Gabrielle Union knows what it’s like to try to fit in and struggle with self-confidence.
“I can’t tell you who I am without telling you where I’ve been.”
The actress gave an encouraging speech to teens during the Step Up’s 13th annual Inspiration Awards on May 20.
Growing up, Union attended predominately white schools.
“I’m one of those black people that you meet and if someone says I’m not racist, I’ve got a black friend. I would have been that friend.”
Her parents cautioned her about being the “token black girl” by letting her know from an early age that she would have to be “bigger, badder and better” to be considered equal to her white counterparts. While well-intentioned, this advice only helped Union to develop feelings of never being good enough. She would tell herself:
You’re a joke and a loser and anything good that happens to you it will be in spite of it, but soon they’ll figure it out. So in school I had to make sure I got those “you are so articulate” compliments…I wanted to make sure my hair was so straight. I would leave relaxers on my hair so long I would get lesions. When I got raped at 19 at my after school job, it wasn’t just some awful coincidence, it was because I was a joke and a loser and this is what happens.
Union described herself as being the “chip in every cookie” and even pressing her lips together as a kid to to try to hide their fullness.
It wasn’t until years later when her friends challenged her to to change her line of thinking did Union begin to truly discover her worth. She replaced the words “Joke and Loser” with “Fly and Dope.”
You’ve got to replace that voice in that voice that tells you you are a joke and a loser. You’ve got to replace that fear of possible humliation.
Union attributes discovering her self-worth to allowing herself to be herself, authentically. She says the quiet moments allowed her to realize that she is worthy by birth right.
I am fierce and fabulous because I breathe.
Watch Union’s full speech below: