When I heard about the Louisiana-based KTBS meteorologist, Rhonda Lee natural hair drama, I wanted to stay far away from it. But working in the news and media, it was impossible to ignore. My coworkers debated it and it was splattered across my screen on countless websites. As a black woman, I have a number of emotions attached to my hair, so obviously I have an opinion on it.
From Gabby Douglas to Rhonda Lee, I am tired of having to stand tall, with one fist in the air, proclaiming that the hair growing from my scalp doesn’t define me. But once Rhonda found herself without a job after having to fight for her right to be natural numerous times, I had to speak up.
First, let’s dive into the viewer’s (Emmitt Vascocu) ignorant assessment of Rhonda’s tresses on the station’s Facebook page:
“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…”
I used to write a lot of reviews about products, venues, music, etc. I often asked my editor if I would be forced to like something as to not come off as a hater. He told me as long as I stand strong on my opinion and wrap my insults in compliments, I could get away with it. It seems like Vascocu took that same advice. Starting his mean-spirited comment with a compliment was a good way of getting his one-sided comments out without sounding like a complete jerk. Although he forgot to close it out with another compliment–that would have made him look a little less ignorant, yes? Oh, ok, no. I tried.
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Rhonda had every right to respond to her critic. And I truly believe her response was dignified, but still read Vascocu like a fair tale. Children, have a seat, because the library is open:
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 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 thanks for watching.
Rhonda could have kicked and screamed all over Facebook about her natural hair, but she remained regal in her reply, but it was this very response that got her the boot at her job. In an interview, Rhonda said, “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 powers that be wrote on the station’s Facebook page:
“Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance. She was fired for continuing to violate company procedure.”
So defending yourself in a HR-friendly way is violating company procedure? Ok.
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Far too many times, little black girls grow up hating their naturally wooly, curly, kinky, nappy hair. Many of us thought that our hair in its natural state was just not good enough.
I remember going over my 4th grade best friend’s house for a sleepover and being the only black girl in the house. That was never a problem for me because I grew up always being the only speck of black in a sea of white–in classes, sporting activities, summer camps and every other kid-events I was involved in. At this sleepover, however, I was the only little girl that needed to wrap her hair tight in a silk scarf before laying down for bed.
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I sat off to the side, looking at my silky-haired friends, braiding each other’s hair and I thought, “My momma just did my hair. I can’t take it down and have them playing it it.” Plus, momma told me to make sure I tied my hair up before bed. I whined because I knew one of the biggest sleepover activities was playing in each other’s hair. *sigh*
One of the girls, Megan, asked me, “Danielle, what is that thing on your head. I want to do your hair!” I explained to Megan that my hair had to be tied as I slept and that my momma “did” my hair today and I can’t “undo” it. Her face of confusion was one of the first memories I had of hating my natural hair.
By 6th grade, I’d worn my momma down. She finally allowed me to get a perm to take the “naps” out of my hair. I remember when my hair stylist sat me up in the chair after washing the harsh chemicals from my hair. It was the first time I saw my wet hair lie down against my face. I smiled from ear to ear.
Year after year, the 1000 watt smile faded as my hair slowly broke off. I was forced on a hair journey that led me so far away from my natural tresses that I didn’t even know where I was at times. Braids, weaves, wigs, extensions, hair dye, hair shaved–there was always something different. While many of those styles were fierce, none of them felt like me.
I decided to “go natural” like many young black women these days, including Rhonda. At first, I loved it. I got a cool cut and some fun color and it turned out to be a dynamic look that I rocked out for a few months. Sometimes I’d catch my reflection in the mirror and I would feel ugly. Other times, I’d notice that I hadn’t been hit on, on a regular basis the way I was used to being hit on when I had fake hair added to my own. The natural look was becoming a liability. I was over it.
I commend women like Rhonda, who can rock their short natural hair with confidence. They’re beautiful, strong and…real. Admittedly, I have a confidence deficit, so I know my limit when it comes to my hair. I’m still natural, under a protective style, but I am attempting to become more comfortable with rocking out what’s growing out of my scalp. And even though Rhonda lost her job defending her natural hair, I salute her for being fearless and a beacon of light for little kinky-haired black girls that feel their tresses are not enough.
“Conforming to one standard isn’t what being American is about and I hope you can embrace that.” -Rhonda Lee
Vascocu has since apologized publicly and wrote this on the Facebook page:
“you are very right to be proud of where you are from and I do respect that”
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