Gabrielle Union has appeared in everything from Bring It On to the award-winning BET drama Being Mary Jane, a TV show for which she won the NAACP Image Award. She is also the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir We’re Going to Need More Wine and the children’s book Welcome to the Party and remains one of the leading celebrity activists on issues surrounding violence against women, women’s health, gender equality, and racism.
In our latest Cut Chat, the talented multi-hyphenate speaks with Cut Instagram editor Nana Agyemang about everything from the relationship between motherhood and one’s career — “no one tells you the truth about any of it!” — to how her latest collaborative collection with New York & Company was inspired by the “beauty within the Black community” and her thoughts on the “seat at the table” trope.
Nana Agyemang: You’ve mentioned before that you loathe the statement “seat at the table”: “Come join the seat at the table”; “be a token at the table.” Can you expand and tell us why?
Gabrielle Union: I’m sure you’re familiar with the amazing model Ebonee Davis. She tweeted last night, “I’ve never thought of myself as exceptional if I’ve been the only Black person in a space. I’ve only just felt alone.” And I retweeted that, and I was like, Oh, facts.
Nana: I mean, it’s speaking to my soul.
Gabrielle: Right? And it’s the same way about that table that people talk about — that proverbial table. I don’t want to be at a table that I’m not welcome at. If you’ve been barricading the door this whole time, I don’t want to be the first Black lady through the door. They didn’t want you there. They put hammer to nail to barricade that door to keep you out. They don’t want you there. You are not empowered. Even if you were at that table, you are not listened to, [and] you are othered. You think you have a seat at that table? You’re not even in the building. So my suggestion is: Let’s torch this table and start anew — torch the whole house — or let’s build a new house with new tables, with enough chairs and tables and La-Z-Boy’s for everybody. Because fighting to be the chip in the cookie where I’m going to be othered and I won’t be listened to and I’ve got to be human Google, racial Google, [and] I’m going to have an additional thousand jobs to do in addition to the one I’m actually paid to do? I’m cool. I’m cool with your table. And I don’t get off on being the magical Negro. I don’t want to be the Black shield that people point to when your diversity and inclusion numbers are crap. I don’t want [them] to be like, “But we’ve got Gab!” No, ma’am. No, sir. No, no, no, no. And if I’m at that table and if I find myself the only one, I’m going to not be the only one for long, [and] I’m going to kick and scream the whole time to make damn sure that the next person feels safe, is protected, listened to, appreciated, will get promotions for the work that they’ve done, and they will be paid and respected as such. Imagine being the only one, and you’ve got to do your job, that, and a thousand other things?
Nana: Oh, yeah. Because they’re not going to learn.
Gabrielle: Yeah. I’m cool on that table. I’m cool on that room. I’m going to try to do something else. People are like, “You don’t stop.” And I’m like, “No, I can’t.” Because when we get out of this quarantine, whenever that is, I want to make sure I have done my part to create as many projects — not for me, but to get as many people of color from marginalized communities back working in front of and behind the camera. And I’m going to bust my hump to make sure that we center the most marginalized of us. And if we all do our part, then, hopefully, as this reckoning is happening, we can reimagine all of these industries radically differently.
To hear more about Union’s thoughts on Hollywood — and, more broadly, America — in the midst of our current social and political reckoning, the importance of accountability, and her daughter Kaavia James’s epic social-media account, watch the full video now, both above and on Instagram.