Supermodel and former host of Bravo’s long-running hit show, Project Runway, Heidi Klum, ruffled some feathers, including mine, when she recently offered her comments on the controversial exit of actress and former America’s Got Talent judge, Gabrielle Union.
Union made headlines some weeks ago, when it was announced that she and Julianne Hough weren’t expected to return to their gigs at NBC’s staple talent show.
Things got even more interesting when it was revealed that Union was possibly pushed out for being vocal about the behind-the-scenes toxic culture, that included normalized racist jokes, and the indignity of being shamed for her grooming preferences, that were inappropriately deemed “too black.”
Since human resources refused to address the problematic issues that Union presented, it appears that the convenient solution for NBC was to get rid of the “troublemaker,” who dared to challenge the status quo.
It’s also worth noting that Hough vehemently denies the claims by her former colleague about the “toxic culture” fueled by AGT, and instead graciously expressed her gratitude for the experience and optimism for what lies ahead.
It was very telling and not all surprising that Julianne Hough, a privileged White woman, was demonstratively reluctant to support the “angry Black woman,” who is being loud about unapologetically sharing her truth.
And while Union is negotiating a fair compromise worthy of her station with the bigwigs at NBC and the assigned production companies, another commentator with close ties to the popular variety show, and its superstar, Simon Cowell, is publicly delivering another punch in the face of the brave Black woman, she’s refuting.
Klum was invited to the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour to showcase her new Amazon series, Making the Cut, and it only made sense that she would be questioned about Gabrielle Union and the messiness of her abrupt departure from the same judges table that Klum hosted.
Her response was direct and predictably biased, as she unequivocally showered praises on the show’s producers, and vouched for the workable environment, as the counter to what Union boldly stated and still maintains in her defense.
“I can’t speak for [Gabrielle].” “I didn’t experience the same thing. To me, everyone treats you with utmost respect. I’ve never seen anything that was weird or hurtful.”
For more clarity, Klum is currently co-hosting America’s Got Talent: The Champions, a spinoff that premiered about a year ago, and also features Simon Cowell, as one of the prominent judges.
There’s no doubt that her strong ties to the lucrative franchise and close proximity to Cowell, who developed the winning model for AGT, which essentially makes him virtually untouchable, is the sole reason why Klum is eager to shoot down the rumors of bad behavior on set.
Klum even goes as far as to incoherently explain Cowell’s signature humor, with the weird premise of how it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but she’s witty enough to get where he’s coming from, and not take offense.
The glaring takeaway is that it takes a flexible team player without an attitude when it comes to reaping the benefits of staying employed at Simon Cowell’s lair of dysfunction.
Heidi Klum is a white woman who doesn’t have much to lose in high-stakes situations that cater to her specific comfort level. Gabrielle Union is a Black woman, who is consistently set up to fail, based on the rule book that most professional spaces dictate. She has to watch her back because nobody else will.
Days after Klum’s not so subtle rebuttal, there was the need to release a more comprehensive statement to combat the intense backlash that erupted from the insinuation that Union was playing victim after being unceremoniously dropped.
“I am aware that my experience may not be the same as Gabrielle’s. What I can tell you is that I am a fierce advocate for all people, no matter their race, age, religion, gender, or sexuality. Everyone should be treated equally and with utmost respect.”
That’s quite a turnaround. When she was initially probed about the ongoing tensions between Union, who has amassed more than two decades as a working actress in an industry that doesn’t encourage Black women to thrive, and the network that tried but failed to screw her over, Klum bluntly offered her side of the story with transparent allegiance to her employers.
She even went as far as to provide examples of how Simon Cowell can be playfully offensive, which she and her co-workers accommodate because of the light-hearted setting.
But these days, celebs can’t get away with shit, and Klum quickly rearranged her words by saying what she should’ve said the first time. Instead of sharing her truth as “the truth,” in order to not jeopardize her income, it would’ve been appreciated if she had been honest, but also respectful of Union’s experience.
This is where the audacity of White feminism gets tricky due to betrayals and the lethality of white women weaponizing their ability to profess their white victimhood above the real and present atrocities that plague their less fortunate counterparts.
“Personally, I have experienced very hurtful things while being married to a man of color and having three beautiful children with him. While everyone’s challenges are different, I want nothing more than for a just world and for people to be kinder to one another.”
Here’s the thing, Heidi Klum is basically unbothered and unsympathetic about Union’s plight, and the very public way in which it’s playing out. Her brand of feminism only permits her to maximize the spotlight to her advantage by proving how she’s a better team player, compared to the salty Black woman, who had to be dismissed.
And when she was criticized for dishonorably downplaying Union’s tangible concerns with Cowell & Co., she goes into defense mode by acknowledging that she can’t endorse Union’s testimony, but still believes that “everyone should be treated equally and with the utmost respect.”
Klum also praises her efforts when it comes to being a “fierce advocate” for equality, and then takes the detour to her own personal woes as a victim of meanness from people who hated the image of a white supermodel procreating with a famous Black singer.
Nobody should be subjected to any form of verbal abuse, and when Klum declares her wish for a world where “people are kinder to one another,” we wholeheartedly agree.
However, the scenario that Klum was asked to comment on, doesn’t involve “the whole world” or require the sly insertion of her past entanglements with mean-spirited strangers who didn’t approve of her interracial family.
It’s really about an accomplished Black woman, and fellow A-lister, who deserved the allyship from the white woman who chose to be cooly distant, until she was called out by the crowd who saw right through the veil of self-righteousness.
And even when she was given another chance to redeem herself, she proceeded to beg for empathy by making it all about her.
Feminism should be about empowerment and the dutiful recognition of how no one’s pain is greater or lesser because the complexities of womanhood become that much more layered, when you consider the factors of inequality stemming from historical crimes that go beyond the grips of white feminism.
When Heidi Klum gave Gabrielle Union the cold shoulder by refusing to pay homage to the Black woman who is currently fighting for owed justice, it reiterates the scornfulness of white feminism as it pertains to how white women never fail to leave us holding the bag.
Defending non-white women can only happen if white victimhood takes centerstage as proof of how their pain can’t be overshadowed.
It’s exhausting to keep pointing this out, but like the women of color who never quit, despite the never-ending battle for the retention of integrity, we won’t miss the opportunity to shame the type of feminism that willfully devalues the worth of those who don’t apply.
Even if it’s typical.