'We Need to Be Listening to Black Girls': The Root Presents: It’s Lit! Talks Black Girl Boundaries and Raising a Shady Baby With Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade

Illustration for article titled 'We Need to Be Listening to Black Girls': The Root Presents: It’s Lit! Talks Black Girl Boundaries and Raising a Shady Baby With Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade
Photo: Ayanna McKnight, Illustration: Angelica Alzona

Of the handful of celebrity families who continue to capture our imagination —including the Carters, the Wilsons, and the Williams-Ohanians—as well as our attention each time they post pictures of their adorable broods on social media, perhaps the most refreshing is the blended and beautiful Union-Wade clan. Whether having open chats with their kids about colorism, sharing their difficult fertility journey, proudly supporting their daughter Zaya’s gender expression, or delighting in the side-eye of their now-famous “shady baby,” two-year-old Kaavia James, Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union-Wade are setting a new standard for transparency in parenting, making them one of the most relatable power couples around.

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Their chat with me for this week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit! was no different, as the couple Zoomed in from their home in California to discuss their latest production together, the children’s book Shady Baby, published this week. Though it could technically be considered a follow-up to Union’s 2020 book celebrating new parenthood, Welcome to the Party, this title is special; celebrating the mercurial but always adorable personality of their youngest daughter (who apparently immediately recognized herself in the book’s images, created by Black female illustrator Tara Nicole Whitaker).

Illustration for article titled 'We Need to Be Listening to Black Girls': The Root Presents: It’s Lit! Talks Black Girl Boundaries and Raising a Shady Baby With Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade
Image: Tara Nicole Whitaker/HarperCollins

“Initially, people were like, ‘Oh, shade, you know, like throwing shade is negative. It reinforces stereotypes about Black women being more aggressive or angry,’ or, you know, what have you,” Wade explained. “But then, when you really kind of get into it, [Kaavia’s attitude] doesn’t come out of thin air, you know, and when we started to [prepare for this book] we had to take a step back. We’re like, ‘Let’s just watch her. Let’s just observe her.’ And when she is ‘shady,’ generally it comes about when people don’t respect her boundaries, don’t respect her wishes or something random happens...And once you kind of reposition that as ‘No, if I’m having a reaction to your not-so-great behavior, I should be celebrated. There’s nothing wrong with me for having a reaction to something not great that’s happening.’

“We need to be celebrating that. We need to be pushing that forward. So with the shade, it’s in response to something negative of, you know, from her little playmates or whatever, whether it’s not sharing or someone’s being rowdy on the playground or someone’s taking things or whatever,” he continued. “That’s what she’s responding to. It’s not just shade for the sake of shade, which we do think would have reaffirmed...a negative stereotype. But no, we need to be listening to Black women and we need to be listening to Black girls when they say, ‘These are my boundaries and you’re not respecting those. So whatever happens next, you actually have coming, you know what I mean? So be glad it’s just a look I’m giving you.’”

“We wanted readers to walk away from this book celebrating young Black girls as leaders, celebrating young Black girls as change agents in their own way, celebrating that there can be more than one brown-skinned little Black girl in a book,” Union adds, referencing both the couple’s research process and an all-too familiar dynamic she’s previously spoken out about as she continued. “Once we went back through Kaav’s books we’re like, ‘Wow, we really are even subscribing to there only can be one, you know, in children’s literature.’ So just trying to address all of you know, all of these larger issues and then make something that’s entertainable, that kids are going to, are going to want to go back to again and again, that give you a like a, like a little snapshot into Kaav’s life. But also, you know, leaves you with a lesson.”

Listen to more from parenting power couple Gabrielle Union-Wade and Dwyane Wade in Episode 35 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!: Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade on Honesty, Storytelling, and Their Sweet Shady Baby, available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?

DISCUSSION

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This seems like a great and much-needed idea for a book!

It’ll be great if a whole generation of kids grow up reading, watching, and hearing things that tell them it’s always okay to call out things that are not okay.

Hopefully, within a generation, we can eradicate the ease with which nearly-sentient boat shoes loaf around calling foul when being treated as they deserve, with their bad faith selves...