To celebrate temperatures dipping into the 70s after a sweltering weekslong heatwave, Arkansas’ KATV anchor Chris May and meteorologist Barry Brandt wore Afro wigs — and viewer reception was chilly.
The Little Rock-based station quickly suspended the two white news anchors, and canned their boss, after the broadcasters wore the African American-style hairpieces during an evening weather report, which aired at 10 pm on September 16.
“Swift action was important to hold the responsible parties accountable,” a spokesperson told AdWeek of the newscast.
During the inflammatory segment, dubbed “return to the 70s,” May and Brandt sported wigs modeled after Afros, a hairstyle popular nearly five decades ago, the Arkansas Times reported. May later shared a Twitter photo of their controversial cosplay, which has since been deleted.
The fraught forecast caught the attention of African American activist Dr. Anika Whitfield, who issued a complaint to WATV, in which she wrote that the stunt was a perpetuation of “systemic racism” to have a “European American man” wear an Afro wig.
After receiving no response, Whitfield reached out to John Seabers, a Sinclair Broadcast Group vice president and group manager in charge of local stations in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma.
He issued the following apology: “We apologize to all viewers who were rightfully offended by the segment, and we promise to enact and enforce new measures to prevent future incidents from occurring.”
Sinclair has since indefinitely suspended both May and Brandt, who have worked at the station for more than 20 years, the Daily Mail reported. Sinclair Broadcast Group also fired their boss, longtime news director Nick Genty.
Seabers later appeared on a Zoom call with Whitfield, as well as members of the Central Arkansas Association of Black Journalists, to apologize for the incident, according to the Arkansas Times. He was joined by regional news director Blaise Labbe, an African American man who is temporarily filling Genty’s position at KATV while the news purveyor searches for a replacement.
Seabers called the cultural Afro-priation “abhorrent” and “juvenile,” adding that he was especially disappointed as the staff had undergone six weeks of racial sensitivity training prior to the segment. Meanwhile, Dorothy Tucker, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said that the episode followed another ugly incident, in which a “Mammy doll” was left in the KATV newsroom to greet a new black anchor, Arkansas Business reported. She tweeted a photo of the figurine, which sported a stereotypical handkerchief’d head.
KATV has since pledged to implement “further training for sensitivity and workplace conduct, in line with our commitment to ensuring events like this don’t happen again,” the spokesperson said.
Labbe said that KATV was striving to add more African Americans to the station’s news roster.
However, not everyone thought the segment was so insensitive. One commenter on the Arkansas Times site wrote, “Good grief. As evidenced by all the comments here there were tens of thousands of white guys with ugly Afros in the 70s and 80s. She had to lean way over to get hit by the pitch. I can’t believe they apologized.”
“I’m African American and I saw the weather report with the wigs,” added another gawker on Arkansas Business. “I really didn’t think too much about it. Everything is not racism. There were white men in the 70’s who wore Afros just like blacks. I think sometimes we go overboard. Its a shame someone had to lose their job over this.”
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