On-air news reporters and anchors are pillars of poise. There can be disasters in the world, and mishaps in the newsroom, and they can still get in front of that camera and beam. That’s all the more impressive to us after reading a hurtful, racist letter Las Vegas traffic anchor Demetria Obilor shared on Twitter on Thursday.
The 26-year-old, who gives the morning traffic reports on KLAS 8 News Now, often wears her hair in gorgeous natural curls. As we’ve seen time and again, when a black woman decides to embrace her features, the trolls come out.
“Here’s one of the racist, hateful emails I’ve received for rocking my natural hair on TV,” she wrote, sharing a screen shot of the letter in which a person presumes her hair is unclean and smells bad.
Here's one of the racist, hateful emails I've received for rocking my natural hair on TV. pic.twitter.com/oA8L6gYCyw
— Demetria Obilor (@DemetriaObilor) May 25, 2017
“The first few times I got emails like that, I was enraged, but I knew if I responded (the way I wanted to) I’d probably lose my job,” Obilor told Yahoo Beauty via email. “And honestly, it’s not worth going back and forth via email with someone that ignorant. Instead, I tell high school tour groups who stop by the station about these sorts of experiences, so they can prepare themselves for what it’s going to take to work in this industry, keeping your composure and picking your battles. There’s nothing to be won cursing out some racist fool online — much to lose, though.”
Fans (and for someone who reports on traffic, Obilor has quite the following) tweeted back to Obilor with compliments right away.
“I’m so very grateful for the kindnesses people have shown me, but I think it’s important to expose the hate to show it’s not okay,” she wrote. When someone suggested she block such people, she explained that she felt a responsibility to share how she deals with them. “You can argue with stupid, but kids need to realize that bullying goes on forever, and it’s all about how u handle it.”
A post shared by Demetria Obilor (@demetriaobilor) on Jan 10, 2017 at 9:57pm PST
Obilor, who is of mixed race, is one of several women of color who have decided not to straighten their hair for television, despite a society that still often sends the message that natural hair is “unprofessional.”
“I’ve been working on TV for about four years now, and I’ve always worn my natural curly hair, even though, in college, I was told that I would most likely have to straighten it or wear a wig, if I wanted to have an on air career,” she told Yahoo. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be employed by stations that have embraced my natural look, but I know that many black women would have a different story to tell [about their work] in the TV business.”
Obilor said that since her post, many people have reached out to her with their own similar stories.
“This is the nonsense black women face for just wearing hair as it grows out of heads,” Twitter user Janine_J wrote to Obilor.
A post shared by Demetria Obilor (@demetriaobilor) on Apr 6, 2017 at 8:44am PDT
In February, Brittany Noble-Jones, an anchor for WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi, went viral by going on air in braids with her natural texture for the first time. This is progress, considering that as recently as 2012, meteorologist Rhonda Lee said she was fired from Louisiana station KTBS for defending her hair on Facebook.
“I want people to understand what it’s like simply being who you are when you’re black,” Obilor told Yahoo. “Some people have the audacity to say things like ‘racism doesn’t exist anymore,’ but that email was a prime example [that it does].”
The fight for acceptance continues off the air, too, with teenage girls at the front lines, unfortunately. Last week, a school in Massachusetts was ordered by the state attorney general to change a rule banning braided hair because it targeted black students. This week, a student in Florida was told she needed to stop wearing an Afro because it was “too extreme and faddish.”
“We should not feel uncomfortable or ashamed of our cultural heritage,” Nancy Abudu, legal director of the ACLU of Florida, told Yahoo Beauty. “Our tone of skin, our texture of hair — these are parts of our identities that should be celebrated. White, dominant culture has no need to celebrate in this same way because it’s already mainstream. Any departure from that is seen as a threat and a departure from the mainstream idea of beauty.”
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