You may have been pleasantly surprised to see Gabrielle Union urging you to make it a #BuyBlack Friday on Facebook Live this year, but like her now-decades-long career in the industry (“I’m almost 50 and [they] treat me like an ingenue,” she jokes), don’t call it a comeback—or a trend. She’s been about that #BuyBlack life—increasingly so during a year that has rocked Black businesses to their core, as she told The Glow Up during a phone call earlier his week.
“You know, as a black business owner and as a member of our community, you watch almost 50 percent of Black-owned businesses go under during the pandemic,” the actress, bestselling author, producer, and multi-entrepreneur (not to mention wife and mother) explained. “And you’re actually kind of an asshole if you don’t do everything in your power—especially if you have any kind of platform—to not try to rectify that or help in any kind of way that you can.”
As America not only endured a devastating pandemic this year but seemed to remarkably (if temporarily) wake up to the far-reaching effects of structural racism, like many of us, Union felt compelled to seize the moment. “I started looking for every list or marketplace where they had a bunch of Black-owned businesses that you could go through, whether that be on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook, just to learn more [and] find more Black-owned businesses and all across all different fields,” she explained—which is how she stumbled upon the opportunity to lend her voice to Facebook’s live platform, appearing on the Black Friday finale of Phoebe Robinson’s #BuyBlack Fridays.
“Knowing that they had whole shows kind of dedicated to this very thing, I was like, this is easy and it’s idiot-proof, and I want to, you know, throw my hat in the ring to try to amplify this message as best as I can,” she said. “Everyone’s struggling in their own way, and Black-owned businesses are struggling more than anybody, so...literally, there is no skin off your nose to highlight, amplify, spotlight Black-owned businesses.”
Obviously, Black Friday has come and gone—and soon, our holiday shopping season will have, too. But Union’s commitment to Black businesses has risen in tandem with her own growing empire; with this summer’s relaunch of her Flawless hair care line came the “Lift As We Climb” initiative, a year-round effort created to support and spotlight Black-owned businesses and community organizations via the Flawless by Gabrielle Union store on Amazon.
“We fully intend to support Black-owned entrepreneurs in meaningful ways that lead to growth while encouraging and recycling the Black dollar in our community,” said Union in a statement this September. “The success of the Flawless brand is important to me, but so is ensuring that we are actively contributing our reach and resources to help empower others.”
It’s the same energy Union is committed to bringing to all her current and future endeavors. “When I started my production company, that was the whole mandate: to center the needs and the voices and the narratives of marginalized people,” she explained. To that end, one of her first projects is bringing All Boys Aren’t Blue, George M. Johnson’s bestselling nonbinary coming-of-age story to the screen. “I realized I’ve never felt more fulfilled in watching other people’s dreams come true and using what little bit of light I have to put other people on,” she added. “And guess what? It doesn’t affect my career negatively at all. Doesn’t cost anything, doesn’t take any skin off my nose. It’s literally not hard.”
Still, working in industries in which we have too often been told “there can only be one” allowed to thrive at any given time, Union initially experienced some pushback to promoting anyone except herself and her own projects and products. “[P]eople were like, ‘Now, why would you use any amount of space for other companies?’” she recalled of launching Lift As We Climb. “And I was like, ‘because 50 percent of Black-owned businesses are going under and it doesn’t take anything away from hair care products to talk about Honey Pot, or to talk about Mented Cosmetics or to talk about, you know, a Black-owned candle company or Black-owned coffee company [BLK and Bold].’
“Ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none,” she playfully added, noting that she’s “fully committed to repurposing those lyrics” before striking a more serious tone.
“It doesn’t alter our business. If anything, karma is real—and do it because it’s the right thing to do. Do it because ultimately, it might prove to be very lucrative. Do it because you’re concerned about your place in the afterlife—whatever gets you there,” she laughed. “But I, personally, just feel more connected to my own community and more...more OK putting other people on, whether that be amplifying their business or purchasing from it.”
With that in mind, every Friday can potentially be #BuyBlack Friday, if we commit to making it so. “If there’s a way to plug in on the local level, regional level, national level, international level, and you don’t, I have to go back to you and be like, why?” asks Union. “I know why somebody else might not, but for us? If it’s not on the FUBU—you know, ‘we-all-we-got’ type of thing—shit, we’re sunk, you know what I mean? We’ve got to look to us first, and to help us to help us and to highlight us, because there’s literally a Black-owned business for everything that might potentially be looking for.”
With a new year dawning, Union shared that aside from supporting each other, her one wish for the Black community is to recognize our worth—financially, culturally, and individually. “Knowing our worth and not settling for anything less than exactly who the fuck we are and what we bring to the table,” she affirmed, quickly adding, “and it’s hard because, you know, people have lost jobs...so I recognize the privilege in what I just said.”
For her part, Union intends to continue to use her privilege and platform to help us recognize that worth—and sustain it.
“It all feels like the right thing to do and feeds my soul, and I know that I’m at least a small, teeny, teeny, teeny, tiny part of the solution,” she said, chuckling as she added: “Because I know I like to point out all the problems, but if I’m not an active participant in the solutions, then I’m just liking to hear the sound of my own voice.”