Gabrielle Union on Inclusion: Let’s ‘Be Decent Humans’ | The American Word

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Gabrielle Union on Inclusion: Let’s ‘Be Decent Humans’

She is the first woman of color to be the All-American Weekend speaker


By
Belén Bonilla | 10/22/17 9:33pm
| Updated 10/22/17 9:33pm


Marguerite Tucker, Staff Photographer | AU Photo Collective

“I
was the girl so committed to assimilation that I would let racist jokes slide.”

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Last
night, Gabrielle Union spoke these words while standing in her womanhood at the
front of Bender Arena, addressing AU students and families on themes of sexual
assault and racism in America. After years of healing, fighting and overcoming
systems of oppression, the author, activist and actress refuses to let
discrimination take its course.

As
the first woman of color to serve as the Kennedy Political Union speaker for
All-American Weekend in the organization’s 50 year history, Union utilized her
platform to speak against the very inequities that isolated her throughout her
Hollywood career. Famous for her roles in “Think Like a Man,” “Cradle 2 the
Grave” and BET drama series “Being Mary Jane,” Union was upfront about some of
the challenges she has faced as a woman of color in white spaces – both in her
suburban neighborhood growing up and in the film industry.

“Our
blackness was something we had to suppress or get over,” Union said. “But
assimilation is a quick ticket to being invisible.”

Navigating
Hollywood, the actress found herself asking tough, complex questions about
blackness and her identity. At first, she feared being “othered” and
“eliminated.” But after years of overcoming stigmas surrounding “good hair” and
other narrow Eurocentric scopes of beauty, her advice to audience members
looking to make their way into the film industry was crystal clear: “You will
be called upon to make a choice and you’ll have to ask yourself – who am I?”

Speaking
about her experience as a victim of sexual assault and as a woman of color in
the film industry wasn’t something Union was always able to do. With confidence
and poise, Union used her unconcealed healing process to speak to allies of
traditionally marginalized communities.

“Being
a good ally is allowing the person who has experienced the hurt and pain to
lead you… everyone comes to healing in their own time,” Union said. “Be decent
humans.”

Now,
Union openly speaks on her experience, including in her recently released book,
“We’re Going to Need More Wine,” of which she provided 400 copies for AU
students and families in attendance. In an interview with American Word, Union
shared that her commitment to social justice and speaking out against
inequities comes, in part, from her mother’s commitment to families as a social
worker.

“She
decided from very early on that she wanted her girls to have a world
perspective and not a town perspective… that upbringing allows me to have a lot
more compassion and empathy than I would have had, had I had a different mom,”
Union said.

The
actress’s strength in coming forward to speak out against injustice last night
struck a chord with AU students and families.

“I
related a lot to her story,” Amina Niass, a junior in the College of Arts and
Sciences, said. “She put out there her own mistakes as part of her healing
process… there’s a lot that she went through to become who she is.”  

In
attendance with her family, Jela Lewter, a sophomore in the School of
Communication, said that Union’s words were inspiring to her.

“Talking
about blackness was really important to me,” Lewter said. “Going to a
predominantly white school, it’s really hard sometimes to feel like you fit in,
or to find the right people to hang out with… [Union] has found the people she
can confide in, so it gives me hope that I can still find those people at AU
and make connections that will last me a lifetime.”

But
Union’s message wasn’t just for students. She called out the parents, board
members and professors in the arena.

“Inclusion
isn’t just a seat at the table,” Union said. “Inclusion is people in positions
of power actually resembling the global community. As Hollywood has figured
out, inclusion is quite lucrative. So I challenge the adults in this room to
speak real inclusion.”

The
actress reminded audience members that they each have a role in challenging
inequities. “As individual voices we can be dismissed,” Union said. “But as a
collective, they can’t stop us.”