Rhonda Lee, a Black female meteorologist, has been fired from the ABC affiliate in Shreveport, La., she told Journal-isms, because she responded to a racial remark posted by a viewer on the station's Facebook page.
KTBS-TV's action against Rhonda Lee followed a previous response by Lee to a viewer who questioned whether she should wear her short Afro, suggesting she put on a wig or grow more hair.
Rhonda Lee messaged Journal-isms on Saturday, "I had a meeting with my ND [news director] and GM [general manager] Friday trying to get my job back. They told me the policy I violated isn't written down, but was mentioned in a newsroom meeting about a month-and-a-half prior. A meeting I didn't attend. So when I asked what rule did I break there isn't anything to point to.
"The week I was brought in to discuss [the] last post, I was told by my ND that there were a few unclear things in the policy and that we were going to have a meeting with George Sirven, the GM about it. I was instead fired the next week — no discussion had. Sirven claims that even if a policy isn't on paper we as employees are responsible for abiding by them. There isn't anything in our employee manual talking about social media dos and don'ts. I was accountable for a rule that essentially isn't in existence."
Sirven told Journal-isms by email, "We do not comment on personnel issues out of respect for the employee and the station."
Lee provided Journal-isms with copies of the relevant Facebook postings to the station's website.
On Oct. 1, a viewer identified as Emmitt Vascocu 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 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)."
Lee replied the same day, "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."
Vascocu replied that Lee was right to be proud of who she is and that he is not a racist, but ". . . this world has . . . certain standerd (cq). if youve come from a world of being poor are you going to dress in rags?. . ."
In a Nov. 14 post, viewer Kenny Moreland wrote, "Not to start any trouble, because I think that the annual 'Three Minute Smile' is a great function and I love to see kids so happy. Am I the only one that has noticed that this year, all the kids, lets say, are people of color? This is Channel 3, not KSLA, the 'Project Pride' network, that might as well be part of the BET Channel. Did KTBS slip up on a news story, and owe S'port's criminal mayor Cedric, a favor? Seems like some racism going on to me. Just saying....."
Lee replied the next day, "I'm not sure I understand your comment, '...this is Channel 3 not KSLA...' What are you trying to say?
"The children are picked at random. So there goes your theory that they are selected for their color. I would like to think it doesn't matter who the child is. If you truly just want to see the kids happy your message had a funny way of showing it.
"Happy holidays.--Met. Rhonda Lee"
Referring to that exchange, Lee messaged Journal-isms, "I was the one who brought it to their attention after they let it fester on the page for 6 days, but was then chastised for responding at all. I sent a screen grab to my boss via e-mail telling them that I'm ok with the anti-Rhonda commentary sometimes, but what has been posted at the time was . . . racist, and I asked them to please support me in removing the ones that didn't encourage thoughtful, respectful and civil discourse on our FB page. I never got a reply, only punished. To this day the posts are still there."
Gary Dinges reported in May for the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman that Lee filed a discrimination suit against her former Austin employer, NBC affiliate KXAN. Lee said in the suit that she was "repeatedly subjected to crude and insensitive remarks about her race."
Lee told Journal-isms, ". . . Race has been the issue with me since I started. That much is VERY true. Weather is an older white boy business and arms have been less than open for a young black girl — a polar opposite. As reported I've had more problems here in the south than I have anywhere else in my 25+ years in the business. Perhaps there is a pattern, but I am a glutton for punishment (ha, ha), and I want what I deserve as any professional would so if I have to fight for it I will."
Any questions can be directed to KTBS General Manager George Sirven 318-861-5813. I hope to be in touch soon. --Met. Rhonda Lee