Toriano Porter

Sharing ‘white women’s tears’ article shouldn’t have cost this KSHB reporter her job

Lisa Benson Cooper
Lisa Benson Cooper Facebook

Lisa Benson Cooper was already in an uncomfortable position when she shared an article on her private Facebook page about a phenomenon known as “white women’s tears.”

The longtime reporter for KSHB Channel 41 was suing her employer for racial discrimination. Then, when she posted a story online about racial tensions in the workplace, it cost Cooper her job.

Journalists understand the pitfalls of expressing personal opinions on social media. But firing a reporter for sharing an article — without comment — to a private account sets a dangerous precedent.

Cooper told Ruby Hamad, the Arab-born author of the white tears article that appeared in The Guardian, that she was ousted from KSHB for making what management called “broad, unfair characterizations of white women as a group based on their race and gender.”

Never mind that Cooper made no such sweeping characterizations by simply posting an article to her Facebook page.

The incident was the latest in a string of dustups between Cooper and the station. Cooper, who is known on air as Lisa Benson, claims in court documents that she was subjected to unfair treatment in retaliation for a discrimination lawsuit she filed in 2016.

She filed suit after being passed up for promotions. Suspensions and eventually, termination followed. She amended the original suit to include retaliation. Cooper’s case is scheduled for trial next year in federal court.

Cooper and her attorney Dennis Egan declined comment when reached by The Star.

KSHB News Director Carrie Hofmann would only say the station stands by its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In the May 7 article headlined “How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour,” Hamad argues that white women play the role of victim when women of color assert themselves.

“It is … what blogger and author Luvvie Ajayi called the ‘weary weaponising of white women’s tears,’ ” Hamad wrote. “To put it less poetically, it is the trauma caused by the tactic many white women employ to muster sympathy and avoid accountability, by turning the tables and accusing their accuser.”

Cooper never commented on the post, simply sharing it with a meme of an old African proverb.

But apparently, two white female colleagues at the television station saw the article on Benson’s Facebook page and contacted human resources, according to Hamad, who shared Cooper’s story via Twitter.

Hamad’s article was not discriminatory or offensive. It was provocative, but she makes a legitimate argument that’s been discussed and debated in academia and in other mainstream outlets.

And the fallout in Cooper’s case highlights the precise dynamic Hamad’s piece described.

“How attempts of women of color to assert themselves and defend themselves are twisted to fit a narrative of white female victimhood,” she said. “It’s trauma upon trauma.”

After sharing a story about this issue, Cooper now finds herself out of a job.

“Lisa was unfairly dismissed,” Hamad said.

She’s right. The article clearly doesn’t demean, threaten or otherwise cause harm.

Cooper’s story is yet another cautionary tale about the professional perils of social media. It’s also an opportunity for employers to consider how to foster an inclusive environment where women and people of color can voice their concerns and thoughts without fear of losing their jobs.

Hamad feels guilty that the article may have led to Cooper’s firing. But she shouldn’t. She only brought attention to an issue that clearly deserves additional examination.

“It’s the kind of feeling that can very quickly spiral into hopeless and defeat if you let it take over,” Hamad told The Star. “So I reminded myself that this sort of self-blame is exactly what (people of color) are socialized to feel when we challenge the system.”

Cooper didn’t deserve to be fired for sharing a post on Facebook about those very real challenges.