I don’t think I had ever heard of Gabrielle Union before this book came out. I had seen “10 Things I Hate About You,” but to be honest, that was ages ago and I don’t remember her part in it, and I hadn’t seen much else she’d been in. But this book was everywhere when it first came out and how could I not be intrigued by that title?
It’s a memoir in which Union covers her childhood, her family life, her parents’ marriage and eventual divorce, her own dating life and two marriages, race, sexual assault, life as a black actress in Hollywood these days, dealing with infertility (especially when you’re under the public microscope), and raising black boys in America today. It’s a lot. And yet I breezed through this audiobook because it’s not very long and it was a delight to listen to. Union had me laughing and crying – often at the same time.
When she was a kid, Union’s dad decided to move them from a mostly black community in the Midwest to a mostly white community in California. Her mom didn’t want to make the move, but her dad saw it as a way of moving up in the world and he was in charge so they made the move. This left Union and her sister in a kind of limbo where they were too dark to really fit in at their new school, and too “white” to fit in when they visited relatives back home.
Union also talks about having to deal with classmates using the word “n—er” at school because they didn’t know better. Towards the end of the book, she contrasts that with her stepsons who have to deal with kids at their school who should know better, but still use the word when singing along with songs that include it, which they think gives them permission to use it.
Union has a chapter in which she very bluntly describes how she was raped at gunpoint while working her part-time job at her local Payless Shoe Store. It’s not easy to listen to.
She later discovered her attacker had targeted other Payless locations, that her employer had known about it, and they still hadn’t bothered to install security cameras in the store where she worked or taken any other precautions. She successfully sued them for negligence.
Union describes, not just the rape, but it’s aftermath. Her family discovering what, exactly had happened, and how everyone treated her afterwards. It’s clear the look in her father’s eyes continues to haunt her to this day at least as much as the attack itself.
At the same time, she rightly counts herself lucky because no one discredited anything she said. There was a police investigation and she was given the support she needed. She wasn’t in a situation where she had to continue to work or go to class with her attacker. She’s also right in saying none of this should make her lucky. This should all be standard, and while I’m glad everyone responded appropriately to her rape, I do still mourn every day for the countless women who are discredited, shunned, intimidated, and threatened into silence.
Marriage and Self-Worth
Union also talks pretty openly about her first train-wreck of a marriage and her second, much healthier marriage. There were clearly problems in her first marriage before they even walked down the aisle, but after they got engaged and announced it to everyone, she had too much pride to back down. I can totally understand that, but after a few months, I would have sucked it up and gotten out of there rather than deal with the mess that followed.
Between her marriages, Union hired a life coach who helped her through issues and learn to respect and honor herself. I liked Union so much in this book that it was hard to reconcile the person I was listening to with the self-described mean girl she says she used to be. But she got help to recognize where that meanness was coming from, did the work, and came out the other side a better person. She’s also upfront in recognizing that her own self-loathing was a contributing factor to her failed marriage. As her coach put it, how was she supposed to find someone to make her happy if she didn’t know what made her happy?
I always love hearing Hollywood gossip and this book was no different. Union talks about everything from Heath Ledger to Prince and the lasting effects they had on her. She describes auditions where she only sees black girls because they’re all auditioning for the same roles. This leaves Hollywood a very segregated place, which is only compounded by the fact that the decision makers tend to be overwhelmingly white.
It wasn’t until she got invited to one of Prince’s parties that Union found herself surrounded by people of all races (including some of Hollywood’s elite, such as Whitney Houston). She talks about the importance of including people of all races in these kinds of get togethers and the fact that Prince was really the only one to do it.
Watching Gabrielle Union
After talking about how much I loved this book, a friend of mine recommended I watch “Deliver Us from Eva,” another take on “The Taming of the Shrew” starring Union and LL Cool J. I watched it. It was cute. It was very 90s/early 2000s. I didn’t love it, but I liked it and I can see how I may have loved it if I had encountered it earlier. Union does a good job as the “shrew” and LL Cool J is charming as her costar. I especially loved the relationship between Eva and her sisters. She has sacrificed everything for them and they know it., which is why they sometimes let Eva come between them and their men. Because nothing is more important than family and I have to love a movie that shows that.
I have yet to see “Breaking In,” but I really, really want to. Have any of you seen it? Is it awesome?