'Inspired by exasperation and optimism'—Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible
The inspirational Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené have created the book to guide black women through the 21st century. It features interviews with some of Britain's most successful black women, shares their experiences and celebrates their achievments. Below we have an exclusive introduction to the book's creation from both Yomi and Elizabeth, and an extract from Slay in Your Lane.
We have several hopes and dreams for the book, and they continue to grow and change daily. But our most basic and fixed hope is that our book actually, tangibly helps people. We hope it helps black women manoeuvre tricky situations in work, dating, education etc, through the practical advice and tips. There are a host of wonderful books out there that aid women in tackling certain issues head on - we hope that black women will be able to find specific, tailored advice where those books weren’t able to provide it.
We hope it helps black women articulate their unique experiences that are so often invisibilised. For us, it was really important to ensure that we helped highlight and give credence to things that so many of us have sensed but have felt unable to verbalise or prove. With a combination of statistical evidence and data, as well as the anecdotes from our roster of incredible interviewees, we aim to ensure genuine concerns and experiences are not ever again written off as a mere “chip on a shoulder”.
We hope this book helps black women unlock their potential and find comfort in seeing themselves and their identities reflected back at them. Several of our interviewees have said in order to achieve it, you have to see it - Slay In Your Lane ensures that black British women (and girls) are given the opportunity to see they can truly be whatever they want to be, despite the limitations society seeks to set.
And finally, we hope it helps those living outside the black and female experience in the UK understand what that experience is. And furthermore, how they can be true allies. Several times, white men have asked whether they too can read and enjoy this book, and we hope Slay In Your Lane ushers in a future where this question isn’t even asked. As women who have read about the experiences of white men our whole lives, we believe this book is crucial reading that everyone can learn from.
Slay in Your Lane was inspired by exasperation and optimism.
Firstly, exasperation because as black women when we first enter a workplace we can often discover unwritten rules for getting ahead that we struggle to understand, let alone follow, and therefore, unlike our white male or female counterparts, we can’t hit the ground running, even with all the enthusiasm and ambition in the world. We can sometimes often find ourselves shut out of the informal networks that help white men and women find jobs, mentors and sponsors, and through no fault of our own, we then fail to navigate these spaces successfully. I therefore sought advice where so many women do: in books. I bought Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and although there were parts that I learned from and related to, it failed to address the uniquely challenging experiences faced by me and women like me. And why would it? Sandberg can only speak to one facet of my being, my womanhood, which, for me, is wholly intertwined with my identity as a black woman. I spotted that black women weren't widely represented in these genre of books and something needed to be done to broaden the conversation in this category to include our voices.
Alongside this I was also optimistic and positive about the black female experience and I met successful and inspiring black women from a variety of industries at networking events.
This all led me to call Yomi who’s my best friend and a journalist. I said “Why don’t you write a book that will speak to young black girls, not just myself? We later decided to work on the book together and established that even though we didn’t have all the advice, we’d go out and ask black British women in a range of fields how they got ahead in their careers. During that conversation it became apparent that it wasn’t just going to be about work, it was also going to be fleshed out into various facets of life from education to dating to health and money management. It essentially became a black girl bible.
‘It’s Always a Race Thing With Her’
‘Work twice as hard to be considered half as good’ was a saying that I, like most black women, grew up with. But it was only as I began my twenties and started to experience more of the world that it really started to hit home.
Slay In Your Lane is the love child of exasperation and optimism. I can’t pinpoint the exact incident that tipped me over the edge – the various microaggressions start to blur into one after some time – but after one particularly frustrating week at work, I realised I was done. Done with feeling conscious of my blackness and femaleness and apologising for just existing. Like me, my black female friends have the ambition and drive to succeed within spaces that were not initially set up for us to excel in, but we have all found that navigating them has proved to be a challenge at times.
I sought advice where so many women do: in books. I bought Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and although there were parts that I learned from and related to, I felt it failed to address the uniquely challenging experiences faced by me and women like me. And why would it? Sandberg can only speak to one facet of my being, my womanhood, which, for me, is wholly intertwined with my identity as a black woman.
So I went looking for black women at networking events who could speak to my experience, and advise me on how best to navigate my way through the challenges I saw ahead of me. I still felt optimistic and positive about the black female experience and I met successful and inspiring black women from a variety of industries – from a tech entrepreneur turning over six figures to a Magic Circle lawyer carving out her place in a male-dominated field. We shared stories about the challenges we encountered and the triumphs we could see on the horizon. These women were not the finger-snapping stereotypes from a TV series, to which society often reduces the black female experience. They were not monolithic; they were awe-inspiring, amazing and relatable. But something just didn’t add up: why were they only celebrated at ticketed events with limited numbers of seats? I would leave these events feeling reassured that I wasn’t alone, but also saddened that this sense of sisterhood ended with the event. This longing led me to call my best friend, Yomi, who is a journalist, to persuade her to be the one to take on the challenge of amplifying these women’s voices and utilising their priceless advice on a bigger scale. I asked her to write a book that spoke to me, and other young, black, twenty-something women navigating life. Later, we decided to work on this campaign together.
Role models matter to the next generation more than ever, and black British women and girls have them in vast amounts, but you wouldn’t guess that from a glance at the shelf of your average bookstore. We need a movement that amplifies the voices and increases the visibility of black women who have been made thoroughly invisible by the mainstream. That’s what Slay In Your Lane hopes to be; we hope to offer confidence and inspiration, but also, most importantly, support to other black women who are in the process of building their own foundation and who will, if the world has its way, be constrained by the limitations society tries to place upon us.
There is a saying: ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ but how about 39 of the most trailblazing black women in Britain? Slay In Your Lane is the personal-development course I never knew I needed; as you read this book I hope it gives you the tools and support to be in the driving seat of your life and not a mere passenger. Slay In Your Lane is #BlackGirlMagic personified. It is exactly what we’ve been waiting for: a chance to revel in the achievements of those who ran so we could fly, as well as to encourage those who are just about to take flight.
I owe a great deal to the TV medical comedy, Scrubs.
In an episode in Season 3, the white female doctor Elliot Reid turns to the black male doctor Christopher Turk and says he has ‘no idea how hard it is’ being a woman in their profession. ‘I have no idea?’ he says, eyebrow raised. ‘Look, I’m not gonna fight about whether in medicine it’s harder being black or a woman,’ she responds. ‘Black!’ Turk shouts. ‘Woman!’ Elliot retorts. At that very moment, a black female doctor passes them slowly. ‘Much props, Dr Rhodes,’ says an awkward Turk. The pair shuffle on the spot.
Something that my then 13-year-old self had already frequently experienced but had never been able to articulate was perfectly captured in a 30-second skit: that the different facets of my identity – being black, being a woman – impact on who I am, and what my experience in this country is. It explained why I only somewhat related to stories focused on black men and white women. It highlighted why seeing my identity and my experience reflected mattered. Scrubs had just explained what, years later, I would realise went by the name of ‘intersectionality’ – and I immediately felt seen.
Being black and British, people know our parents are from somewhere else before we even open our mouths. Or if not our parents, our grandparents. Or great grandparents. We are tattooed with our otherness. We are hypervisible in predominantly white spaces, but somehow, we often remain unseen. Growing up, I felt keenly the dearth of visible black British women in the stories our society consumed and it made me feel all sorts of things. It made me feel as if I was invisible, too. It made me feel frustrated. It made me feel annoyed, upset and, most of all, restless. Restless, because I knew (or at least hoped) that when I was old enough, I’d one day be a part of changing things.
I attempted to do something about it when I turned 21, breathlessly starting up a publication aimed at young black girls in the UK. Birthday Magazine was the primordial goop from which Slay in Your Lane was indirectly spawned. Its aims were similar: to outline the black female experience as well as excellence, and offer equal amounts of realism and optimism. It was a small-scale attempt to uplift; its distribution was local and the team was small, but its impact was larger than I expected. Slay In Your Lane was the next logical step that I didn’t see coming, but Elizabeth did, animated by the very frustration, annoyance and restlessness that my younger self had felt.
Now, at 26, the same sense of restlessness has begun to set in, but this time it is without the anger, or even the upset. The current overriding emotion I feel is unbounded hopefulness, because black British women in 2018 are well past making waves – we’re currently creating something of a tsunami. From authors to politicians, to entrepreneurs to artists, black women in the UK continue to thrive against all odds and well outside of the world’s expectations. Women who look and talk like me, grew up in similar places to me, are shaping almost every societal sector, from the bottom and, finally, from all the way up at the top. All a younger Yomi would’ve wished for was the ability to learn from them; an older Yomi wishes for pretty much exactly the same thing.
If white women fear the glass ceiling, black women fear a seemingly impenetrable glasshouse. We’re blockaded from all sides and there is little to no literature on offer to advise us as to how we’re supposed to push on. So much is currently happening on an individual level to combat this, and it’s of paramount importance that it is recorded, noted and passed on. We almost never hear of the persistence, perseverance and drive that fosters such success. Perhaps more importantly, we rarely hear of the failures, the flops and the insecurities that black British women have managed to push through to get to where they are today. We rarely hear about black British women, full stop. And this silence can be just as damaging as the negativity of which we’re so often on the receiving end.
Throughout my teenage years I was a keen reader, and I am no anomaly – findings from a 2014 study by the National Literacy Trust show that black girls are more likely to read than any other ethnic group in the UK. Yet books rarely touch meaningfully on the black British experience – and even less so the black British female experience. As a part of this group, I have a vested interest in Slay In Your Lane that goes beyond simply wanting to write a book. I guess you could say that Elizabeth and I are writing this as much for ourselves as we are for other black women. Just like our peers, our friends and our sisters, we are still learning how to navigate the workplace, the dating world and life in general.
We’re not here to tell you that if you simply go for gold, put your mind to it and believe, that you can will yourself out of systemic racism. As pointed out by Elizabeth, even your parents would’ve no doubt once said that you’d have to work ‘twice as hard’ and meritocracy is a myth – and stats continually prove this. But what we are saying is that there is much empowerment and inspiration to be gained from the many women who have jumped over the very hurdles that you too will find yourself up against. There are practical ways to aid you to win, and admitting that there will be difficulties and challenges along the way doesn’t mean submitting to defeat. It means coming to battle armed and prepared.
Yomi Adegoke is an award-winning journalist and senior writer at The Pool. She writes about race, feminism, popular culture and how they intersect, as well as class and politics. In 2013 she founded Birthday Magazine, a publication aimed at black teenage girls and this year was listed as one of the 200 Women Redefining the Creative Industry by The Dots. She was also named as a 'frontline pioneer' bringing the fight to 'a new generation' by the Evening Standard.
Elizabeth Uviebinené is a Marketing Manager at a leading global brand. She graduated from Warwick University in 2013 with a Politics and International relations degree and specialises in creating marketing campaigns that are both culturally progressive and commercially relevant.