Rhonda Lee Case: Was Responding to Ignorance Worth It? I Don’t Think So

Sometimes it's best to pick professional battles wisely

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Meteorologist Rhonda Lee was fired after responding to a viewer's racially charged Facebook comments about her natural hair. (Image: File)

When the reports and backlash came after the firing of Louisiana meteorologist Rhonda Lee, I thought it was yet another case of how embracing one’s culture and ethnicity can lead to discrimination.

Then, I read further.

Her employer, KTBS, reports Lee was fired after she responded to racially charged comments on the company’s Facebook page about her short natural hairstyle, violating a company policy. Though I don’t agree with the firing, I’m not a fan of her actions in replying to a viewer’s ignorant comments.

Here’s why: Scrutiny—fair or unfair—is part of the job when you’re a media professional. And sometimes it’s a better play to use your talents and position to leverage change instead of directly responding to individual attacks.

I, too, have natural hair, and though I don’t work in broadcast media, I can totally relate to Lee’s disgust and desire to set the viewer straight after his comments. But at the end of the day, what purpose did it serve? None. People will continue to have their opinions—ignorant, outlandish, right or wrong— on things we do as media professionals. That’s what we’ve opened ourselves to, especially with the uber-accessibility the Web affords.

I can go even further: I was once a victim of professional cyber bullying. An individual who wasn’t quite a fan of me or my professional pursuits took to Facebook to bash me, slamming my intellect and ethics and even posting defamatory—and highly ridiculous— things from the Internet related to my brand. This person even used other social media outlets to contact professionals in my network, attempting—very unsuccessfully might I add—to discredit me. (*Insert Jay-Z voice here* “We don’t believe you. You need more people.”)

In another incident, a reader who disagreed with insights from a blog I wrote about Oprah’s programming created a full Youtube video blasting my professional integrity and even calling me the b-word.

I was quite offended— even angry—and after getting advisement, decided taking the high road was a better plan of action. Besides, I let my reputation, the work I’ve done, the relationships I’ve built, and the positive things I continue to strive to do in my career speak for themselves.

Slander and libel have civil penalties, but everyone has a right to their opinion. I weighed my options—the return on investment in directly responding to those incidences—and found it just wasn’t worth it. (Now, had the insights posed a major threat to my career advancement, reputation or integrity, they would have been addressed accordingly, within proper protocol.)

What I can do is empower other women who may be dealing with professional attacks and continue to be a light. What if Lee had never responded? She’d still be that beautiful sista in her natural glory, making haters mad by continuing to be excellent despite the nonsense.

We all make mistakes, but for some situations, especially as they relate to your career, silence can be the best defense. I think we should all choose our battles wisely, ensuring the risk of putting on those boxing gloves is worth it in the grand scheme of things.

  • MK

    The full issue here is not that Ms. Lee responded to ignorance, but the lack of support by unresponsive management in questionable violation of their own social media policy. My understanding is that KTBS even gave a thumbs up to the ignorant post and left it up-if true this is unacceptable. Those of us in executive or professional positions understand full well being strategic and choosing battles. In this case however, I can understand if Ms. Lee felt devalued and isolated as a corporate employee and finally spoke out. Rather than injuring Ms. Lee a third time, we must be a watchdog and challenge corporate cultures that engender a hostile work environment for those who may not be in a position to enforce this themselves. Ignorant or racist posts cannot be controlled to a point in an open forum, but the work environment can be. And somebody get her a damn job at a more major market-she should have another offer before Christmas.

  • Henry

    It’s surreal that Ms. Lee was penalized for being an elegant educator. I was astounded by her professional response to such ignorant statements. Anyone who looks at her image – who’s not visually impaired, that is… – beholds a shockingly, uber-beautiful woman! How does one miss this? That is a rhetorical question, for there are no answers.

  • DejaEvolutionary

    Its a matter of priorities. What is more important, the job or intelligence. Should well educated individuals lay down and be silent when confronted by ignorance. I think you would agree career is dependent on assertive intelligent action. Ms Lee is raising the bar for all of us, that is the real job of people who carry the light through hell or high water.

  • It was totally worth it. She’s better of not working for the Main Stream Media, even though she enjoyed her job. In the future, she will realize that her job really wasn’t so great.