If you watched KATV’s newscast last Thursday night, you caught a gag playing off the news that 70-degree weather soon would be returning to the state this week.
In honor of this “return to the 70s,” anchor Chris May and another member of the on-air team (I didn’t see the broadcast and have only second-hand identity, but a viewer says it was Barry Brandt) donned curly wigs. May Tweeted a smiling image, since deleted
Dr. Anika Whitfield, an African-American activist, was not amused. She called the wigs “Afro wigs.” She said it was a perpetuation of “systemic racism” to have a “European American man” wear an Afro. There were other ways to show styles of the 1970s she said in a letter to station management that she sent to me and others.
She shared an apologetic response from John Seabers, group manager for KATV’s owner, Sinclair Broadcasting, in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. He indicated to her that unspecified action was being taken.
I sought comments from KATV in Little Rock and also from Seabers, who was the only one to respond:
KATV-7 apologies [sic] for the poor judgement of some members of our news team. Understanding the severity of the situation, we have taken swift action to address it. 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. We remain committed to serving the dynamic and diverse community of Little Rock.
I agree with Whitfield that such wigs are commonly viewed as Afro hairstyles. The likelihood of that perception, even if unintended, was reason to skip the joke, or maybe wear a tie-dye T-shirt and peace symbol medallion instead.
But, and this perhaps reflects poorly on me to even mention it:
The episode prompted memories: My brother, whose wildly curly hair sprouted into a blondish mushroom when left uncut in the 1970s. A former first lady of Arkansas, who turned heads with her brief adoption in the 1970s of what she called a “curly European natural” hairstyle. A photo I took of Abbie Hoffman at a speech in 1971, when his curly mane was in full global flower.
And who can forget Gene Shalit?
But, yes, these were all natural hairstyles not an appropriation of a look for a joke.