Gabrielle Union has never been shy about using her voice for good. She’s an advocate for survivors of assault and racial injustice, speaks openly about therapy, and wants women, specifically black women, to be empowered and know their worth. So she was a perfect choice to be one of several panelists speaking about female empowerment and inclusivity on Monday.
“Don’t be the happy negro that does the bidding of the status quo because you’re afraid,” she advised when speaking about being a leader in the workplace, according to Variety. “Don’t allow them to call you angry when someone else is called passionate. It’s terrifying,” before adding, “There’s a solid chance you’ll lose your job … I speak from experience.” While she doesn’t mention any gigs by name, it doesn’t take a decoder to decipher that she’s referring to America’s Got Talent.
It was in November that Union got axed from the reality competition series, along with co-judge Julianne Hough. While Hough had nothing but positive things to say about her experience on the show and her upcoming projects with NBC, Union was suspiciously silent — until a report came out, revealing that Union had expressed concerns over racially insensitive experiences, but nothing was done by producers or the network. To add insult to injury, Variety also reported that Union and Hough were given “excessive notes” on the way they looked, and Gabi was repeatedly told that her changing hairstyles were “too black.”
View this post on Instagram
Today is Black Women's Equal Pay Day, showing how far into 2019 black women must work to earn what white men made in 2018. That's 9 extra months! Even worse, the gap has widened since last year. Black women disproportionately are heads of households, they make up the largest group of minority women-owned businesses, and they're a key voting bloc with one of the biggest voter turnouts — when you lift up black women, you lift up entire communities. They are phenomenal, and they deserve equal pay! @phenomenal tee benefits the Black Futures Lab.
While Union’s allegations have led to an ongoing investigation of the show, the Bring It On star used her experience to encourage others to speak up in the workplace — even if that means putting a job on the line. She acknowledged that money plays a big factor but Union is looking at the bigger picture: that women need to be better than that, for themselves and other women.
“Do your best because corporations want global dollars,” Union said. “Do your best to try to hold the door open and hold people responsible. Yeah, I’m asking you to do the impossible … I’m fully aware that job loss is on the table … but if you’re not doing it, nobody is.”
She continued, speaking her truth and why she was unwilling to compromise. “How many cheques do I need? 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. I can’t enjoy my food if everyone else is starving.” DAMN. More powerful words could not be spoken.
But Union wasn’t done, not even close. Perhaps circling back to AGT — again, without actually mentioning her former show — she spoke about “being the chip in the cookie” (a.k.a. the only black person in the room), and being given a choice.
“What kind of chip am I going to be? Are you going to assimilate and allow all of this to go on? Or are you going to say something and immediately be other-ed? Are you going to say something? You know it’s wrong. Everyone knows it’s wrong.”
And even though she knew it was a risk, Gabrielle also knew that speaking up was and is always the right thing to do.
“When you’re a follower, often you’re not being led by the right person,” Union explained. “This is not what paradise or salvation looks like to me. You’re using me to prop up fraudulent systems … I want no part of that, so I’d rather lead, even if I don’t know where the hell I’m going. As long as I have air in my lungs, I will always try to cover us all and I will certainly try to centre the needs of the most marginalized.”
That sound you heard was chairs being flipped on their backs as women everywhere jumped up to give her a standing ovation. Gabrielle knows there’s nothing more powerful than our voices; we just need to use them more. And perhaps, using Gabi as our inspiration, we will.