White allies are important, but people of Color are often the Generals, the Troops, and the Casualties in the war for racial equality.
5 lessons from Gabrielle Union and Gina Rodriguez that got drowned in the applause for Ellen Pompeo.
Just because White people should share the burden of advocacy, does not mean their voices should replace those of Black and Brown people; that is exactly what we did with Ellen Pompeo. By now, you’ve probably seen the 1-min clip from the Porter Magazine “The Big Television Debate” featuring Gina Rodriguez, Ellen Pompeo, Gabrielle Union, and Emma Roberts, making the rounds on social media. Major news outlets covered the story, and almost every single one of the headlines lauded Ellen Pompeo for her stance on racial equality in the film and television industry.
While Ellen’s words were needed, why have we chosen to reduce Gabrielle’s and Gina’s perspectives to a picture of them in awe of Ellen speaking truth to power? If we continue down that rabbit hole, we lose some of the very important lessons they shared. I watched the full 24-minute video, and those two women helped me come to terms with something I had grappled with over the past few months; why despite the inequality people of color face, we have to work in our respective industries and be “f***ing grateful just to be there.”
As a Black Woman in the creative industry, I have been outspoken in my criticism of brands who have missed the mark on inclusion and diversity. Over the course of the year, I have been asked by media outlets to comment on women of color, particularly Black Women, who continue to work with brands that are not inclusive. I have refused to comment for two reasons: 1) I will not play into the spectacle of two Black women pitted against each other for viewership on a predominantly white-owned media outlet and 2) The topic is simply too complicated to be answered in one quote.
Listening to Gabrielle Union and Gina Rodriguez gave me some clarity on why we continue to work with brands that are not inclusive and how important it is for us to continue challenging the system as we try our best to survive in it. Lessons learned:
We are conditioned to have gratitude just for being in the room, not even at the table: Both Gina and Gabrielle spoke so powerfully about the reality of being a person of color in a field where you are not typically represented.
“I get so petrified in this space talking about equal pay, especially when you look at the intersectional aspect of it…Culturally I was raised to just feel so appreciative of getting here.” – Gina Rodriguez
“We are so conditioned to be grateful…you’re not supposed to buck back, so in negotiation, you’re like ‘I know what my worth is, I know what I bring to the table’ and sometimes your teams are like ‘we could go too far and you could lose it all together.’”
When Gina asks, “how do we break this cycle?”, Gabrielle responds, “There comes a point where I’m not going to feel good on set if I feel like I’m undervalued and my money doesn’t match my level of contribution.”
People of Color seem interchangeable to the industry, so we have to have each other’s backs: “I lose nothing by making sure you get your money. I don’t want a job that I’m only getting because they screwed over the next woman.” - Gabrielle Union
There is so much power in organizing: Gabrielle spoke about how women are often pitted against each other and kept in their silos to prevent them from sharing information. Gina echoed Gabriella’s point, “That is how white men have stayed rich forever, they’ve got each other’s back…and we should be doing the exact same thing with each other.”
We are afraid to lose our jobs: Gabrielle summed it up perfectly, the burden that many Black and Brown women feel in every industry, “[Lack of color on the crew] wasn’t something that was lost on me, I just didn’t…I did not have the bravery to say it because there is a part of me that felt lucky to be here…. I don’t want to appear to be the ungrateful brown person… you run the risk of losing your space.”
We have to build our own spaces and create the change we want to see: “I take it upon myself for the projects I do.” said Gina “I started my company solely because that’s the only place I know I can control. I know I can use my voice and I’m unafraid to say ‘This is our project, this is what we’re doing, this is what it’s going to be, this is our culture…everyone is treated equally.’”
Now THAT is bravery.
Yes, “White people created the problem, so White people must do their part in fixing the problem”, but in our attempt to be more inclusive we must also do away with the very thing we are fighting against, the supremacy of whiteness. Ellen Pompeo’s statements, correct as they may have been, wrongfully dominated the cultural narrative in the media. While our allies should amplify our voices, they also have to make sure that our voices aren’t drowned out. I salute Ellen for using her power in the way she did, but we upheld the same thing she was attempting to tear down.
Listen closely to the words of Gabrielle Union and Gina Rodriguez, there lies the real problem in Hollywood and the world. The lack of color on the net-a-porter film crew is just a symptom of a larger systemic problem that Gabrielle, Gina, and all women of color face daily in their careers.