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.