If you have any lingering questions for Gabrielle Union about her departure from America’s Got Talent or subsequent NBC lawsuit, then bring it on (pun intended). Union is taking any and all questions about the affair — and if you thought she was outspoken last year, you’ll love her even more come 2020. To recap: shortly after Union was let go from her guest judging role on AGT, she filed a complaint against several parties involved, from NBC exec Paul Telegdy to co-host Simon Cowell, alleging a toxic culture of racist and misogynistic behavior. Shortly after that, rumors started wafting around that Union was actually just “difficult to work with,” a favorite saying of white people accused of racist behavior (right next to “playing the race card”). Union’s reaction? Unfazed. In a new Marie Claire interview, Union breaks down step by step why she was fired from AGT (her well-informed theory, anyway), why she was so determined to speak out now, and why she knew the backlash would play out like it did.
As Union explains to the outlet, her firing from AGT after beginning an investigation into the workplace culture fell exactly in line with a long pattern of intimidating and dismissing marginalized voices, hoping to make them too fearful to speak out.
“These racist institutions and systems have done an amazing job at keeping us very fearful of speaking up, asking for equality, and asking for accountability, because they have shown us time and time again that we are disposable,” she explains. “They will discredit and malign you, and you will never work again.…Being blackballed in this industry is very real.”
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After turning 40, “I emptied out my basket of f***s,” Gabrielle Union says. “I cannot center fear in my life. I can’t center functioning from a fear of scarcity. They say silence is violence, and I refuse to be complicit in my silence. I have to be fully present in my body and fully free.” Read our full profile on @gabunion at the link in bio. Photographer: @djenebaaduayom Writer: @lolaogunnaike Stylist: @thomaschristos Hair: @larryjarahsims Makeup: @sirjohn Nails: @thuybnguyen
Even more than the initial firing, it was the whispers that followed that acted as a reminder of what speaking out would cost — the immediate suspicion that she was exaggerating the situation, looking for attention, or had somehow been complicit in creating the situations she described. In her complaints, she alleged that co-host Simon Cowell incessantly smoked cigarettes indoors, guest judge Jay Leno made racist jokes about Korean people eating dog meat, and that producers told her her hair was “too wild” for the show, a common micro-aggression against Black women. Some believed her — and others suggested that, secretly, she was the problem-causing diva all along.
“They want you to feel like ‘It’s not me, it’s you, you’re crazy, you’re doing something that’s causing this, you are complicit in your own oppression, your own trauma, your own abuse,'” she explains. “And as long as you’re in that space, you’re not going to talk about it. You’re not going to reach out to anybody.”
“That very sentiment is how all of this has been allowed to go on for centuries; that kind of gaslighting, I categorically reject,” she adds. “I emptied out my basket of f***s. I cannot center fear in my life. I can’t center functioning from a fear of scarcity. They say silence is violence, and I refuse to be complicit in my silence. I have to be fully present in my body and fully free.”
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“I should be able to exist however the f*** I want to exist, because if you’re hiring Gabrielle Union for my talent, then my talent is going to come out of my body in every way, shape, and incarnation that I can imagine. You’re getting more bang for your buck the more you allow me to exist as I see fit.” @gabunion talks work, family, and being Black in 2020 at the link in bio.
So, how do you demand equality loudly enough that you get it not just for yourself, but for all the oppressed voices around you? For Union, it’s not enough for her to seek equal treatment for herself. She wants to say what she won’t accept, loudly enough that everyone who hears it knows they don’t have to accept it either.
“We want to be free, and we want to try and protect as many people as possible,” she says. “You are not going to gaslight me into minimizing my trauma, which is exactly what allows this to continue on for the next person.”
“She loses a lot of sleep at times; she stresses out because she wants to do right by everyone,” husband Dwyane Wade chimes in.
Hearing how hard Union fights on behalf of those facing oppression, our hearts break all over again remembering the distrust she was met with when she first spoke out about the NBC workplace. Hopefully, this interview puts to rest any lingering questions. From where we’re standing, the situation is perfectly clear.