Depending on where you live it might be summer or coming on to summer. I’ve decided to review some lighter books as summer reading. The first book up is We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union. I kind of dismissed this book when it was first released and it was everywhere. There was a lot of media coverage with Union appearing on various talk shows discussing the book. I don’t dislike Union but I’m also not a big fan so I didn’t have plans to rush out and pick up the book. In addition, I’m usually not interested in books written by celebrities because I assume they’ll be fluffy and superficial.
In the case of We’re Going to Need More Wine I was actually a bit surprised when I finally picked up We’re Going to Need More Wine and began reading. Now it’s not War and Peace but We’re Going to Need More Wine touches on several deep issues with regards to gender, race, sexual assault, and sexuality among other topics that I really didn’t expect to be covered. Granted there’s also the expected discussion of dating, Hollywood gossip, tales of life on set. What you might expect from a Hollywood memoir but the book isn’t nearly as superficial as I assumed it would be.
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As it turns out Gabrielle Union was born in Omaha, Nebraska and her family has been living there for several generations. I don’t know many people from Midwestern states so for a long time I assumed that there were few if any Black people living in these states. After reading We’re Going to Need More Wine and a few others I’ve come to realize that my assumption was inaccurate. Union lived with her parents and siblings in Nebraska until about the age of seven. She grew up quite closely with her extended family which included her grandmother and some cousins around her age.
To be quite honest I don’t remember a lot about Union’s mother. She obviously raised Union and was present in her life but I just don’t remember a lot of the details about her beyond her coming across as artsy. Union’s mom sounded like any other mom and that’s not being negative but rather that there was no real drama with her. She loved and supported her kids and that was about it.
Her mother is described as having very light skin which was highly valued within the Union family. To be clear, Union’s mother didn’t seem to place any special value on her complexion. But rather the people around her did. As a child growing up Union’s experiences made her feel as though light-skinned women were treated differently. She saw that they were viewed as the standard of beauty which made Union quite insecure about her own dark brown complexion.
Omaha, Nebraska vs Pleasanton, California
When Union’s father had a job transfer to California, he moved the family to Pleasanton a suburb located about 30 minutes from the San Francisco Bay Area. I can’t remember if her mother previously lived in the Bay Area or had just visited but she wanted to move to Oakland to be near the art scene. Instead, Union’s father selected Pleasanton because a white co-worker had also moved to the area and he felt his family was just as worthy of living in Pleasanton as his white co-worker’s family.
In Omaha, Union had been surrounded by her extended family which was one of the area’s largest and oldest Black families. Within the local community, there were also quite a few other Black families and children. Yet upon moving to Pleasanton, Union became one of the few Black students at the schools she attended. Aside from her siblings and summer trips back to Omaha, Union had few Black friends from elementary through high school.
Like most teenagers Union dealt with insecurities and angst about fitting in and dating. Seeing that her mother’s light skin was regarded as a standard of beauty and being surrounded by White students at school, Union felt the need to assimilate. Through physical means and social behaviors, she attempted to fit in by trying to subdue her Blackness. She was successful and to some degree, her classmates overlooked her Blackness.
But the irony was that through ignoring and overlooking her Blackness, her classmates felt more comfortable making racist remarks and being prejudiced in her presence. She became a part of the “us” group but had the uncomfortable role of bearing witness and at times participating when they made fun of the other Black students regarded as “them”.
There are early signs of Union giving in to peer pressure and being a bully. Her father also pushed her to excel academically, athletically, and socially. This competitive streak and fierce desire to be accepted continued as Union became a self-admitted bully in adulthood.
Obviously there’s no one way to be Black because Black people are not a monolith. But it’s interesting that quite often media and people whether Black, White, or otherwise promote the idea that being Black involves personifying various stereotypes. Not having those traits renders a person “not Black enough.” And on the other end of the spectrum, some people aspire to not be seen as a Black stereotype by adopting stereotypical traits that are often associated with White people. Hence the phrase, “trying to act White.”
Hoping to maintain ties to the Black community Union’s mom made it a point to expose Union and her sisters to Black culture and Black people. A part of this initiative involved spending summer vacations back in Omaha with family. As Union grows up in the 80s, she chronicles seeing Omaha and the people she grew up with change as the crack epidemic made its way through the Midwest. It’s an often told story but sad nonetheless to hear about previously regular solid families falling apart because of issues related to crack use and crime. People that you’ve known to be decent doing things that you would have never imagined them being capable of.
Union’s high school years weren’t that different from most other teenagers so there wasn’t anything truly groundbreaking as it included teen angst, dating drama, and other shenanigans. But I was completely thrown off by the story of Queeshaun’s vendetta. There’s a riveting car chase that I thought was just crazy. I don’t want to give too much away but there’s being a stand-up friend and then there’s doing too much. By no means should you be stalking anyone on behalf of your friend’s honor, especially if your friend isn’t tripping nearly as hard about it.
Sprinkled throughout We’re Going to Need More Wine are Union’s views on sex and sexuality. She details her sexual development as a teen, her first sexual experience, and then additional experiences as an actress in Hollywood. Some of the language is a bit crass for teens (and people in general) but I agreed with her idea of discussing sex and sexuality with teens in an honest and open manner. Especially her points about talking to young men AND women to ensure that they’re comfortable with their sexuality and develop a healthy outlook on sex. It’s not incredibly graphic but if you’re offended by such topics this probably isn’t the book for you as Union is pretty blunt and straightforward.
Union was raped as a college student and We’re Going to Need More Wine details the experience and its aftermath. I’ve read and seen first-hand accounts of individuals who have been sexually assaulted. Obviously, the event itself is traumatic. But it’s been said that reporting the assault and going through the judicial process can feel like being violated for a second time.
It was eye-opening to read about the events leading up to the assault. And infuriating to learn that it might not have occurred if the presence of a predator had been widely shared and preventive security measures had been taken. It was all so frustrating and heartbreaking to read about the aftermath which included her family’s being made aware of the assault and how they dealt with it. As well as Union’s fear to leave her home, her participation in the prosecution of her attacker, and trying to re-adjust to life. It really made clear the importance of readily available resources, support for the victim, and the diligence of law enforcement and prosecutors.
A good portion of We’re Going to Need More Wine is dedicated to Union’s time in Hollywood building her career as an actress. Racism and ignorance in media is nothing new but reading about someone navigating this from a career perspective was a bit different. For example, it seems like a small issue but I’d never thought about the hair and makeup issues a Black actress might have on the set of a production with a majority white cast and staff. Looking young for your age is a good thing but being stuck in high school roles as a 30-year-old would be frustrating. Not to mention just the overall limited opportunities for challenging or big-budget roles and having your capabilities questioned.
Generally speaking I don’t care about the details of other people’s relationships so I wasn’t very into hearing about who Union dated in the past. Fortunately, while it’s covered to some degree she moved on to other topics before I became very bored. There are some boyfriends discussed but I don’t remember anyone aside from Jason Kidd and they dated in high school anyway so who cares about that.
She does spend quite a bit of time discussing her marriage and divorce from Christopher Howard, a former NFL running back. Honestly, the relationship sounded like a hot mess with infidelity and drama on both sides. This really only needed to be about one page as the relationship should have never made it to the point of becoming a marriage. But in a way, Union’s fighting to keep the relationship together despite everything point to the need for a breakup revealed a lot.
Union’s parents’ marriage was plagued with issues that eventually led to divorce. And that divorce actually happened several years after it they should have called it quits. There’s a key point here that children learn how to conduct themselves and how they should expect to be treated in a relationship from the adults around them, especially their parents. Children are at risk of internalizing, normalizing, and repeating negative relationship behaviors if that’s what they’re exposed to. This idea of holding on to a dead relationship at all costs to avoid feeling like a failure doesn’t do anyone any good.
And if the relationship was a dud and you’ve both moved on, why do you feel the need to go above and beyond in hopes of getting your ex’s approval? If we break up and there are no kids involved, we are done. I wish you all the best but we don’t need to hang out. I won’t take it as a slight if don’t want you to drop by my workplace when we’re in the same city. It’s cool, don’t even worry about it.
Union is currently married to Dwayne Wade, a superstar basketball player. Some topics are glossed over but Union dives deeply into her perspective and feelings about others.
In previous relationships Union was usually the breadwinner and seemed to pay for most things but the roles are reversed in her current relationship. I think pre-nuptials are a good idea but based on her description of events I understand her feelings of being somewhat ambushed with the negotiations. Granted, you only hear Union’s side of the story. But it seems like Wade is an absolute beast when it comes to his business and legal dealings. Not that I blame him.
A bonus of Union’s relationship with Wade is his sons from a previous marriage. It seems the kids were still relatively young when Union and Wade first got together. But as the kids get older the reality of them growing into being young black men in America comes with fear about their safety as they move through society. Due to their dad’s success as a basketball player, the kids live very privileged lives. Yet they aren’t famous in their own right so there is a concern when they move about in their wealthy community where there are few if any other Black families.
I don’t have any kids so I can only imagine the thought and consideration that Black people must put into deciding how and where they will raise their children. On the one hand, you would want your children to be raised in a safe neighborhood that offers all the resources and advantages that you can afford. But there’s also the question as a Black person about raising your children in a community where few if any other people look like them.
Depending on the city you live in there might be few options for raising your children in a predominantly black middle to upper-class neighborhood. If you want the best for your kids, do you raise them in a community that does not have all of the resources and advantages that you would like to provide? Or do you raise them in a community that has the resources you want but that might make your children feel unwelcomed and in danger?
At the time of the release of We’re Going to Need More Wine Union had no children of her own. A large part of the media attention that We’re Going to Need More Wine received focused on Union’s reveal that she had undergone several rounds of fertility treatments and suffered multiple miscarriages. Given traditional gender expectations, it’s easy to imagine how devastating it must have been to be unable to carry a child to full term. Yet as with other potentially uncomfortable topics that most would hide, Union shares her experience and feelings.
I don’t know if brave is the word but there’s definitely some risk in taking the chance to be honest and vulnerable about your hardships and difficulties. Most of us try to put our best foot forward and to present the best version of ourselves. I definitely give Union props for sharing her truth in We’re Going to Need More Wine because she didn’t have to. But her life experiences can serve as an opportunity to spark those hard conversations with others as well as inspiration for people who are struggling to cope with and overcome trauma and setbacks in life.
I recommend We’re Going to Need More Wine as a good summer read although it’s actually a good read at any time of year. We’re Going to Need More Wine balances serious topics with funny moments so you’ll be able to read it and reflect by yourself or discuss points of the book with others. But it’s not so heavy that it will get you down or throw you into a funk that makes you want to sit and brood. Its ebbs and flows match that late spring / early summer weather where it’s sunny one minute and raining the next. Drop it into your bag and it’s good company for luxuriating on the beach or poolside.
- Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism [Book Review]
- Coming of Age in Mississippi [Book Review]
- Watch Me Fly [Book Review]
- At the Dark End of the Street [Book Review]
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