall, and it was one of the most commented on and re-shared posts of my year in social media. Livingston’s story went hugely viral all over the country, and she even had a request from Ellen DeGeneres to appear on her show. In a follow-up Facebook post, Livingston thanked her many supporters and wound up the victor in her story. But a black meteorologist named Rhonda Lee met a much different outcome when she addressed her detractors on Facebook.
Lee was fired from KTBS in Shreveport, LA after responding to the following viewer comment:
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.
Lee’s retort was similar in tone to Livingston’s, if not a bit softer, but her bosses say it’s not what she said that got her canned, it’s the fact that she responded at all. According to Gawker, KTBS Station Manager George Sirven insists that “Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance. She was fired for continuing to violate company procedure.” Sirven sent Gawker a copy of an email that was sent to employees about how to respond to viewer comments, but the email clearly states “this really is more of a starting point for a “Social Media Best Practices Policy” for our company,” and describes the contents of the email as guidelines, not hard and fast rules. The station alleges that Lee was spoken to several times about not responding to her detractors – or viewers leaving racist comments about KTBS content – and yet Lee responded to a viewer in November who complained there were too many black children in footage of a fundraiser. (Hello?!)
There is a Change.org petition encouraging KTBS to restore Lee to her position, and in that petition I found a note that highlights the fact that KTBS ‘LIKED’ THE RACIST POST ABOUT LEE’S HAIR. Here’s the comment on Facebook, and a screenshot below:
Viewers reacted to KTBS liking the post by accusing them of breaking the policy they fired two employees for.
So, the plot thickens. Lee may have violated a non-official policy, but it’s clear she never had the station’s support to begin with. Making matters worse is the fact that, as Gawker notes, “Lee filed a discrimination lawsuit against another former employer, Austin’s KXAN, in May of this year, claiming that, among other things, she was “repeatedly subjected to crude and insensitive remarks about her race.” Later, KXAN fired Lee. At the time of the KXAN suit, Lee was already at KTBS, where she ended up working for about 11 months before being fired a second time.”
Gawker’s Cord Jefferson asks in his post on the subject, “At what point does a company’s “stay mum” social-media policy become injurious to an employee’s sense of dignity? And if an employee does respond against its company’s wishes, should level, reasoned responses like Lee’s merit termination?” I don’t think so. Nor do I think a “stay mum” policy is necessarily the best one. Additionally, as ReelGirl noted in her post about Lee’s firing, “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.”
What’s your take on this story? Should KTBS re-hire Lee? Issue a public apology? Or did they do the right thing?
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