The Unfairness of Hair Politics

Rhonda Lee (CNN)
Rhonda Lee (CNN)

When meteorologist Rhonda Lee was fired in Louisiana for defending her short Afro to a viewer, it wasn't fair, but it was a hallmark of our time, Huffington Post contributor Ava Thompson Greenwell writes. The natural-hair movement is snaking through America as more and more African-American women embrace their coils, but this is not the case on prime-time television when it comes to "looking professional."

No matter what the hair texture, on-camera female journalists are scrutinized much more than men. I remember a male colleague once told me my outfit did not look flattering on the air. I don't think he criticized any of our male colleagues' clothing.

There is a politics about black women's hair that cannot be denied and it is particularly salient in television news. When New York television news reporter Melba Tolliver came to work with a short Afro in 1971 planning to cover the wedding of Richard Nixon's daughter, panic broke out in the newsroom. Her bosses told to put on a wig. She refused. Editors deleted part of the story where she appeared on camera.

Award-winning, investigative television news reporter Renee Ferguson (now retired from television) lamented her trek into natural hair territory in 2007 when she wrote about her one-year sabbatical as a Nieman Fellow and the freedom she felt when she reverted to a natural hairstyle. She reminisced about being told to get rid of her Afro back in the 1970s because viewers called and said she looked too militant. After her fellowship she returned to the newsroom only to be faced with déjà vu — still no short natural hair allowed, her African-American female boss told her.


Read Ava Thompson Greenwell's entire piece at the Huffington Post.

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