“America’s Got Talent” fires Gabrielle Union, controversy ensues

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For the most part, the most controversial aspect of performance shows such as “America’s Got Talent,” “The Voice” and “American Idol” used to be whether or not they actually helped contestants develop a performance career. However, the recent firing of actress Gabrielle Union from the show’s panel of judges. While representatives of the show haven’t said officially why the actress was let go, Union has claimed that the firing served as repercussions for her reporting a racist incident in the form of a joke that another judge on the show made. Several outlets have reported that Union was also told by the show’s executives that she needed to create less ethnic hairstyles, in short that her hairstyles were “too black.”

Gabrielle Union, “America’s Got Talent” and the Crown Law

Earlier this year, California passed a law that made it illegal to discriminate against people with natural ethnic hair. Known as the Crown Law in California, several states have adopted their own forms of the legislation. States such as Kentucky, Ohio, New Jersey, Michigan, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Ohio and other areas have put the laws into place.

The laws have been proven necessary because of the number of professional adults who have received backlash from their employers and school administrators as a result of hairstyles that are too ethnic.

“America’s Got Talent” is filmed in California. If the executives at “America’s Got Talent” actually made the references to Union’s hair, then it would seem they are in violation of the new law.

The issues that Union presents cast a shadow over the popular show. Union’s firing was made public to a number of people who follow her husband, professional basketball player Dwayne Wade. In a tweet, Wade referred to his wife as an “advocate for our community and culture.” The lengthy tweets question the show’s decision to fire his wife when she appeared to have been good for “America’s Got Talent’s” ratings.

With little being said in regard to the official reason for the actress’ firing, it is unclear what made Union and “America’s Got Talent” part ways. If the allegations of hair discrimination are true, it is a sad reflection on both the need for and as yet ineffectiveness of the laws designed to protect wearers of natural, ethnic hair.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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