There’s no way for her to remember the event, thankfully, but my daughter Nia experienced her first brush with stereotyping when she was just a few minutes old.
After hours of arduous, but ineffective labor, my obstetrician, Dr. B., told my husband and I that it was too risky to continue with natural childbirth and asked us to consent to a Caesarean section.
With two lives hanging in the balance, the decision was a no-brainer and within minutes, our firstborn daughter arrived. As Calvin and I were admiring our seven-pound and two ounce miracle, thankful for her health and marveling at how gorgeous she was, Dr. B was fixated on something else. “Wow; she’s really…..light-skinned.”
This medical professional who’d delivered dozens (if not hundreds) of babies was not only unaware of the fact that Blacks were capable of being multiple shades of brown, she actually spoke this ignorance out loud. And it’s that type of appalling oblivion to the differences of others that Lousiana meteorologist Rhonda Lee experienced when her response to a viewer’s online criticism of her short afro cost the 37-year-old woman her job.
For those unfamiliar with the controversy, a viewer named Emmitt Vascocu visited the station’s Facebook page in October and criticized one of Ms. Lee’s ethnic attributes. “The black lady that does the news is a very nice lady. the onlt [sic] thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. im not sure if she is a cancer patient. but its not something that i think looks good on tv.”
To her credit, Ms. Lee gave the station nearly a week to answer or to delete the tacky post. After days of enduring their acquiescence, she posted an educational and eloquent response: “Hello Emmitt. I am the “black lady” to which you are referring. My name is Rhonda Lee.” she wrote on October 6. “I am 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…..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……As women we come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and levels of beauty……Little girls (and boys for that matter) growing up in this world need to see that what you look like isn’t a reason to not achieve their goals.”
And instead of supporting Ms. Lee, the ABC affiliate fired her on Dec. 12 for allegedly violating an unofficial social media company policy that Ms. Lee claims never to have received. When she asked to review it, her request was denied.
Almost immediately, fans launched a petition demanding that Ms. Lee be rehired. And while I hope she’s successful, the larger issue may be KTBS’ unspoken acceptance of this insult and not turning the crass comments into a tool in which to enlighten the masses about society’s unrealistic and narrowly Eurocentric beauty standards.
What’s more unacceptable: a man publicly chastising a woman for features that are dictated by her gene pool, or the same woman daring to stand up for herself and providing him with pertinent information for future reference in the process?
Skin tones, hair textures and other features are part of who we are as individuals, and the last time I checked, ‘looking good’ isn’t about becoming the opposite of what you are.
And for the sake of Nia and other young children still learning how to embrace their individuality, we adults should teach them that if others don’t ‘fit,’ we need to broaden our expectations or recalibrate them altogether and not simply cling to an outdated design.