Meteorologist Rhonda Lee ‘s controversial dismissal from her one-year post at KTBS-3 has gained national attention, sparking a debate over whether it was fair for the Louisiana news station to fire her after she defended her short natural hair on Facebook.
Today, Lee was interviewed on MSNBC by host Thomas Roberts in a panel discussion with fellow anchor Melisssa Harris-Perry, who commended Lee for standing up for herself on Facebook.
“I think it’s so important for black women to speak for themselves about their hair, so 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 and the reasons for it and then she thanks the viewer for having a response,” said Harris-Perry
When Roberts compared Lee’s situation to that of Jennifer Livingston, the Wisconsin anchor praised for standing up to a bully who chastised her about her weight, Lee responded:
“I felt like [Livingston] got a platform and I got the boot. I’m not clear why I couldn’t have used this as an educational moment, instead, it was disheartening. I will say I tried. I really did try. 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 that position to help him, I should be able to do so.”
Roberts ended the interview by saying, “You know Rhonda, I’m sorry this happened to you, but I think it’s the best thing that happened to you in the long run. Who wants to work for a person like that?”
Fans across social media seem to share the same sentiment as the MSNBC hosts. In fact, various petitions have been circulating around Twitter and Facebook demanding KTBS to re-hire the now-unemployed meteorologist.
The most popular petition, titled “KTBS-TV: Give Rhonda Lee her job back ASAP!” has over 3,000 signatures and continues to the grow.
Another petition, which has over 1,000 supporters, reads, “Rhonda Lee deserves to have her job back. Her eloquent response to the bigoted and sexist remarks of viewer Emmitt Vascocu were warranted. Employers such as KTBS-TV should stand by their on-air talent when they are verbally attacked based on their looks, values or merit.”
Some of the conversation on Twitter discusses KTBS’s the missed opportunity to publicly discuss racial discrimination on social media sites.
@Chasergrl also added, “could have given Rhonda Lee a platform to address a subject matter that many viewers know little about. It’s incredibly sad.”
@MsRaine wrote, “Rhonda Lee situation is ridiculous. She responded professionally to a viewer comment. Isn’t social media abt engaging ur audience? [sic]”
Others are just simply outraged. One Twitter user identified as @billygee12 commented: “(FIRED? For exercising her RIGHT under the 1st Amendment to speak her mind? OUTRAGEOUS!)”
Even celebrities, such as The Roots musician Questlove, are weighing in. Questlove tweeted earlier today: “….yall wanna sweep a meteorologist like her up under the rug….”ice cube 1990, the hair you love to hate” in reference to Ice Cube’s natural jheri curl in the 1990s.
The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), an organization of which Lee is a member, released a statement earlier this morning, supporting Lee’s decision to respond to the two racially-charged Facebook comments.
NABJ called Lee’s departure “disturbing” and they encouraged all news managers to be sensitive to comments and attacks made on social media sites:
“NABJ believes Lee’s managers missed a golden opportunity to initiate a community dialogue about respect, identity and diversity, particularly as it relates to redefining standards of beauty, what is aesthetically acceptable in television news and the value of on-air journalists beyond appearance,” according to their statement.
Lee is overwhelmed with the amount of support she’s received. “I would never have dreamed in a million years that I would get all this support,” she told the Daily News.
Follow Brittany Tom on Twitter @brittanyrtom