Gabrielle Union-Wade is done with the shits, figuratively and literally.
Thanksgiving week headlines hit the news that Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough were reportedly fired from the reality talent show, America’s Got Talent, after judging one season. NBC later confirmed both would not be returning to the show.
I don’t know the full AGT judge history because I don’t care for reality tv talent shows. However, I peep when Black people make their way on the panel for culture purposes.
Gabrielle was added to the 14th season with Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, and Julianne Hough. Don’t look for a sentence or two on Howie’s or Julianne’s background because ya ain’t getting it. Google them…like I didn’t.
Cowell is not only the creator of AGT but a part-owner of Syco Entertainment–a producer of AGT. Why does that matter? Cowell pulls the strings. Cowell is not just a judge who never leaves; he’s a judge with a permanent seat. This explains Cowell being attributed to the reason the only two women judges would not return on the panel.
Gabrielle and Julianne are the first judges to leave after only one season; although Gabrielle’s original contract was for three years. On top of their premature departure, Howie has never been rotated out since his arrival on season five.
Then came the news stories hinting why Union wasn’t returning to the show: AGT was a toxic work environment. According to a source, Union was the most popular judge on social media and walking away from $12 million wasn’t due to her just being “busy”. It appeared that Union speaking out against “problematic” racism, sexism, and inequality behind the scenes led to her termination. Listen, I know what it’s like to work in a toxic work environment. Trust me when I say your self-worth and respect are incomparable to the salary. Well, that’s if you give a damn about having morals.
There was an alleged incident involving Jay Leno commenting that Cowell’s pet dogs looked like they belonged “on the menu of a Korean restaurant.” Gabrielle tried to report this comment to human resources but it never escalated.
On top of working in an environment where offensive commentary is the norm, Gabrielle and Julianne were subjected to comments about their physical appearance. In particular, Gabrielle being told her appearance is “too black” for the show’s audience. The too black statement referencing Gabrielle’s natural and braided hairstyles popular amongst Black women.
Like any supportive husband, Dwayne Wade took to Twitter in a series of tweets venting his true feelings on his wife’s departure from the show.
The Wades are the epitome of stand by your (wo)man.
Dwayne’s tweet confirms two things: 1) Gabrielle was indeed fired and 2) Gabrielle at some point advocated for Blackness.
Shortly after her husband’s tweets, Gabrielle tweeted her first public reaction to the drama.
Gabrielle received support outside of the celebrity community with the #blackhairchallenged sparked by award-winning artist Vashti Harrison.
See it wasn’t that Gabrielle was going through a strenuous induction of AGT judges, she was being labeled “difficult” for being outspoken. A label that hits different when you’re a woman of color.
One of the first offenses that Gabrielle challenged was Simon smoking inside AGT theatre and corporate office (she’s allergic). Then when Gabrielle pushed for a 10-year-old black rapper to stay on the show to opposing opinions he wasn’t the ideal image, tensions reached a boiling point when he was eliminated.
From my personal experience, when you challenge the people in charge of workplace policies that seem unfair you immediately become a target. Especially when you’re a Black person with an outspoken personality. When you’re labeled difficult at work nothing else you do matters because you’re now problematic and to be you’re handled accordingly.
Gabrielle is not the first AGT employee to call out the show and NBC for a toxic work environment. Nick Cannon eventually left the show after hosting for eight seasons for reasons similar to Gabrielle’s accusations.
When an employer knows they’re in the wrong, they’ll use intimidation to get you to shut up and stay in your place. I’ll give you an example of this from what I went through at a previous employer.
Management decided to reward the front desk staff with a bonus incentive of .25 cents for each booked
There were two major errors with this “bonus”: 1) the therapists (I worked at a massage spa) made $2. The front desk staff would have to book four times that much to make what therapists made from one add-on. 2) why do we have to reach a certain amount as a whole to receive that bonus?
I went up against the owner to figure out on what planet that not only made sense but was fair. It wasn’t until I challenged management that it went up to $1 and they removed the group goal stipulation. Unfortunately, that only made me more difficult in their eyes. I didn’t want more money out of greed (they were cheap AF), it was about the principle. That was a fairness issue (among others). I have a
All in all, Gabrielle is a disruptor. She used her voice and platform to disrupt the prejudice, sexist, and biased structure AGT built in the workplace. Change ain’t always gonna have the face you want to see but need to see.