Gabrielle Union knows—from experience—how hard it is to speak truth to power, especially in the workplace. Still, ESSENCE’s Black Women in Hollywood honoree has advice for Black women who are dealing with discrimination on their jobs. And our girl got real.
“Don’t allow them to call you angry when somebody else saying the same thing is called passionate,” Union said Monday during a panel discussion, hosted by retailers New York & Company and Fashion To Figure, in New York City. “Reject that in its spot as you go.”
“It is scary. It is terrifying. It’s a solid chance that you may lose your job. Perhaps I speak from experience,” she added, alluding to losing her job at NBC’s America’s Got Talent, which recently caused headlines.
Union was reportedly fired for sounding off about the show’s alleged “toxic” workplace culture along with having hairstyles that were deemed “too Black” by producers of the Simon Cowell-led reality competition series.
The panelists also included Plus Model Magazine creator Maddy Jones, model Ebonee Davis, fashion editor and stylist Solange Frankin, and health and wellness enthusiast Hannah Bronfman. The conversation bounced from female leadership and inclusivity, to equality. It also touched on the inspiration behind Union’s fashionable and accessible collection.
Union said that despite what may feel like a heavy load, it’s the responsibility of Black women, who find themselves at the table, to use that seat to uplift those who are marginalized.
Don’t be the happy Negro that does the bidding of the status quo because you’re afraid.
“You don’t want to be the one who has say everything, but you’re the one in there. Find those allies and keep the door open,” Union explained of navigating White spaces. “Don’t be the happy Negro that does the bidding of the status quo because you’re afraid.”
The actress is fully aware of what she’s asking of Black women, when she implores them to speak up and speak out against inequality in the workplace .
“Yeah, I’m asking you to do the impossible. I’m asking you to put yourself out there on a limb. I’m fully aware that job loss is the table when you are that person,” Union said.
“If you’re not doing it, nobody is. There’s way too many people out here like, ‘That exclusivity…? Oh, that’s me. I’m a gatekeeper and you’re out!'” Union joked.
Watch the full video to see what else Union has to say about being a Black woman in the workplace.