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Posted under: Opinion

America’s Got Racism: How Gabrielle Union’s Workplace Plight Is A Reality For Many Of Us, Too

Personally, I am tired.

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Livid. That might be the only word that I can muster up when thinking of a particular workplace situation in my professional experience that left me reeling from an onslaught of disrespect and gaslighting.

Let’s take a journey down a path that many of us Black professionals find definitive of some of our most harrowing work experiences. A journey fraught with discourtesy at the hands of our alabaster-skinned colleagues (not all) who project their insecurities onto us in an effort to curb our Black excellence while simultaneously making a feeble attempt to supplement for their white mediocrity.

One day I decided to stay after work to finish some assignments I'd been working on. I guess a few of my “colleagues” were unaware that I was still in the building because they proceeded to discuss my character and their perceived quality of my work in the most outlandish of ways. I was offended for obvious reasons and I informed my supervisor of this for the simple reason that they were speaking these lies about me. I needed my supervisor to understand that while I will continue acting cordial and respectful, I needed to signal awareness of this behavior in case Ren and Stimpy did not. My supervisor then proceeded to suggest that I had a “fixed mindset” and that my colleagues weren’t really discussing me but the workload itself. This is called gaslighting, my friends. I left that conversation feeling hopeless and frustrated because it was then that I realized they considered my Blackness expendable.

Given this situation, and countless others, I am sadly not surprised by NBC’s treatment of Gabrielle Union as it relates to her employment with America’s Got Talent.

We oftentimes bring up the notion that survivors of sexual assault don’t speak up as often because they are usually not believed. What about survivors of workplace discrimination? Oftentimes people of color in the workplace, especially Black people, feel as if our voice doesn’t hold the same weight as our white counterparts, which is why many of us do not speak up. I am in no way trying to minimize either of the two, but we need to advocate more for a culture that listens to incidents of workplace discrimination and actually takes action with proper protocol being followed to ensure racism, sexism and any other form of discrimination doesn’t happen. Period.

On November 23, B. Scott was the first to report that the Union had been terminated from her host position due to calling out the sexism and racism that she saw transpiring on set. It is infuriating that the star was scrutinized for bringing up concerns about an alleged racist comment, made by Jay Leno, to Human Resources. It’s even more infuriating that she asked that something be done about Simon Cowell’s constant smoking, which was having a negative impact on her health, and nothing was done.

What I'm also confused by is that it was perceived negatively when she acted as a basic human being by asking drag performers what their pronouns were. To top all of this off, her hairstyles were deemed “too Black.” What does that even mean?

What is probably the most exasperating out of all of this is that Union spoke up multiple times with little to no action being implemented by NBC. I’m sure NBC had no problem calling upon her to increase social media traffic for the fledgling primetime show, especially since she has more followers than all of the hosts combined. That’s unfortunately how it happens in the workplace for Black people. These workplace environments will squeeze all of our talents and resources out of us in order to benefit them, but when it comes to truly respecting us, listening to us and valuing us, all of a sudden we're being “too difficult” or “inconvenient.”

It should also be noted that Black college graduates are more likely than our white counterparts, to be underemployed when it comes to utilizing our skillsets. Not only are we humiliated at work through these discriminatory practices, but our skillsets are underutilized.

NBC had a real opportunity to utilize Union's extensive knowledge and experience with inclusion by implementing structures that would create an environment where diversity is fostered — but they fumbled the ball. We’re considered more valuable when we don’t speak up against the injustices that plague our work experiences and settle in the “token Black person” role that they’ve constructed for us. I feel as if they wanted to put her on display in the manner of a beautiful porcelain doll for show, but when she began to speak up against the injustices she saw, it was a problem. Shame on her for being a decent human being.

It's no secret that workplace discrimination occurs everywhere, the real mystery is why this is allowed to happen. According to data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC, between the fiscal years of 2010 and 2017, most investigations of workplace discrimination were closed whether it was concluded that discrimination occurred or not. Are the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion considered an illusion?

Personally, I am tired. I’m tired of being expected to extend this saintly level of grace to my discriminatory colleagues when it isn’t reciprocated. We are always expected to be the “bigger person” and damn near let our olive complexioned colleagues get away with murder. I'm hoping Gabrielle’s situation brings to light how situations like this happen so frequently in workplaces across the world and are swept under the rug.

If I’m being completely transparent, I’d have to agree with Tyler Perry when he spoke on the importance of building our own table as opposed to looking for “a seat at the table.” Let’s continue to make strides toward building our own workplaces where we don’t have to be subjected to the racist undertones of our subpar white colleagues.

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A Detroit native, Kenneth 'Kenny' Williams Jr. is a self-described cultural critic and visual storyteller. While at Michigan State University, Kenneth received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and went on to obtain his Master of Arts degree in Public Relations. Kenneth's passions include pop culture, writing, and using his skill sets to actively and positively promote the narratives of Black people and Black culture. Interested in seeing more from Kenneth? Follow him on Medium at https://medium.com/@kennethwilliams310