Gabrielle Union alluded to her firing from “America’s Got Talent” during the launch of her holiday collection with New York & Company held at Ladurée in SoHo, Manhattan.
The actress did not specifically call out the NBC series during a panel discussion about female empowerment and inclusivity but it’s her first time publicly addressing workplace inequalities since leaving the show.
“Don’t be the happy negro that does the bidding of the status quo because you’re afraid,” she told the crowd, when asked for advice on being a leader in the workplace, Variety reports. “Don’t allow them to call you angry when someone else is called passionate. It’s terrifying. There’s a solid chance you’ll lose your job … I speak from experience,” she added.
“Do your best because corporations want global dollars,” Union continued. “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.”’
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She also spoke about the difficulties of “what will I lose?” by speaking up.
“Being the chip in the cookie, you are always in this situation where you are seeing things, hearing things … and you’re presented with a choice: what kind of chip am I going to be?” she explained. “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.”
Union noted how she was experiencing “anxiety, depression, fear and terror” every single day over speaking out about inequality.
“Eventually, I couldn’t sleep. I knew I obsessed about every single time in my life where I didn’t say anything. 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.”
Union said the downside of being a leader is being the first to “take the bullet.”
“When you’re a follower, often you’re not being led by the right person,” Union elaborated. “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 center the needs of the most marginalized.”
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