Can natural hair really get you fired?
This issue began on October 1st when Emmitt Vascocu made controversial and offensive remarks about meteorologist Rhonda Lee on the Facebook page of KTBS-TV where Rhonda was employed.
Vascocu’s remarks: “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.”
KTBS-TV had not deleted or responded to the comment and after several days Rhonda Lee decided to do so herself.
Rhonda Lee’s response: “Hello Emmitt—I am the “black lady” to which you are referring. My name is Rhonda Lee. Nice to meet you. I am sorry you don’t like my ethnic hair. And no I don’t have cancer. 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.”
Because Rhonda had supposedly broken some unwritten “unofficial” policy concerning social media, she was fired for her actions. KTBS-TV put the following statement on their Facebook page after Rhonda appeared on CNN to discuss the matter:
“Ms. Rhonda Lee was let go for repeatedly violating that procedure and 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.”
Adding insult to injury, KTBS-TV supposedly ‘liked’ the offensive comment. As you can imagine, many are outraged by the station’s decision to let her go. This racially fueled controversy has received a lot of attention and many fans of her’s are petitioning on causes.com for her to get her job back. The petition currently [as of Dec 14, 2012] has over 18,000 signatures.
Quoted from the petition:
“Women of color in general are expected to [conform] to unfair and unrealistic standards of beauty that are outdated and sexist. All women no matter their size, stature, skin tone, and appearance should not be open to ridicule and punished for tactful responses. Rhonda Lee has shown nothing but professionalism and deserves to keep her job. (Whitman, 2012)”
There are a lot of factors to consider when looking at this issue. If KTBS-TV had defended her in the first place, or at least deleted the comment, Rhonda Lee would not have written the lengthy response to the commenter. We still have to consider the fact that TV personalities have to pick their battles. Perhaps the rude comment wasn’t worth responding to at all. But we should also consider the fact that black women in positions of influence (being on TV and all) should represent and defend the rest of us. Like she said, her contribution to the world is showing little black girls that their appearance is nothing to be ashamed of. And although she did lose her job because of the situation, she has gained national attention that’s shed light on this sensitive issue.
It’s always a challenge for African American women to wear our hair in it’s natural state in a country that caters mostly to one race. It really goes to show that as we finally begin to come out of the shell and embrace who we are as black people, we still have several obstacles to overcome. In an interview, Rhonda Lee also mentioned having been told that her hair looks “too aggressive” when applying for a similar position. Does a beautiful, well-spoken, intelligent black woman have some people so intimidated, they feel the need to accuse her of looking aggressive? It appears that way. After having to conform to a European standard for so long just to get jobs and gain acceptance, we should not be criticized or insulted for embracing our natural beauty. In the words of Rhonda Lee, “Conforming to one standard isn’t what being American is about and I hope you can embrace that.”
Today’s Questions: “Was Lee’s response to Emmitt Vascocu unprofessional? Would he have responded the same way had it been a white lady with short hair? Also, would the TV station had fired her if not for the racially sensitive scenario taking place? Lastly, is it necessary for a television personality to respond to confrontational Facebook comments?”
I think it’s safe to say that this is way past her getting her job back. But sign the petition anyway to show her that we support her and that we are proud of her efforts to show others that our blackness is nothing we need to be ashamed of. :-)
Watch the video below for more on this story. Rhonda supposedly received an email regarding responses to online comments.