Gabrielle Union Shares Career Advice for Black Women After AGT Drama: ‘Don’t Be the Happy Negro'
"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 somebody else is saying the same thing, it’s called passion," the actress said
Gabrielle Union has advice for black women trying to make in the world of entertainment and fashion.
The actress and former host of America’s Got Talent — who was recently fired from the NBC competition series and allegedly reported racial insensitivity on set— opened up about the challenges black women in the industry face. She encouraged them to not only speak their truth but to also stand up for what they believe in — even if it means losing their jobs.
“Keep the door open … 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 somebody else is saying the same thing, it’s called passion,” Union, 47, said during a panel event for her New York & Company holiday collection in New York City on Monday.
“It is scary. It is terrifying and there is a chance you might lose your job — perhaps I speak from experience, but you have do what you can when you are in those rooms — all skin folk ain’t kinfolk,” she said. “Do your best, because corporations want global dollars, and if those corporations don’t reflect the global audience, you are going to make so many mistakes trying to reach that global audience. So do your best to try to hold the door open, hold people responsible.”
She continued, “I’m asking you to do the impossible. I am asking you to put yourself out there on a limb. I’m fully aware that job loss is on the table when you’re that person, and sometimes you can work low-key, back-door things and kind of take your head off the chopping block, but if you’re not doing it, then nobody is.”
The actress highlighted the importance of women — especially women of color — feeling confident enough to speak their “whole truth,” something she said she has grappled with since she was a little girl. Union revealed that she has experienced “anxiety, depression, fear and terror” when trying to address difficult situations, constantly asking herself: “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,” she explained.
In mid-November, news broke that Union and fellow judge Julianne Hough — who joined season 14 of AGT back in February, replacing spots previously held by Mel B and Heidi Klum — would not be returning for the 15th season. (It has yet to be announced who will replace Hough and Union for the upcoming season.)
According to Variety, in addition to Union expressing concerns over racially insensitive situations on the Simon Cowell executive-produced show, she and Hough, 31, were both subjected to “excessive notes” on their physical appearance. That included a comment about Union’s hairstyles being “too black” for the show, sources alleged to the outlet.
A spokesperson for NBC and production company Fremantle responded to the claims with a statement to PEOPLE on Nov. 26: “America’s Got Talent has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show. The judging and host line-up has been regularly refreshed over the years and that is one of the reasons for AGT’s enduring popularity. NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously.”
Earlier this month, a source close to Union told PEOPLE that the star is lifting her head high and is “doing fine.”
“She’s sticking up for what she believes in, but is also open to continuing a dialogue,” the source said.
The Being Mary Jane actress revealed on Dec. 4 that she had met with NBC and AGT production company Fremantle and Syco Entertainment.
“We had a lengthy 5-hour, and what I thought to be, productive meeting yesterday,” Union wrote on Twitter at the time. “I was able to again, express my unfiltered truth. I led with transparency and my desire and hope for real change.”