Arkansas’ KATV anchor Chris May and meteorologist Barry Brandt are being faced with backlash from viewers after the two wore Afro wigs to celebrate temperatures dropping into the 70s following a blistering weeks-long heatwave.
After the broadcasters wore the African American-style hairpieces during the evening weather report that aired on September 16, the station suspended the two white news anchors and fired their boss.
“Swift action was important to hold the responsible parties accountable,” a spokesperson told AdWeek.
According to the Arkansas Times, May and Brandt wore wigs inspired by Afros, during the news segment part “return to the 70s.”
May later published a controversial cosplay photo on Twitter, which has since been removed.
The uncomfortable forecast attracted the attention of African American activist Dr. Anika Whitfield, who filed a complaint with WATV, alleging that having a “European American man” wear an Afro wig was a continuance of “systemic racism.”
Whitfield contacted John Seabers, a Sinclair Broadcast Group vice president and group manager in charge of local stations in Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma, after receiving no answer.
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.”
According to the Daily Mail, May and Brandt, who have worked at the station for more than 20 years, have been suspended indefinitely by Sinclair.
Nick Genty, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s longstanding news director, was also fired.
Seabers described the cultural Afro-priation as “abhorrent” and “juvenile,” noting that the employees had gone through six weeks of racial sensitivity training before the episode.
According to Arkansas Business, Dorothy Tucker, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, the incident occurred after another horrific incident in which a “Mammy doll” was left in the KATV welcome a new black anchor. She posted a photo of the doll, which had the stereotypical handkerchief head, on Twitter.
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.
KATV is working to increase the number of African Americans on its reporting team, according to Labbe.
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. It’s a shame someone had to lose their job over this.”