01:27 - Source: CNN
Gabrielle Union addresses 'AGT' exit

Editor’s Note: Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has been a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of “Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete.” She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia’s 900AM WURD. The views expressed here are solely hers. Read more opinion on CNN.

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Your hairstyle is “too black.”

That’s what actress Gabrielle Union reportedly was told often by producers before she was dropped from NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” Upon hearing this common racist trope, all I could do is shake my head as I imagined millions of other black women doing the same, thinking: I’ve heard this before.

Roxanne Jones
Roxanne Jones

The Twitter outrage was swift – including my own, I admit. No doubt, Gabrielle Union knew exactly what it meant when she was told her hairstyles were too black. For black women, none of this is anything new. Our resilient curls have always been under attack in America. Black women have heard this all of our lives – sometimes in our own homes from parents who prayed that if only we straightened our kinky curls, maybe we’d rise higher in a white-dominated world, making that distant American dream achievable. As if our hair, not systemic racism and hate, is the only impediment to our success.

Now, we know better.

Stars as diverse as Ariana Grande, Ellen Pompeo, Yara Shahidi, Debra Messing and Patricia Arquette rushed to support Union after she reportedly raised concerns about the work environment at the show that included racist jokes about Asians and comments about her hairstyles, according to Variety. Another story from Vulture detailed friction between Union and “AGT” judge and executive producer Simon Cowell. CNN has not independently confirmed these allegations. NBC has said they are working with Union to “hear more about her concerns.” Representatives for Union and for the show have not responded to CNN’s requests for comment.

Clearly, Union is thankful for the support, tweeting on Wednesday night:

“So many tears, so much gratitude. THANK YOU! Just when you feel lost, adrift, alone… you got me up off the ground. Humbled and thankful, forever.”

The actors’ guild, SAG-AFTRA has launched an investigation, saying in its statement it takes “issues of “workplace health and safety very seriously.” NBC’s own statement read that they, too, “the take very seriously any questions about workplace culture.” Everyone is investigating what went wrong and exactly who said what to whom.

But Gabrielle Union and others are fighting back – thanks in part to a cultural resurgence of the black natural hair movement and a slew of new laws in several states that make discrimination against “ethnic hairstyles” illegal.

Union is no stranger in the fight for equality. The 47-year-old actress was a vocal leader at the start of the viral #MeToo movement. She has long advocated for survivors of sexual violence and for equality for women and the LGBTQ communities. The actress, who also stars in the TV police drama “L.A.’s Finest,” alleges racist comments were common at work at “AGT,” before she was let go. According to Variety, Union requested a meeting with human resources shortly before she was let go.

Kudos to Union for confronting workplace racism – and not just for those who look like her. She understands that speaking out about racism and toxic workplace environments must be everyone’s fight.

Union is more than another famous face ranting on Twitter about injustice. Her voice can amplify the voices of all women who experience workplace discrimination. And though I haven’t seen many of her movies, I’m a huge fan of the work she’s done off screen.

Because despite the bright lights, her fight is our fight.

While I was at ESPN, I had a chance to work with Gabrielle years ago, before the famous husband, before much of her recent Hollywood success. And it was clear that she was serious about her career. She was a woman of her word. If I needed her to attend an event, shoot a TV segment, write story, she was always ready to work.

Our interactions were few, still she’ll never know how much her professionalism helped me in my career, where unfortunately the success of one woman, especially in a majority male environment, is often based on how well other women perform. At work, we sadly called this the “one and done” theory.

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    But Union, possibly unknowingly, had my back. She helped me shine so I could do the same for the women who came after me. And decades later, she hasn’t changed. Gabrielle Union is still fighting battles to help the next woman in line to reach her full potential – a class act.