If You Aren’t Buying Black This Holiday Season, Gabrielle Union Wants To Know What You’re Even Doing
Black-owned businesses are in trouble. In the midst of a racial injustice reckoning and a social media push to #BuyBlack this year, you may have thought otherwise. But just as the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black people when it comes to health and income, its impact on Black businesses has been devastating.
Gabrielle Union wants to change that — especially during the holidays.
“When you're faced with this super sobering statistic that almost 50% of Black-owned businesses will not survive this pandemic, so many of us just wanted to do something proactive about amplifying Black-owned businesses,” Union tells R29Unbothered over the phone from her bathroom (she laughs as she explains her location is due to the fact that she’s taking down her braids). “We want to encourage others to shop Black to try to save as many businesses as possible... Let’s keep Black dollars in Black communities.”
Union has teamed up with Facebook for its #BuyBlack campaign and will be joining the finale of their Friday series (Kawhi Leonard, Marsai Martin, Prentice Penny, Sloane Stephens, and musical guests DJ D-Nice and Miguel will also appear) which aims to motivate people to spend Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year, supporting Black businesses. Union hopes people keep that same energy through the entire holiday season. “It's not that serious to share your platform whether you have 100 followers or 100 million followers,’ she says. “It's really not that hard just to tag a business.”
We want to encourage others to shop Black to try to save as many businesses as possible... Let’s keep Black dollars in Black communities.
Union knows firsthand how much harder it is to be on the other side, considering she’s an entrepreneur herself and just relaunched her hair care line Flawless by Gabrielle Union after the company went through a rocky start in 2017. Here, she talks more about #BuyBlack, refocusing Flawless after failure, her new show about Black women and financial freedom, and how the Union-Wade household is spending Thanksgiving.
Refinery29: #BuyBlack is a movement, not a moment. But since the racial reckoning this past summer, it feels like people were treating it like a trend. Are you worried the call to action has died down since then?
Gabrielle Union: “For those folks, I think it was a trend and they didn't want to get "cancelled" (I'm using my finger quotes) because they didn't support Black people or lives, and it was very obvious. They hustled out their one Black friend to stick on their timeline and then that was it. The rest of us who are not new to this, but true to this; we're doing more of the same and trying to pull more people in to be consistent messengers about shopping at Black-owned businesses. We need to help generate more Black wealth.”
“You'll get performances and you'll get messages from different celebrities and gift guides if you didn't know where to start. It’s just really a celebration of us and a celebration of our entrepreneurship and our businesses. A lot of people feel like they want to shop local and they're trying to support local businesses, but how do you do that and save face during a pandemic? The beauty of this is that we’re encouraging folks to shop at smaller local Black-owned businesses from the safety of their own home, and then to tell a friend about it. If there was something that you love, talk about it. If we're going to shop anyway, shop Black. Mostly, we’re going to try to keep it full of positive affirmations and entertainment. We’re hoping to bring in people who somehow thought buying from Black-owned businesses was hard or cumbersome. We're trying to eliminate all of the obstacles.”
Is there one business of the Buy Black Friday gift guide that you’re excited about?
"One of them I'm amplifying on the Flawless platform with our initiative Lift As We Climb, which is using our platform and our resources to bring along other Black-owned businesses, is BLK and Bold. It's a coffee and tea company that I'm obsessed with and our whole household is obsessed with."
You recently relaunched your Flawless hair care line. Any advice for other Black women and brands looking to relaunch or expand themselves after a challenging start?
"Embrace humility about what went wrong and lean into that. There is zero shame in saying, Woops, screwed the pooch on that one. And saying I am committed to doing better and I'm willing to listen and I'm willing to learn and I'm willing to somehow decentre myself to get that knowledge so I can relaunch stronger, better, and more efficiently. A lot of it just starts with humility and getting over the fear of public failure, because a lot of times we want to slap a ribbon on a piece of shit and it’s like, no, no, no, you just stuck a ribbon on a piece of shit."
"I don't want to lie to anybody, I want to be as transparent as possible. When I first launched [Flawless], it was not Black-owned— it was Black-fronted— and it showed. We were not accessible. We were not affordable. We did not lean into new innovation and better ingredient stories or healthy hair. I got that wrong, period. I've led with that. My advice is to just lead with the truth. It's scary for a lot of people because there is a fear of the truth not setting you free, but instead putting a shackle on you. But, I think what we underestimate with our consumers is the appreciation for honesty. It’s like, “don't bullshit us. We get enough bullshit from everywhere else.” The truth is always a nice surprise, especially from businesses that you truly want to support. Do not be defensive about the struggle."
Being a working Black actress doesn't mean the same as being a working white actress... Me and Julia Roberts have never had the same financial plan.
It was just announced that Showtime is developing New Money, your show with Jemele Hill and Kelley Carter about Black women with financial independence. I know you can't tell us a lot about this show, but it is made by and for Black women and it's about money. That’s so exciting. Why were you drawn to the project and why do you think that story that needs to be told?
"I've just been a friend and a fan of Kelley's forever, and then obviously, my love of sports, and I love a woman who uses her platform and her time with the microphone to talk about shit, so I love Jemele. I wanted to work with my friends who also can relate to being the first generation [in your family] to have any kind of money, and I'm not talking about where I'm at today. I'm talking about the bulk of my career. Being a working Black actress doesn't mean the same as being a working white actress. Our money is still way more than most of our family, but it's not the bazillions that people think. Me and Julia Roberts have never had the same financial plan."
"[The show] is going to be able to talk about how being the first generation to have some money changes the dynamic and it really forces you to understand that a lot of people's love is very conditional on what you are doing for them and what they feel like they’re entitled to. There's so much to cover with this topic, and to be able to do it with people who mean so much to me personally, it's just exciting. I'm pumped about the stories we're going to tell. We've been working on this for over a year, so we're excited to finally announce it."
"It is a group effort like we’ve had to do all through quarantining, whether that's taking care of Kaavia, or getting Zaya through virtual school. We've relied on our village. Our immediate village expanded because we moved my mom, who's 73 and her adopted three children, (two teens and a preteen), and my niece out here with us. We moved [my husband Dwayne]'s mom out here with us. The older boys are home from school. So, our village is bursting at the seams. Everyone's doing a little something."
"I'm doing my— I call it famous, but it's only famous to me— candied ham that I do from a recipe that my grandmother, mom and my aunt have done for decades. I put my own twist on it and I love it. It smells amazing, I will say that."
Does Kaav understand holidays yet?
"No. Not at all. She hated her birthday. She was like, “I don't understand.” She only liked her birthday when people left. Then she was like, "Balloons!” So, no, she has no concept [laughs]."
This intense year is finally almost over. What are you leaving behind in 2020 and demanding in 2021?
"I'm leaving behind shame. Yes, I have been listening to Brené Brown. I'm leaving behind shame and I am running toward being a cheetah. Yes, I've been listening to Glennon Doyle. I've been reading Untamed like a reference guide. Shame ain't nobody's friend and I’m embracing the unlearning of being untamed, of being truly untamed and what that means and could look like for my future."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The finale of “#BuyBlack Friday” will air on Friday, Nov. 27 at 9 p.m GMT on Facebook’s Lift Black Voices hub. Be sure to join @R29Unbothered at 10 p.m GMT for our live After Show and conversation with some of Facebook's favourite Black girl bosses!