Amid these historic times, Gabrielle Union is teaching her children that they are enough exactly as they are.
As the Black Lives Matter movement forges ahead in the wake of several killings of Black men and women by police, the reality of what it is like to be a Black person in America is in the national spotlight. However, before the movement captivated global attention, the coronavirus pandemic was already rampant and forcing people into their homes, a reality Black people had already long experienced, Union pointed out in her June digital cover story for Self.
"I read somewhere on Twitter today, somebody said that Black folks and marginalized folks have been sheltering in place for centuries because we know it's always been safer at home than out in the streets, and we were doing that before the pandemic," Union told Self on May 8, weeks after the shootings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and before George Floyd's death and the national unrest that followed. "It's that fear that so many marginalized mothers have, when their children are physically outside of their eyesight. And in these times, there are no rules. Nothing makes sense. Laws are not enforced, or they're unevenly enforced, and people are getting away with breaking the law with impunity. You don't even know what to say, because the hypocrisy is just rampant."
The following month, amid ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and calls for police reform, Union told Self, "We are feeling a lot of different things right now. Personally, I'm anxious, I'm depressed, I'm enraged, I'm heartbroken. I'm experiencing so many different feelings that these words don't even carry the weight of it all. Waking up each morning to the non-stop murder of my brothers and sisters is excruciatingly painful. There's terror in my body. As a family, we are all trying to cope. We are open with each other about the mixed feelings we are having and talk about the ways in which we can help bring attention to the lives that have been lost but also how we can help create real change to a system so inherently wrong across the board."
As mom to daughter Kaavia, stepdaughter Zaya, stepsons Zaire and Xavier and "neph-son" Dahveon, she is also teaching her and husband Dwayne Wade's kids that they are worthy and do not need to "shape shift" to put others at ease, a change from how she herself was raised.
"Basically, if you subscribe to respectability politics, that is your pathway to success and safety," she said of her own parents' standpoint. However, as she told Self, "You cannot price your way out of, educate your way out of, move yourself away from racism, anti-Blackness, discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia...All of those things exist no matter how successful you are. No matter how you speak. They exist. So this idea of teaching our children to constantly be shape-shifting to make themselves more palatable or less scary for people who are committed to oppressing you anyway, no matter what you do, I rejected it. I started to reject that."
Union's approach, instead, has been teaching them "to always center joy, peace, grace, compassion, understanding, and to be a good neighbor and global citizen, but that you are worthy and deserving and validated by birth, by the fact that you exist," she told Self. "And that is absolutely enough, and if it's not enough for someone, that's not someone that you need to be worried about. Because [...] you can do all of these things and constantly be monitoring yourself and worrying about what you're saying or doing, and the reality is that if someone has racist or bigoted or anti-Black sentiments, it's actually not going to change if you have a three piece suit on, or you have a Harvard sweatshirt on, or if you're driving a nice car, or if you speak the Queen's English. It's not our job to be educating people who could easily google, because they are committed to being willfully ignorant. I free you of that."
As she put it, "I didn't want to put the same thing on our kids as what we put on me."
"All I can ask of my kids is to be good people, but not to shape shift constantly, out of a fear of scaring someone that's committed to being afraid," Union told Self. "When you realize how many decades I wasted trying to be something else, and centering fear that is unfounded, and rooted in racism and anti-Blackness. So I'm not putting that on my kids. And having the talk is to now have really brutally honest conversations, you know, about what it is. And also to be really clear about [the fact that] real friends don't need you to prove your goodness by sameness."