Lena Dunham makes a point to let us know that she and Gabrielle Union are close enough that she calls her “Gab” in a new piece for Lenny Letter. I can’t decide if this tidbit is annoying or charming. That’s how I feel about Lena Dunham most days. Either way, when reading this interview, it’s important to know that Lena and Gab are nickname-level friends because it’s a conversation that’s so frank and relatable, it feels like you’re eavesdropping on a real chat between two girlfriends who genuinely like each other, not a condensed and edited interview published for public consumption.
Given that the entire interview has that authentic vibe, it feels weird to condense and edit it now but that’s what other outlets have already started doing. Gabrielle Union is promoting her memoir We’re Going to Need More Wine and the interview touches on a few of the topics tackled in the book like surviving sexual assault, career anxiety, handling success, fertility issues, giving less f-cks in life and talking about race with white women. It’s the last one that’s getting the most traction because Lena and Gab have shared headlines before. In October of last year, Lena Dunham went on The Breakfast Club and owned up to a lot of the problematic sh-t she’s said and done in the past. At the time, I wrote that it sounded like Lena had talked to black women and listened. Around the same time, Gabrielle Union admitted to having “conversations with people who have different opinions” than her, like Lena Dunham. Gabrielle implied that those conversations got awkward and heated. Here’s how Lena tells the story of their talks:
When I said my incredibly dumb sh-t, you were a friend. You were really straight with me, and you said, "Here are all the reasons why this was a problem." Something you didn't have to do but did out of love and kindness, and you did it with a firm, wise hand. You said publicly, "I've had some conversations with Lena Dunham about race. I wish I could talk to other white actresses… We had an honest conversation about the way that white women dominate the space in Hollywood, and then all the headlines were like, "Gabrielle Union shuts Lena Dunham down," and I remember you texted me and you said, "I wish people could understand that it was possible for two women to have a conversation about the complexity of race. One could educate the other, and it wasn't like WWF wrestling. It was a dialogue.
I’m constantly talking about race with my friends and yes, that includes my white girlfriends. Honestly, sometimes I wish I didn’t have to because it can get exhausting and I don’t believe that the onus should always be on black women to tell white women when they’re f-cking up. But when those white women are your friends? It feels like, well sh-t, who else is going to? All my girlfriends from high school are white because I was the only black girl my age in my school. I’ve known these women for most of my life. They are my ride-or-dies. We talk about everything so of course we talk about race. It’s not always comfortable or fun girl talk but we do it. For some reason, race has become a dirty word and the sole act of talking about it makes you a racist in certain, ignorant minds. I love what Gabrielle says about why she continues to engage in these dialogues with white women:
If we can have such personal conversations about our uteruses, where we're sharing resources and information in a way that we can help each other, why isn't our friendship big enough to have an honest conversation about race, culture, appropriation, privilege? I felt like if I can talk about my pussy with you, I can talk about race.
When was the last time you talked to a girlfriend about your sex life? Talking about the most intimate facets of our anatomy is basically a modern woman’s feminist duty. So, why are we so scared of race? Is it really any more intimate? To all the other black women who navigate predominately white spaces, let me tell you this: if you know a white woman who is preaching feminism but refuses to hear you out about issues relating to race, she’s not worth your breath. Intersectionality is something we discuss frequently on this blog. So much of hashtag feminism in 2017 ignores black women. Every day, black women have to deal with the delightful Molotov cocktail of racism AND sexism and consistently find ourselves ignored, undermined and undervalued.
Think about the faces you remember when the conversation about equal pay in Hollywood was dominating headlines. Emma Stone? Amy Schumer? Amy Adams? Jennifer Lawrence? When Lena asks Gabrielle how hard it is to be a black woman in Hollywood, here’s what she said:
I wish I was in a place of a Jennifer Lawrence, where she's talking about pay inequity with her white male peers. It's like, "Hey, Jennifer, pass the mic back, 'cause the women of color behind you are making way less than you, who have ten, twenty, thirty years of a body of work, and we're making pennies on the dollar of what you're making.
I hope this quote doesn’t turn into a bunch of clickbait tweets about Gabrielle Union calling out Jennifer Lawrence. It’s not about Jennifer. You can replace her name with any of the white actresses I listed above and Gabrielle still makes her point. I don’t think she is saying that these women shouldn’t acknowledge the pay gap. She’s saying that one conversation is typically louder than the other. You can’t achieve pay equity for women and leave women of colour behind. Whatever stats you’ve heard about the pay gap, remember it’s way worse for black women.
In the era of Trump’s America, in any given corner of the Internet, you’ll find a white woman asking what she can do to be a better ally. Gabrielle Union may have just come up with a succinct, direct, real AF response to that question: pass the mic back.
Click here to read Gabrielle Union’s full interview with Lena Dunham.
Attached - Gabrielle promoting her book yesterday in LA.