Updated: Apr 7, 2020
We’re Going to Need More Wine takes a humorously bold but vulnerable approach. Gabrielle Union’s autobiography gives readers the impression of a first time one on one encounter with “Isis” of Bring it on over multiple bottles of wine. Union’s illustration of her life invites readers to connect with her story as she simultaneously introduces the nuances that have shaped how she views the world. Gabrielle’s memoirs unconventionally intertwine the nuances of racism, colorism, low self esteem, sex miseducation, rape, experiences with infertility, marriage, and the role of step-mothering. In 20 Chapters, her experiences are humanizing in a way that highlights her resiliency as an African American woman. Her compilation of relatable truths bring clarity to the headline stories that have inevitably shaped our views of her. Union’s sassy responses to private matters were simply comical and refreshing. We’re Gonna Need More Wine is entertaining, heart wrenching, and heartwarming to say the least. In this review, I present some of my favorite scenes from the book that I found interesting because of Gabrielle’s transparency with the African American experience.
The Union family uprooted from Omaha Nebraska surrounded by a village of extended family to Pleasanton California where “The residents divided themselves into housing developments.”(6) Union transitioned into suburban white america as a result of her father’s successful career and assimilation of the white status quo. Very early in her life, Union was prepped for how she would be racialized by her parents’ warning, “You’re gonna have to be bigger, badder, better, just to be considered equal. You’re gonna have to do twice as much work and you’re not going to get any credit for your accomplishments or for overcoming adversity.”(7)
During Gabby’s transition, “It took a little less than a year in Pleasanton for someone to call me a nigger,” she recalled.“Since birth my family has called me Nickie, from my middle name Monique. One day, Lucas decided my name made for great racist alliteration. For one day to my face and who knows behind my back, “Nigger Nickie” caught on like wildfire.”(6) She internalized the social experience and became preoccupied with overachieving to avoid the pain of being considered the “dumb nigger” in comparison to her black counterparts. At the age thirteen, Mr. and Mrs. Union decided to send Nickie on annual summer trips back to Omaha Nebraska. The summer getaways were an opportunity to experience a life in contrast the Pleasanton upbringing. Nickie studied her cousins mannerisms with the intention of learning how to perform her blackness. Meanwhile in Pleasanton, “The two African American boys in my grade wanted nothing to do with me. And the other two black girls steered clear of me and each other, to avoid amplifying our blackness.” (57) Nickie recognized and accepted that she was “eunuch” in the dating pool of white and black students in her school. She settled for awkward friendships with little racial boundaries. To offset the embarrassment, Gabrielle made herself sexually available to Billy aka Little Screw. Eager to feel wanted, Union offered herself sexually. Her sexcapade with Lil Screw lead her to follow in the footsteps of her father’s infidelity as she describes in chapter five.
Union’s experience in chapter seven, is a proxy for the vulnerability women of color when she shares the story of her fight for her life. In the summer of 1992, Gabrielle had a terrifying sexual experience while working at Payless for the summer following her Freshman year at UCLA. It was near closing time when a straggler entered the store. To Union’s surprise he was a former employee at Payless. The robber crept up behind Gabrielle startling her. “I don’t remember what he asked, because I took one look at him and I immediately wanted to run.” The two female workers, Gabrielle and Goth girl, were forced at gunpoint into the back of the store and given the command to disrobe. Gabrielle quickly complied while Goth girl demonstrated her privilege. “ She had been there during the previous robbery and wasn’t hurt. And being an entitled young person, she had the luxury of being angry.” (93) As Gabby was violently raped at gunpoint, Goth girl remained hidden offering little assistance. “ I am grateful I was raped in an affluent neighborhood with an underworked police department. And an underutilized rape crisis center. And overly trained doctors and nurses and medical personnel. The fact that one can be grateful for such things is goddamn ridiculous.” (96)
Black Woman Blues (109) accurately describes my emotional reaction following Code 261 as I mull over on the my own unresolved trauma surrounding the nuance of sex miseducation and sexual misconduct. Chapter eight was a strong follow up as it thoroughly exposes the implications of colorism in relation to the social media trend #teamlightskin versus #teamdarkskin. Union executes her argument with research from sociologist Margaret Hunter who collected empirical evidence demonstrating that we are color struck. Hunter gathers that “dark-skinned people face a subset of racial inequalities related to discipline at school, employment, and access to more affluent neighborhoods. In one study, Hunter found that a lighter-skinned woman earned, on average, twenty-six hundred dollars more a year than her darker sister. (112)” Gabrielle learned through her research that she too had been color struck specifically in her choices of male companions. During her years at UCLA, she dated Alex who was Hispanic. Alex’s family referred to him as the “nigger lover.” It was in this relationship that Gabrielle understood how colorism affected her decisions. Chapter eight was powerful in the sense that it offers steps toward the healing of women of color by acknowledging that colorism exists.
Gabrielle gets really intimate as she discusses her failed relationships and marriages. Union’s first marriage with Chris Howard, former Jacksonville Jaguars running back, was a complete disaster. Union was the breadwinner of the marriage while Chris struggled to land another contract. Chris Howard’s infidelities caught up with him when Union was threatened with extortion by a nudist. Chris and Gabrielle announced their separation immediately following the scandal. Things began to look up when Gabrielle began dating superstar basketball player, Dewayne Wade. Gabrielle settled in nicely with D Wade’s family. They fit so well that he and his sons asked for Gabrielle’s hand in marriage, “Big Bank Takes Little Bank.” Union’s marriage to Dewayne Wade came with a lot of speculation of pregnancy. Chapter fifteen, Get Out Of My Pussy, discusses her painful reality of infertility and the disappointment following multiple miscarriages. Union handles herself firmly in her response to the press’ Baby Hopes as she says “Everyone needs to Get Out of My Pussy!”
Although Union has struggled with infertility, her second marriage afforded her and D-Wade the opportunity to co-parent his sons Zion, and Zaire as well as his nephew Dahveon aka DaDa. Union shed light on the motherly position of the step-mother. I found the role of step-mother particularly interesting as even the slightest thing such as the verbiage in referring to the children is critical. Gabrielle utilized her position to educate her family on the stereotypical image of being black in America every chance she got. “When I go to school meetings, I come with my books and articles to support what I’m talking about. Whether its a Harvard study on implicit bias in academia or research into African American teenagers underperforming because they go to school with the burden of suspicion,” wrote Union.
Overall, Gabrielle Union gave us a tender and educational body of work. The nuances she introduced offered her trial and error experiences as lessons to her readers. We’re Going To Need More Wine has opened the door to further dialogue about the experiences of women in general but more specifically women of color.
D.W.R. (Drinking While Reading) Suggestions:
Emmo Merlot (Napa Valley)
Darkhorse Cabernet Sauvignon (Modesto, CA)
Albino Armani Pinot Grigio (Valdadige, Italy)
Written By: Jessica McConico
Edited by: Dr. Justin Clardy