It’s no surprise that Gabrielle Union has voiced her support of the NBA players and other athletes’ striking – she’s never not used her voice, even when it’s been a risk, especially when it’s been a risk. Black women are almost always the ones taking on the most labour and also taking the most sh-t. Last night on Twitter, Gabrielle used her platform to support WNBA players who sat out in solidarity with their peers in the NBA. The Washington Mystics all wore white t-shirts that spelled out Jacob Blake’s name and seven bullet holes in the back to represent the number of times he was shot by police officer Rusten Sheskey.
#wcw Today and everyday I celebrate and am inspired by the leadership and activism of the women of the @WNBA . Thank you all for being the change we want to see. You never let up in the quest for equality, accountability and real radical change. pic.twitter.com/9ejbaeLKVF— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) August 27, 2020
Gabrielle also retweeted messages condemning Fox News’s Tucker Carlson for defending Kyle Rittenhouse who freely walked up and down the street in Kenosha, Wisconsin armed with a semi-automatic rifle shooting at people and was arrested later and charged with murder. She also, of course, has been openly critical of the Trump administration and the white supremacists who keep him in power.
That’s one form of resistance. But Gabrielle is resisting on multiple levels. Earlier this week, she joined Uzo Aduba, Keke Palmer, and Marsai Martin for a public service announcement called “I’VE BEEN TOLD” that accompanied the September issue of Glamour Magazine about Black women and their hair, and how often their hair is used against them, how racism can manifest itself in commentary about Black hair:
Embarrassingly, I wasn’t fully aware of hair inequality really until I started working in television and my Black colleagues did not have access to the same hair services afforded the rest of us. At a photo shoot once, a group of us were being styled in hair and makeup and one of my peers, a Black woman, became more and more frustrated because the artists who had been booked by the magazine did not know how to work with Black hair and skin. Which means she didn’t get the benefit of looking and feeling her best while everyone else had the best talent, for their physical attributes at least, working on them.
Obviously as Black celebrities, Gabrielle, Uzo, Keke, and Marsai have more advantages than others who aren’t famous. For Black women out of the spotlight their hair experiences though are similar: products are often not designed with them in mind, and as we’ve seen from news stories, their workplaces attach controversy to their hair when their hair is their hair, it’s not controversial. But time and again, Black children are sent home because of their hairstyles, Black employees are told how they should or shouldn’t wear their hair, and even when they’re complimented for their hair, they end up feeling otherised. Because it’s not really a compliment when they’re being exoticised, touched, treated as a fascination.
That’s the fine line between respectful admiration and objectification. And objectification, when combined with all the other inequalities Black women are confronted with daily, is in itself a form of dehumanisation. This is what these conversations aim to change – the fact that Black people are not seen and treated as equal because their humanity has been denigrated by white supremacy.
Maybe you’ve been guilty of disrespecting Black hair. I’m here to tell you… me too. Is your first instinct to defend yourself? “But I didn’t mean to! I’m not racist!” I get that. But the point of the PSA is not to make you feel defensive. That kind of fragility distracts from centering the feelings we should be focusing on and undermines the purpose of what these women are trying to do: which is to provide perspective, insight, to share their experiences so that we all might better understand the insults they’ve had to endure, so that we can all have more empathy, so that we can all help reduce the daily cuts that Black people have had to absorb. And the thing is, teaching us is actually more work for them, because God knows they’ve been at this for too long.