Insisting that she was unaware of any station policy forbidding her to respond to viewer comments on social media, former KTBS meteorologist Rhonda Lee spoke out on MSNBC about her firing. As we wrote on Wednesday, Lee, an African-American, was removed after responding to two separate viewer comments on the Shreveport, Louisiana, ABC affiliate’s Facebook page, the first of which was a direct criticism of her natural hairstyle.
MSNBC host Thomas Roberts asked her this morning why she was fired, and she replied that after her initial October 1 response to viewer Emmitt Vascocu about her hair, she gave her employer a heads-up that things were getting a little racist in the show’s comment threads:
I actually brought… that particular comment to the attention of management. I sent them a screengrab at the time, and I told my manager, Randy, at the time, ‘Well, I’m OK with not everybody liking me, that’s fine — but a lot of our comments as of late have come across as more racist than anything. So I would like to help with getting a policy together so that, one, we can block offensive posts like this, and two, maybe starting a good dialogue for educating people and getting a good discourse going on the web.
Lee said management was relieved that the thread didn’t explode into a much more problematic and vitriolic discussion. She was urged to thank viewers like that for their comment, and assure them that the station would get back to them. This is consistent with the social-media policy about which KTBS alleges they notified Lee back in August, a policy she again today said she never knew about until after she’d been terminated.
Host Melissa Harris-Perry, who was also Roberts’ guest, said that Lee’s employer seemed aware that a conversation was needed about the viewer’s criticism of her natural hair, and that it is imperative for Lee and other African-American women to engage in that conversation directly:
Television, of course, is a visual medium. So we make all kinds of choice of what we do or don’t wear, what we do with our hair… The idea that there’s only one style of hair or one version of what would constitute beautiful or attractive hair has been an incredibly powerful tool for controlling African-American women’s self-presentation, in all kinds of spaces–especially corporate spaces.
…I think it’s so important for black women to speak for themselves about their hair. What I appreciate about what Rhonda did here, in a very calm, consistent–and I think–educating manner, she spoke about what her hair is, what the choices were, the reasons for it–and then she thanked the viewer for having the response.
Roberts compared Lee’s case to that of Wisconsin anchor Jennifer Livingston, who was allowed an on-air platform to respond to viewer criticism of her appearance (specifically, her weight). Lee noted that rather than getting a similar platform, she got “das Boot,” and said she was disheartened that her case wasn’t used as a teaching moment:
I don’t believe in having to chastise a viewer, saying “bad viewer!” Clearly, the guy just didn’t know. I felt like if I was in a position to help him, I should be able to do so.
See the full interview above. Harris-Perry plans to address this story at greater length during her shows this weekend, airing at 10am ET Saturday and Sunday on msnbc.