A review of an amazing book today, one I want to buy for everyone or at least recommend (and am buying for someone’s birthday). Although, as neither Black nor young and just starting off on my career and education paths, I am not the primary audience for this book, it bears a read as I learned so much about young Black women’s experience in Britain today and over the last few decades, read inspiring stories and found loads of good, solid advice which will definitely help people, while I feel more aware of issues I can look out for and help push back against. As part of people’s duty to educate themselves rather than asking Black friends to put in the work educating them, it’s also a brilliantly useful resource. I started sticking post-its in it but could have post-itted the whole book. Highly recommended

Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené – “Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible”

(04 August 2020)

I bought this book after having won the authors’ “Loud Black Girls” on NetGalley – a follow-up to this book, it’s a set of essays that ask “what next?” I thought I should read about “what then” and “what now”, which is effectively what this book gives us, and I’m very glad I did.

So I’m obviously not the prime audience for this book, being neither Black nor particularly young – I’ve done my schooling and my further education and started a career of sorts before starting my own business; I’ve dated and got married and I’ve approached healthcare professionals for support with both my physical and mental health. And of course in all of that I profited from my White Privilege, so I was seen as representative of the norm, I wasn’t picked out for my colour as well as my gender, my culture* was assumed to be the standard one and nothing peculiar. This is not what young Black women experience – and also young Black women are not a monolith in themselves, composed of different strands, cultures and backgrounds, which we will come onto later – and this book highlights, through discussion by the authors and a large group of Black women from many walks of life of their personal experience, backed up with slews of statistics and references, just how the lack of privilege, the existence of racism and oppression, affects that experience.

*Not a long discussion on culture but I used to say I had no special culture, being a White British middle-class woman with no religious background, but of course I have an invisible culture of sliding through life on the travelators marked “White British middle-class, oh, woman? to the side there, after the men, but still getting that path pre-cut through for you”. I don’t have to poke around online to see what a rash looks like on my skin, having to explain where I came from is such a strange occurrence that every time it’s happened sticks in my memory, and no one has assumed they can talk about folk music with just me in the office.

The book takes the main stages of a young person’s life – school, further education, work, cultural representations, starting a business, and healthcare, and shares the authors’ and their interviewees’ personal experience, shares statistics and research (if there is any) and gives good, solid advice for the young Black women reading the book to help them on their path. Such a good idea and I would imagine it’s a positive and empowering read, while us older White women or men or Black men or other people of colour not included in this particular book can use it to learn about young Black women’s lived experiences and learn how to be more supportive and inclusive.

I’m not going to share all my post-itted sentences as there are so many. Trust that anything I share here is backed up in the book by directly shared experience and/or references to published research and statistics, in case you feel resistant to these truths, some of which are pretty shocking. For example, Black women tend to appear at higher education institutions a good few years later than their White counterparts, because racism and lack of support in schools mean they have to take alternative routes there, through different courses and colleges, countering low expectations (and the problem of all being lumped together: it’s been shown that girls of Caribbean and of African backgrounds have different educational outcomes but are shoved together into one group if they’re talked about at all). Even when Black applicants have the same grades as White ones, they are less likely to be offered university places (and this changes if the applications are anonymised, so we’re looking at names and schools bringing up bias in administrators’ choices). One thing that really shocked me was the Black entrepreneurs who are forced to adopt “White-sounding” aliases in order to get their foot in the door with distributors and shops, just to get that appointment: again, direct experience is reported here, from Dr Clare Anyiam-Osigwe BEM among others, and while individual cases are individual cases, we all know we’re representative of our demographic when we vote and make other choices, so I can’t believe these experiences are one-offs.

Microaggressions are explained, categorised and shared – from outright racism to tiny moments of assumption. This is something we can all watch out for in ourselves. But the whole culture of the UK is made up of microaggressions – for example, even when makeup ranges have darker shades, not all shops will stock them, and most of the brands with such ranges are higher-end and more expensive. I can pop into Boots or Superdrug for a lipstick or powder with not a thought about it, not so for the women writing this book. I thought that would have changed since I used to pop into the MAC local to my flat in central London to get my friend Angela’s foundation back in the 90s, but apparently not, with a few tiny and usually Black-entrepreneur-owned brand exceptions.

Something I hadn’t really considered was the power of the Internet – we hear a lot about abuse Black women in particular suffer online, but the connections the Internet offers have also allowed Black women to find their communities, share tips and support, share hashtags, many powerful ones being created by Black women. The recent movement in hair care away from dangerous chemical relaxers and towards natural hair has been largely powered by online connections and conversations, which is something I didn’t know. Now we have to work to keep the big companies to account so that the positives can outweigh the negatives, and that’s a job for all of us. Because we want to see more of this, don’t we:

It’s been fantastic, because what you see is black women especially being visible as fuck. And it means you don’t have to wait for anyone, no one gives you the red light, nobody has to say, okay, alright, we’re going to allow you. [Susan Wokoma on following Insta and YouTube accounts, p. 241]

This aspect also includes the fact that UK-specific accounts and streams are taking over here from US-based ones, with the same happening in TV media, too, which is great news; I’m certainly noticing more UK-specific books on immigration, BIPOC issues and anti-racism coming out too which speak to our specific culture here.

One small criticism of this otherwise excellent book is the heteronormativity in the section on relationships. It’s great to push for dating and marrying men who have empathy and understand Black women’s struggle and experience and who will educate themselves on it, but I found no mention of any other kind of sexual orientation or gender. The book was first published in 2018, so you can’t really excuse this gap and it was a shame that a female-identifying and/or non-heterosexual Black person would not find themselves represented here. I do appreciate the book can’t be all things to all people, and I didn’t delve into the sexuality and gender of all the interviewees, and obviously the other chapters could be considered to include all, but in this particular one, it did seemed a shame.

But all in all, this is a great book, eye-opening, shocking, powerful, and recommended for literally everybody.

Whew, a long review for me there, but the book is packed with an awful lot to say, and I wanted to share it! Have you read this and/or “Loud Black Girls”? What did you think?