Gabrielle Union is back again with her second book, You Got Anything Stronger, which will be sure to match the success of her predecessor, We're Going to Need More Wine. Touching on topics often considered taboo or better left unsaid, Union doesn't shy away from the hard truths.
To break generational cycles or create a better sense of self-awareness, these conversations ranging from suicidal thoughts, hormonal changes, the peaks and valleys of marriage, journey to motherhood, ageism, and racism are essential and very much needed, especially in today's society.
But this shouldn't come as a surprise because, throughout her career, the Nebraska native is no stranger to using her influence through advocacy by raising awareness to advance change. 21Ninety virtually chatted with the New York Times best-selling author in a conversation that seemed like a continuation of a girl's night in or out, unfiltered, authentic, and necessary to refresh your mind and renew your spirit all while in good company.
21Ninety: In your latest book, you mention how balance doesn't exist, which I agree with. You also talk about extending grace to yourself. So have you been living up to it? Have you been able to extend grace to yourself the same way you extend it to others?
Gabrielle Union: It's a work in progress. I tend to be the hardest on myself. I live in the 'what ifs' and a thousand follow-up questions that will literally never materialize. I'm constantly thinking I'm going to disappoint somebody. I'm not going to have an answer. I'm not going to be everything to all people. And then I think, you don't have to, but sometimes it gets away from me, and you just kind of spin out.
Usually, something will happen where I have to slow down, like a gastrointestinal issue or something where you're reminded, 'okay, I need a solid minute.' And then you have a chance to take one, but you have to remember to hold on and calm down because although it doesn't feel that way, everyone will live if you just take some time for yourself and chill out.
21N: Self-care takes shape in many ways and forms. I also feel the phrase self-care has become a bit trendy, but that's my opinion. I'm curious, what is your definition of self-care?
GU: Oh, sleep, which should be pretty standard. But a lot of times, it's just not factored in at all on the schedule. I'll look at my schedule, and ask 'sleep, where's that?' Not only am I asking for eight hours, but I need 12 hours from the last thing that I do because I need to bring it down. I need to be able to meditate if I want to. I need to be able to literally sit there and do nothing or just play words with friends.
I'm talking about real rest, having the time before sleep to shut down, turn your brain off, and calm yourself down. The time before sleep I never really thought I needed, but now it's a luxury. And now that I'm saying it out loud that sleep and basic downtime is a form of self-care, it's weird and sad, kind of. It used to be when I had more time; I would have a spa day or take the whole day and do a bunch of random-ass treatments. But now, I don't have the time for the long luxuriating self-care, and sometimes I just need silence. That's a big one. Silence for me is self-care.
21N: Being a step-mom, becoming a mom, and speaking about your own mom along this motherhood journey, you are also parenting that inner child inside of you. Throughout this process, what are some things you've learned that your inner child both wants and needs to hear from you?
GU: First, you're going to be okay. You're beautiful, and you don't need anyone else to tell you that. You are more than enough, and you are worthy of every amazing thing that happens to you. You are not the worst thing that's happened to you or the worst things that have happened to you. It's okay to talk about it. It's okay, to be honest about what's happening, what happened, or how you feel.
Now I realize my vulnerability is my superpower. It is the best weapon I have. I can fight anything. I can slay any dragon through truth, transparency, and healing, but it's hard to get to that if you're like, 'I don't even want to tell my therapist the truth.' I would also tell myself, stop lying to your therapist. You're not going to get anywhere doing that.
21N: If someone is hesitant about enlisting professional help or going to therapy, what would be your advice for them?
GU: I get it. It's scary. And it's weird talking to a complete stranger about the deepest, darkest secrets or demons or challenges. It can feel counterintuitive. But sometimes, you need an outside voice that doesn't know you, and that doesn't know all of your challenges that can give you a different ear and an eye. There is so much light if you stick with it, but also, it's like dating. You meet someone, see if you vibe with them, and you don't even have to leave your house because you can do it over zoom.
If it doesn't work, it's okay. Try someone else that you can vibe with, but don't stop, just because the first match wasn't quite right. You can reject a therapist. They've been rejected before, and they're okay. You don't have to stick with somebody that you don't feel gets you. I know for many people of color and certainly, Black women, when you have a non-Black woman therapist, it feels like you spend half the session explaining blackness. You have to kind of explain history to bring them up to speed, to know why the microaggressions are overwhelming or affecting the quality of your life or whatever it is.
21N: We all know your accolades and professional achievements as an actress, executive producer, best-selling author, and activist. Outside of that, what kind of woman do you aspire to be?
GU: Free. I'm working on being emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically free. And hopefully physically. When I started the process of unlearning all of the things that I was so deeply invested in, like centering the white gaze, white validation, and white comfort, I started freeing myself of those too. I started thinking:
Who would I have been?
Who could I have been if I hadn't been centering on someone else's comfort, opinion, or validation my entire life?
What would I have been interested in?
What would I have pursued?
What other loves would I have had?
But I wasn't free. You have to survive, and part of our survival, as people of color have been centered around the benevolence of white folks, what they allow us to have, where they allow us to live, what they allow us to drive, and how they allow us to move. It wasn't even something I questioned. You fully assimilate, and you do all of the things they say you have to do in order to be successful to live in this community and do this, that, and the other. But in the process, it erodes your soul. It erodes your being at every step. I have the luxury of seeking a different kind of freedom, and I want to raise free girls. It just never dawned on me, which is sad to say, until relatively recently.
21N: I know it's not easy to discuss, but how do you find the courage, or where do you draw your source of courage to openly and honestly speak about being raped?
GU: I think initially it was a sense of duty, and I didn't feel like I had a choice. I talk about it a bit in both books about how I was kind of outed in a sense. There are rape shield laws, but when they describe you and your attacker as Black and give your age, it's just a process of elimination in my little town. I never felt I had the luxury of privacy in any way or at any stage. I know that I'm not alone in this. In my own little group of friends, over 50% of our crew has been raped.
I felt I had a responsibility, and, for a very long time, I would literally feel like I had to throw up. Sometimes I did. Every time I talked about it, it was like poison in my body, trying to come out every time and every time it was scary. But I felt I had a duty as someone, as a Black woman in the spotlight with a microphone in her face. I can talk about who's a better kisser, but I prefer to maybe give you some information that might be able to save your life or might be able to make you feel like you're part of a larger community and that you're not drowning in plain sight. It's also part of being free.
With rape, it keeps happening. It lives, and it comes out and shapeshifts. Just when you think you've conquered the demon, it looks like something else. As I'm changing and growing and the demons are changing and growing, it's important to continue to be honest about that change. It's not like one day I woke up, and I'm like, 'oh, I'm amazing. This is awesome.' It's something that you have to deal with over and over and over again. I'd rather be the person that is super transparent about that and save some other people from feeling like they're being forced into being a spokesperson for sexual assault when maybe they're not particularly ready for that.