Gabrielle Union Speaks out Against Workplace Inequality Amid 'America's Got Talent' Drama

Gabrielle Union alluded to her firing from America's Got Talent while speaking on a female empowerment and inclusivity panel at the launch of her holiday collection with New York and Company on Monday. Though she did not specifically name the NBC series or the network, she did give advice on being a leader in the workplace.

"Don't be the happy negro that does the bidding of the status quo because you're afraid. 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 quipped, as reported by Variety.

"Do your best because corporations want global dollars," she 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."

Union's remarks came as she spoke to the media alongside five other women on a panel titled The Power of Inclusivity and the Women Leading The Charge, held at LaDuree in SoHo, Manhattan. She explained her thought process when she is making person career decisions: "How many checks 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," she said. "I can't enjoy my food if everyone else is starving."

She explained that she has always found power through authenticity, even when it's difficult — especially in an industry where women of color have a history of being sidelined.

Using the analogy of "being the chip in the cookie" — the only black person in the room — she explained that ever since she was young, she has wrestled challenges that come along with speaking up, even when you know you're speaking up for the right thing.

"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."

She said she was experiencing "anxiety, depression, fear and terror" every single day because of a question constantly on her mind: "Am I going to say something?"

"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 has not formally addressed her exit or grievances with America's Got Talent. As previously reported, Union and fellow judge Julianne Hough were fired from the series after just one season, with sources telling Variety that the two women received "excessive notes" on their physical appearance. Additionally, Union was reportedly told that her various hair styles were "too black" for the show's audience at least half a dozen times.


The report also alleged that Union urged producers to report an offensive joke made during one of the show's tapings by Jay Leno, who was appearing as a guest judge. Another incident reportedly occurred during an audition taping for Season 14, when Union and other staff members raised concerns over the way a contestant portrayed people of color during his performance.

NBCUniversal has engaged a third party to investigate accounts of racial insensitivity, labor code violations like Simon Cowell's reported insistence on indoor smoking, as well as a hostile climate for AGT's women judges.