Rhonda Lee says she’s touched by the support she has received since she was canned from her job for responding to viewer’s racially tinged comments on Facebook.
A black meteorologist from Louisiana says she’s moved to tears by the outpouring of support she has received since being canned for defending her natural hair from racially tinged Facebook remarks.
“I would never have dreamed in a million years that I would get all this support,” Rhonda Lee said to the Daily News after her termination from KTBS in Shreveport.
She says she’s been flooded with comments from well-wishers, and petitions demanding that she be rehired have sprung up online.
“It’s been a tough go at first to not be angry,” she said of the station’s decision to let her go. “But mostly I’m just sad. I genuinely loved where I worked. I loved my viewers. I made my home here.”
Lee says she was fired a month and a half after she responded to a viewer, Emmitt Vascocu, who wrote on Facebook back in October, “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,” Vascocu continued in the post, according to Journal-isms, “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.”
Lee let the comment sit for several days, waiting for her station to do something before she decided to take action.
“I am the ‘black lady’ to which you are referring,” she wrote in response, according to thegrio.com. “I’m 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. … 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.”
Vascocu has since apologized.
Lee says she brought the exchange to the attention of her boss, who later allegedly told her that the interaction could have ended badly and that she should refer any future controversial complaints to the station managers.
“I was rather confused,” Lee told the News. “I’m sitting here thinking ‘Why am I in trouble?’ If we don’t say something, we’re condoning it.”
Several weeks later, Lee responded to another viewer, who asked on Facebook why most of the children in KTBS’ “Three More Smiles” giveaway “are people of color,” according to Journal-isms.
“At that time, I told my boss, ‘I know you said you’d handle it, but you haven’t,'” Lee told the News. “The comments on our Facebook page were embarrassingly racist. I don’t understand why it is we just don’t block these people and take their messages down.”
She was fired shortly after.
KTBS says Lee “was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance” but rather for the repeated violation of the company policy.
“Unfortunately, television personalities have long been subject to harsh criticism and negative viewer comments about their appearance and performance,” the ABC affiliate said in a release provided to the Daily News.
“If harsh viewer comments are posted on the station’s official website, there is a specific procedure to follow.”
Lee, however, says she never saw the policy and that when she asked for it following her termination, higher-ups told her no.
KTBS, on the other hand, says Lee received an email on Aug. 30 outlining the procedure, which states that it is “best not to respond at all” to viewer complaints.
Lee told CNN that while she did see the email, she believes she is being unfairly punished for defending herself and others.
This is not the first time racial comments have affected Lee’s employment.
She said she filed a discrimination suit against a news station in Austin, Texas, after her boss asked her if there was something she could do with her hair to “make it more appealing to a mass audience.”
“That was a very embarrassing moment for me,” Lee told the News. “However, the one here in Shreveport is worse.”
“(The support I have received) makes me well up and cry. I look back on it all, thinking yesterday I just wanted to have my job back,” Lee said.