Slay in your lane: Meet the authors of a 'bible' for black women

The authors of a book aimed at black British women on microaggressions, otherness, identity and empowerment.

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    Yomi Adegoke, left, and Elizabeth Uviebinene met at university and have found literary success with their 'bible' for black, British women [Courtesy: HarperCollins]
    Yomi Adegoke, left, and Elizabeth Uviebinene met at university and have found literary success with their 'bible' for black, British women [Courtesy: HarperCollins]

    London, England - A new self-help book covers everything from microaggressions in the workplace and the intricacies of dating, to education and identity.

    But unlike other books in the genre, Slay In Your Lane - The Black Girl Bible was written by two black British women as an attempt to not only empower, but also dissect structural racism in the UK.

    One chapter opens the sensitive subject of dating as a black woman. "Preferences aren't born in a vacuum," says Yomi Adegoke, author and journalist.

    Another section tackles the various hurdles black British women face at work in order to grow professionally.

    Nine publishers fought for the book, which was released in July.

    Al Jazeera spoke to Slay In Your Lane authors Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene, who is a marketing manager. They are both 26 years old, have been friends for years, and are British Nigerian.

    Al Jazeera: You have mentioned reading several books that aim to empower women, such as Sheryl Sandberg's, Lean In. What was missing in them, that inspired Slay In Your Lane?

    Uviebinene: Those books were written by white women … I wanted a comprehensive guide for black women in the workplace and our experiences, which are very different. There are different stereotypes and prejudices that are committed to us, just by virtue of being a black woman.

    Al Jazeera: Your book covers the issue of "microaggressions". What are examples of these, and how do you recommend overcoming them?

    Uviebinene: It was empowering being able to define the different types of microaggressions, from micro-invalidations to micro-insults. 

    Before a black woman gets to her desk, there are different ways that microaggressions come into play - someone questioning authority, someone assuming you can't be a manager, someone assuming you are a lower grade.

    You walk in on Monday and your hair is different to how it looked on Friday. "Your hair looks nice" is fine [as a reaction], but then you hear comments such as, "your hair is a political statement", "your hair looks like Bob Marley's".

    Though these comments can be light-hearted, when our days are filled with them it becomes a weight on your shoulders.

    Before you do your job, you have to deal with essentially being the other.

    There isn't an exact way to overcome microaggressions, but the most important thing is to pick your battles.

    Al Jazeera: There is currently a debate in the world of publishing about diversity. A few authors, such as Lionel Shriver, have claimed that writers from minority backgrounds are more likely to get book deals as publishers attempt to fulfil diversity targets. What do you say to this idea?

    Uviebinene: I find it frustrating where this conversation is going and that this is what we're talking about. I think we're derailing and being distracted by what the actual challenges are. Publishing remains very, very white in terms of who is giving and getting deals.

    Al Jazeera: You are British Nigerian. How would you characterise Britain's relationship with its immigrant citizens? And are there similarities with your experiences in Nigeria, as a Briton?

    Adegoke: As a Nigerian Brit with two Nigerian parents, I have been told several times - at any point when I have something negative to say about [the UK], the country I [and my mother were] born in - that I should be grateful to have been born here and live here.

    I think that is illustrative of how this country sees people who have immigrated here who are not white [compared to white immigrants]. There's a big distinction.

    That gratefulness is expected because I'm thought to be somebody who has come from somewhere else where the set-up isn't as prosperous, or because me being born here has saved me from some other [perceived] hell-hole, without them acknowledging that the majority of the problems in the country I'm from stem from Britain's colonial rule there.

    You can't slay your way out of systemic and institutional racism, that's why it's important that people who aren't black and aren't women, and aren't black women, are privy to the conversation as well.

    Yomi Adegoke, author and journalist

    The hostility comes from the idea that you are renting as opposed to living here - you are essentially trespassing and will never truly be British. If anything showed that, it was the treatment of the Windrush generation … Had that happened to white people who were en masse told they weren't British after all, despite their passports saying so, there would be outrage.

    It's a strained relationship, it's one where you're asked where you're really from. Saying you're from Croydon, which is where I live, isn't enough. There is always this, "No, but where do you really come from?". That emphasises the fact that it certainly isn't Britain, it isn't England.

    In Nigeria, the first thing I am called there is white. I can't speak Yoruba. There is a lot emphasis on how different you are, but it's not hostile. Nigerians may call me white, but they also still call me Nigerian and they claim me as Nigerian.

    Elizabeth and I are going to a literary festival in Nigeria, and we've been invited as Nigerians. I know I'm Nigerian. There might be some teasing about my pronunciation there, but I'm considered to be home. It's not hostile, it's not comparable to how things are in Britain at all. It's very different.

    Al Jazeera: What do you think your book achieves?

    Adegoke: I hope it has achieved awareness. People in and outside the community weren't aware of the levels of systemic, institutional racism, and sexism - and then the combination of the two which specifically affects black women - so, misogynoir.

    There is a myth that we are subject to the same hurdles as everyone else, as white women, black men, white men, even Asian women, Asian men. It's not better or worse, it's different. You can't empower yourself if you don't know what you're subject to.

    When it comes to allies and white society, how do we move forward if people aren't aware of what they are complicit in? Let's forget what people are actively doing, people aren't even aware of what they are benignly allowing to happen.

    The book has allowed a conversation to take place. 

    You can't slay your way out of systemic and institutional racism, that's why it's important that people who aren't black and aren't women, and aren't black women, are privy to the conversation as well. 

    This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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