Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade on the 'radical act' of 'raising free Black children'
The actress and her NBA legend husband talk about their children's book, Shady Baby (inspired by their own Shady Baby), and parenting the next generation of trans royalty.
Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade have teamed up for Shady Baby — based on their 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Kaavia — a new picture book that gives much deserved side-eye to those who won't share and teaches kids that it's better to play together. Ahead of the book's release on Tuesday, EW spoke with Union and Wade about raising their own familial constellation of stars.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Shady Baby is inspired by Kaavia. Who does she get most of her shade from?
GABRIELLE UNION: [Snickers] Me. I would say me, probably.
DWYANE WADE: Yeah, I would say more you than me.
In the book, Shady Baby gets her toy snatched by another kid at the playground. How do you handle that scenario in real life?
WADE: Having this little girl who just melts my heart when she calls me Daddy and she runs to me, I'm going to go in protective mode. I'm gonna grab her, hug her, and be like, "Who did?" Then I'll jump into parent mode, and hopefully, if the other parent is not trippin', try to make [the kids] understand why playing together is essential.
UNION: I'm more of the figure-it-out-on-your-own kind of parent. Like: That's life, things are gonna happen, and you have to figure out how to problem-solve.
UNION: My niece Chelsea is a rabid K-pop fan. She would come in for K-pop conventions in LA and stay with us. Her favorite member of BTS is Jimin, and so she first brought [Kaavia] a little Chimmy, and then she kept buying her more Chimmies and bigger Chimmies. [Kaavia] doesn't go to sleep without Chimmy, she doesn't go to swim without Chimmy, she doesn't go anywhere without Chimmy.
Who is the disciplinarian, and who's the pushover?
WADE: I have a little less tolerance for the things I know Kaav is trying to get away with, but this one right here? Softy!
UNION: I'm a sucker. I can't take tears, I can't. I'm not equipped.
Dwyane, last year you proudly shared that your daughter Zaya is transgender. I saw Zaya's recent conversation with Michelle Obama where she asked the former First Lady what advice she had for teens who want to be themselves and still thrive, which was inspiring. It seems like she's getting to do a lot of cool things.
UNION: Even though these are really awesome opportunities, like with Pride and different organizations around the world, if she's not into it, that's it, we don't push her to do anything she doesn't want to do. It's a good lesson for us because we are so conditioned that if you say no, the opportunities are going to stop. It really made us think we're running ourselves ragged trying to say yes to everything, and she's like, "Oh, I don't function from a place of scarcity."
I think as BIPOC — especially those who are our age — we have been taught that there are only so many seats at the table. We've been conditioned to believe that there are only so many seats, and that to get one, we have to say yes to everything. So, it's really encouraging to see that this next generation is saying, "Oh, no, that's not going to fly." Do you think that has anything to do with it?
WADE: That's a great question. You know, I believe that the access and the opportunities that this generation has and that they're able to see and able to research and know about is just different than what we was exposed to. They're exposed to so much. When it comes to Zaya, she only knows the world that we have painted for her. Fortunately we've been able to provide a life that is a little bit different than what's going on in the outside world. But as we get older, she's going to get more exposed to real life. And, you know, being a young black trans girl, and the things that come with that when the world opens back up and she goes back to school, a little realization will pop in now when next year she'll be in high school and things will start changing for her.
UNION: Also, this generation is real clear on what it is. I don't think we had that clarity. We were all raised with, "You assimilate, you follow these rules. You work your butt off to get a seat at this table." And, even if you can't get a seat at the table, you better hope they're gonna toss you some scraps, and that's all you should ever want is to have the proximity to white supremacy and hope that, you know, you get treated a little bit better, right? But this generation is like, "Actually, that table is wack, that room is wack, they're only using us to be, you know, a Black shield or an LGBTQIA shield. And, they're not even feeding us at this table and this chair is rickety and I'm not even pulled up to the table and the house that houses this table is also wack and crumbling and full of mold. I don't want any part of this. Why am I chasing toxicity?" So it was never presented that way to us. We're just now becoming more clear that all skinfolk ain't kinfolk, and all money ain't good money.
How has this incredible journey that you've been on with Zaya helped shape the way you parent Kaavia?
UNION: What we're trying to do is raise free children and free Black children. Raising free Black children shouldn't be a radical act, but it is. Part of that freedom is not tying her into binary boxes. We don't subscribe to "This is what a girl does, this is what a boy does. Your parts make you who you are." We don't subscribe to any of that, and that's what it's really all about: who she is authentically and organically. When you give kids the freedom, and you get out of your own way and don't let your own fear guide your parenting, that's the only way that we can move these days.
A version of this story appears in the June issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now and available to order with covers featuring Lil Nas X, Mj Rodriguez, Bowen Yang, and Lena Waithe. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.