Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade And The Annoyingly Tired ‘50-50’ Conversation

Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade attend The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating
Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade attend The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating

Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade attend The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" on May 1 in New York City.

You can always count on Black folks to count each other’s money. Even if it’s the money of wildly rich celebrities. 

Gabrielle Union was trending over a May 2023 interview she gave to Bloomberg in which she touched on household expenditures with husband, Dwyane Wade, in the context of her belief that she needs to keep working.

“In this household, we split everything 50-50,” she said. “But in the other households that each of us have to support, there’s always this like, gorilla on your back, that’s like, ‘You better work, bitch, you better work. Oh, you’re going to sleep in?’ You know, somebody might not eat ... It’s hard to let that go. So, I’m working on that.”

Union breached an interesting and relatable topic. But Black Twitter zeroed in on the 50-50 split and, as it is wont to do, lost its collective shit.

I’ll frame this piece in two segments: About the Wades specifically and then the 50-50 conversation among non-rich Black folks. 

This is another example of Wade and Union choosing to leverage their celebrity to live out loud. Married since 2014, they’ve had a lot in the public spotlight, purposely and otherwise: There’s the couple’s unflinching support of their trans daughter, Zaya Wade. There’s Union opening up about how she responded to Wade having a kid with another woman when they were on a break. There’s also that whole analingus thing ... because what’s celebrity without a few stomach-turning visuals?

Because we live in a world where Black women exist with targets on their back, it’s often Union who catches more hatred out of the two despite being, from my vantage point, entirely unproblematic. 

Haters seem content to ignore the most relevant aspect of Union’s 50-50 comments: Wade alone is worth an estimated $170 million, and Union $40 million. Union isn’t being “taken advantage of” — they can split the bills and both have enough resources left over to change the course of a small country. 

Their arrangement simply isn’t analogous to that of most married couples, so telling everyone what you would or wouldn’t do if you were in Union’s place is pointless if you need to “tighten your belt” until the first of the month.  

Now that that’s out the way, lets focus on how the 50-50 conversation applies to most of the rest of us peasants.

The educational and financial imbalance among Black men and women, along with the nagging perception that Black men are unwilling to “play their role as men” is the engine behind the negative responses to Union’s interview. (We wouldn’t be talking about this if, say, Priyanka Chopra said the same thing about her marriage to Nick Jonas.)

It’s yet another version of the same rote conversation we’ve been having ad nauseam for decades about the problems Black men have with Black women, and vice versa. The answers are always “white supremacy” and “the patriarchy,” but many of us are more content pointing the finger at each other.

Black women earn more than their male counterparts, but because formally educated, high-earning Black women generally desire partnering with formally educated, high-earning Black men, their options are limited. Enter sour grapes and the reason we can’t leave this damn conversation.

It’s important that we finally move past the anachronistic notion that the partner with the penis should be the sole wage earner, or even the primary one. It’s not 1957 and your grandma Ida Mae is an at-home mother taking care of your pops and his three siblings on the strength of your granddad Harold’s income from his auto factory gig he obtained with his high school diploma and which he’ll use to get your dad through college for about $17.36 a semester. 

In 1960, the average American home cost today’s equivalent of $98,000; it’s about four times that today. It costs around $300,000 to raise a child to 18 — while you were perfectly content with a Voltron action figure and a Hardy Boys Mysteries subscription, your child will insist on a $700 smartphone by age 8. Attending college hits for nearly three timeswhat it did when our parents attended in the early 1970s.  

The old ways are up outta here. Let that go

Dual-income living is no longer a luxury — unless one of you has at least five zeroes in your annual salary (and, depending on where you live, a number higher than “1” at the front), two incomes is a baseline to exist as a family in the middle class. 

Union feeling the need to keep working despite being a multimillionaire is a distinctly American capitalistic notion. But while, in her case, it likely means maintaining a lavish lifestyle, it’s often about keep food on the table for the rest of us. The global incident that was completely out of our control three years ago underlines the precarious nature of most Americans’ finances and undoubtedly contributed to the “grind” mentality that isn’t exactly healthy but still feels necessary. 

A 50-50 division among partners helps mitigate this. Because of the patriarchy, women tend to take on a few extra percentage points in an ostensible even split — especially when children are involved. But if applied properly, everyone wins. 

Part of the problem is that many folks hear “50-50” and go straight to finances. But a proper 50-50 split involves finances, household labor, emotional availability and so on. Men and women are banging their heads against the idea that a well-oiled partnership can include a woman who is the primary breadwinner.

Imagine, if you will, a woman with a demanding, time-consuming-yet-gratifying high-six-figure job whose husband manages their three children, makes sure the house is kept up, cooks dinner for the family and still makes time for his low-paying-yet-gratifying artistic pursuits.

That’s a proper division of labor with two parties who don’t hate waking up in the morning. But many of you would reject that ... because, once again, the patriarchy.    

I was once a schoolteacher married to a schoolteacher, and we eked out a comfortable 30-something middle-class living. We weren’t making it rain in the French Riviera or kicking it at the McLaren dealership, but our bills stayed paid, we stacked our chips to buy a home and pay for international trips; ate at the restaurants we enjoyed and pulled off a lovely wedding and honeymoon all by ourselves.

We both had periods of unemployment when we had to look out for each other. If she had a “My money is mine and your money is mine” mindset, our vacations would’ve gone as far as North Avenue Beach in Chicago, we would’ve gotten married at city hall and I might’ve had to dig for change for the occasional burger and fries dinner. 

I could write several columns on how I’d love for Black folks to evolve our mindset about marriage and partnership. In the meantime, I’ll just urge you to all to stay out of wealthy folks’ business and keep Union’s name out of your keystrokes.