Here is a little disclosure about me, I don’t generally like autobiographies. I find that they can be terribly dull and full of pomp. I know I read The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish, but if you’ll remember, I also said that the writing left much to be desired. But Gabrielle Union's book We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and Are True was a delight to read! It was finished before I was.
Within this book, there were so many nuggets can could be the area of focus. We could talk about how we pretend to be something/someone we are not so that we can fit into various groups. We could also talk about what can happen to a relationship when our significant others' family doesn't like us. We can talk about the impacts of sexual assault, being with the wrong person, or finding the right person. But what I want to talk about is the process by which Gabrielle Union, not only created a wholly new unit with her husband, Dwayne Wade, but also what her experience in Blackness confirms and re-teaches us.
At the very beginning of this book, Gabrielle explains the way in which she will tell us of her experiences. She pretty much goes in chronological order of her life, while also delving into what they mean in the context of living and learning in America. As a never-gonna-be-considered-a-light-skinned-woman female, I feel like I can hold on to her experiences just a little more than I could for someone who has light skinned privilege. This for me is as important a distinction as knowing that the experience of Black women is different than the experience of white women and other Women Of Color (WOC). It matters because there are levels to privilege in this country. While ALL women are generally, second class citizens, WOC are more likely to be further disrespected and disadvantaged due to their race. While WOC are disrespected due to their race, there still exists (across ethnic status) a general anti-Blackness. When you are Black, you are the “anti.” You are the very essence of what people do not want to be, so that they can hold some status of being privileged. For me, the story of say..Paula Patton would be very different from Gabrielle Union. Yes, both are women of color. Both may even identify as Black women. But one of those women is walking around wearing the gown of light skinned and hair texture privilege that the other can’t even walk into the store to purchase. These are made to order gowns, that are hard as hell to remove. It’s not anyone’s “fault” that some people get to wear it and others don’t, but I think it’s safe to say there are advantages (financial and otherwise) that come with being able to wear that particular privileged gown.
Anyway, I found that the general life experiences of Gabrielle Union were completely relatable. Her formative years seemed to be spent trying to fit in, but with the Blackness rules in tact. She shed pieces of herself to fit in with the rich white kids of her school. She cloaked herself in Blackness when she was around her own. And she maintained the idea that she would need to work twice as hard to get half as far. She also understood that it would often be her perverse pain (and pleasure?) to be the representative of the entire Black race, in spaces where many white folks are gathered. Many people have their story about how they change the outward essence of who they are to be with various crowds. Lots of people, but perhaps fewer than the many who change themselves, remember the moment when that stopped being the case. For me, one of the many times this metamorphosis happened was in high school. When I realized that I didn’t like quite as many people as I thought I should. And when I got to the point where I realized I wouldn’t be with those people forever, I said “fuck it, I am gonna do me.” And I did. I stopped worrying about what the people thought of me and did what was ME--reading, loving my family, eating, etc. Gabrielle Union, my twin, also experienced something similar. Her’s also seemed to happen in stages, with one of the most obvious forms of the metamorphosis coinciding with the writing of this book.
Gabrielle talked about how her skin tone kept her from certain roles, from fitting in completely with her white friends, who couldn’t understand her experience. She spoke about her self-esteem and tearing down other people to feel better about herself; tactics that did not actually work. But what I am most humbled by her sharing is her black experience as someone with money (and fame), and trying to buy the feeling of safety of her neighbors as a way to barter for her life and the life of her husband and step-sons.
The (Other) Talk
In the Black Community we have “The Talk.” This talk is not the one about sex and sexuality and growing into your body and all that Jazz. That Talk seems to hardly happen for some because people are scared and nervous to talk about sex with their kids because it seems taboo. This Talk I’m talking about was featured on the tv show Blackish. It’s the Talk folks give to their children to remind them that the world hates them. The talk that emphasizes that outside of the sanctity of their home, others, usually white others will see them as a threat. Black folk and anyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, and/or a mind to understand will know that this is very much the case. I am not sure that evidence is needed but let’s consider that in the second week of April a young boy was shot at asking for directions to school. Shot at because they felt there was a threat to them. Shot because a black boy walked up to ask a question. From a neighbor. About school. Because when white people move into black neighborhoods, they do so with fear in their hearts. Because they want to “improve” the neighborhood through gentrification. Again, I digress. Also, in the second week of April, two black men were arrested for...are you ready? Sitting inside a Starbucks waiting for someone with whom they would talk business. This post isn’t about lamenting that Black People can’t seem to do shit without consequences that are disproportionate to their respective “crimes.” This prose is literally about “The Talk" we have to have. Now most people people of color may recognize that this Talk usually happens with children but I want to give a perspective that may not be as discussed. Having “The Talk” with lovers, partners, husbands, and wives.
I am nobody’s wife (yet) but I am partnered but I am having this Talk. As a Sex and Relationship Therapist in the Washington D.C. metro area, I am also seeing people who are having this Talk with their significant and non-significant others. People of color are spending an inordinate amount of time trying to remind people they care for or are starting to care for, to be careful. I, myself, remind my partner to be wise when out so that he can return to me. I ask that hoodies be left alone and the he try to have the keys out and ready when he wants to get in the car.
In Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going To Need More Wine she talks about dropping a “Black Bomb” on Dwayne with regards to their kids. “Black Bombs” are much like The Talk, where the realities of Blackness are told to those who are Black to teach them the “rules” that could guide their general safety and allow them to return to their families. Now, I won’t tell you the specifics, but the idea here was that while at their Florida home (a stand your ground state) Dwayne allowed the boys to go out in the late evening (like 9/10pm). Gabrielle had forbidden it the day before because they are 2 black boys, who are taller than your average, and could be another statistic or hashtag. But it doesn’t end there, she talks about trying to consistently get the boys to understand the realities of being Black boys in a society that hates Black people. It seems that her role, in many ways is to remind them that though they have the privilege of money, that money doesn’t necessarily buy safety for Black bodies which are still reviled. Funnily enough, in another chapter, Gabrielle Union, Dropper of Bombs, tries to buy the feeling of safety for her Chicago neighbors with mittens!
Gabrielle, I can call her that, she is my twin after all, speaks about bundling up in the dead of winter while in Chicago. In trying to get past 2 neighbors, who managed to block the sidewalk, she practiced what she was going to say to be considered a non-threatening negro. It didn't work. They saw her skin color and blanched, maybe even calling her a thug. And the next time Gab went out, she changed up her routine and put on mitten because “thugs don’t wear mittens.” That point had me rolling on the floor--okay in my bed-- with laughter. I literally thought about how she was going to erase centuries of discrimination and anti-Blackness with mittens, which she then says a few pages later! I told yall we are twins!
To the point: I often wonder about the difference between men and women. Women are told the world is unsafe and they should be aware from a young age. We are taught and conditioned to be aware of the rapists and sexual assaulters who lurk in the dark. We are told to beware of the purse snatchers. As such, we have also been given pretty explicit instructions on how to NOT become a victim. The instructions are fairly simple, if not completely sexist and inconvenient; don’t get drunk at parties, have your keys in your hand before you get to you car, immediately lock the doors, park under a light where you can be seen, don’t walk anywhere alone, cross your purse around your body. If shit really goes wrong, don’t resist if someone wants something from you, even your body, as long as they don’t try to take you anywhere. Men, on the other hand, are told and shown that they are generally safe in their male bodies. The only thing is for Black men, it seems like it can be a warring between two realities. The reality of being a man and having a certain level of “guaranteed” safety. And the reality that for Black men it’s more the skin that is considered the sin, not so much the body itself.
Dwayne thought of letting the boys out at night, as a way of cutting the parental strings. Of letting them show they were capable young men who can go out and return with no issue. Gabrielle, having been told all her life that her female body is an unsafe sin, and her color will get her killed to boot, who has also had said body violated, had a completely different take. Could this be part of the problem? Is there a juxtaposition in being in the “right body but being the “wrong” color? Does being in the “wrong” body automatically make you more aware? Is it the socialization of girls that makes us more aware? I don’t know.
The DOC’s Recommendation
You should have already gotten the book before you even finished reading this! This is one that has re-read value in my opinion. I may have to use this book for another book review! So yes, my suggestion is to read this one. Buy it, if you are a person who purchases books. If you really gotta try it on before you decide to take it home, the library is always a great (free) place to start.
Let’s keep the conversation going! What "Black Bombs" do you drop on your loved ones?