Gabrielle Union was fired from America’s Got Talent amid claims that she raised concerns over a culture of racism. Now, she’s urging other female leaders to follow her lead in speaking out.
Gabrielle Union has called on women to confront discrimination in the workplace, amid growing controversy over an executive decision to fire her from the judging panel of America’s Got Talent last month.
Without naming the NBC series directly, Union said it was important that women not shy away from speaking out when they see evidence of wrongdoing.
Asked about her advice for leaders at the Power of Inclusivity and the Women Leading the Charge event in New York City this week, the actor said it was vital that people don’t turn a blind eye to injustice.
“Don’t be the happy negro that does the bidding of the status quo because you’re afraid,” the actor told a panel audience (as reported via Variety magazine).
“Don’t allow them to call you angry when someone else is called passionate,” Union continued. “It’s terrifying. There’s a solid chance you’ll lose your job.”
“I speak from experience,” she quipped, referencing her situation with America’s Got Talent bosses.
It’s alleged that Union’s contract with the show was not renewed because she raised concerns over a toxic and racist culture that she experienced on-set.
Variety previously reported that Union flagged a racially insensitive joke made by co-judge Jay Leno based around a stereotype that a Korean restaurant might serve dog meat. The title also claimed that she complained about a white contestant whose routine involved dressing up as Beyoncé.
On top of this, Union is said to have received racist feedback from producers, including a comment that her hair was ‘too black’ for AGT audiences.
In her panel appearance this week, Union alluded to the fact that many women may stay silent when faced with similar examples of racism and injustice.
But, she says, a failure to speak out equates to having your silence bought in the form of a monthly payment.
“How many checks do I need?” Union said. “This financial freedom, they’re shackles, masquerading as zeros in my bank account.
“There are a lot of people who are only interested in filling their own plate,” she continued. “I can’t enjoy my food if everyone else is starving.”
Union said she herself has experienced situations in her life when she hasn’t spoken out, when she’s known that really she should have. And, as a result, she’s learnt the best way forward is to voice her mind when the occasion calls for it.
“I knew I obsessed about every single time in my life where I didn’t say anything,” she said. “And it got to the point where I was like, ‘That’s not right!’ And every time I chose to speak up and the world didn’t end and I could speak a little bit better, I knew I was doing the right thing. It just made it so much easier.”
Earlier this month, NBC confirmed that it was launching a formal investigation into Union’s firing from America’s Got Talent, following a five-hour meeting with the star.
The channel said it wanted to get “a deeper understanding of the facts” behind what happened, as Union tweeted that she was able to express her “unfiltered truth” to network executives.
The Grey’s Anatomy actor, who herself battled against television executives to receive equal pay and rights as her male co-stars, tweeted: “It’s unfortunate that NBC the same network that protected men like Matt Lauer and punished women for speaking our or not putting with it… has not changed their practices or culture.”
Lauer, the network’s celebrated co-host of the Today show, has been accused of sexual misconduct. It’s alleged that NBC is said to have been aware, and even covered up, the claims surrounding one of their major stars (although the channel has vehemently denied this).
Union has not publicly addressed her grievances with NBC, but in a tweet late last month, she thanked fellow fans and celebrities for their support.
“So many tears, so much gratitude,” she said. “Just when you feel lost, adrift, alone… you got me up off the ground.”