It’s hard to believe that Slay In Your Lane is Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené’s first book. When I meet them, in a spare hour before their 4th Estate Literary Salon with ITV’s Charlene White, they talk like they’ve been doing this for years.
More seasoned authors would kill to be able to reel off their list of achievements; nine publishers were bidding for the book, it's now an Amazon Number 1 bestseller, and was picked as BBC Radio 4's book of the week.
But way before all these accolades, there was a lunchtime phone call.
‘Back in 2015, I read a lot of personal development books while employed in my first graduate job out of University’, recalls Elizabeth. ‘I read some great books, but none of them really spoke to the black female experience in the workplace. Sheryl Sandberg wrote a graduate version of Lean In, and included one chapter on the black female experience in her follow up edition, and I felt that shouldn’t have just been one chapter in a second edition book.
'After a frustrating week at work, I called my best friend Yomi, and said "can you write a book that speaks to me as a black woman in the workplace." Following that conversation we decided to work together, and decided to broaden it out beyond work, and cover other facets of a woman’s life.'
‘As we started our research we found that there was no literature on how to thrive in different contexts as black British woman.’ Yomi adds.
'If we had included African American woman there would have been a bigger market for the book, but we wanted to include our own experiences, we wanted it to be authentic and we wanted to give voices to black British women who are doing amazing things, but weren’t necessarily as visible as they would be if they were white women.’
This is the picture of Solange Knowles that inspired the book’s title
‘You love this story’ Yomi tells Elizabeth, egging her on to tell me about it.
I should mention here that I’ve heard this one before, as I’ve been following this book’s journey for two years, and Yomi and Elizabeth’s journey’s for much longer. We met at the University of Warwick, where you were far more likely to find us talking about Bashment than books.
But, I’ll let Elizabeth re-tell the story here, as it’s a good one.
‘About a week and a half after we came up with the idea for the book, it was a Saturday and I sent Yomi a picture of Solange Knowles at fashion week, in red fur, big hair and pointy shoes, and in capitals I wrote “SLAY IN YOUR LANE” – that was my instant reaction. And Yomi called me and said ‘That’s the name of the book.’
‘At that time Solange was trying to carve out her own lane and her unique identity as Beyoncé’s younger sister, and I think a lot of us as black women are trying to do that – outside of family expectations. In that picture she was really coming into her own.’
While the book specifically contains interviews with black British women, the pair use their social media savvy to celebrate women of colour from around the world. Their Twitter and Instagram accounts were gaining traction by sharing positive images and articles about black women slaying in their lanes way before the book had even been written.
While their publisher 4th Estate has been instrumental in securing the pair mainstream TV, radio, print, digital and event appearances, I suspect their social media presence - where they shared behind the scenes snippets of their high profile guests - allowed them to build up a loyal group who waited with baited breath for the pre-order link.
What’s behind the name the Black Girl Bible?
The book’s tagline reads; The Black Girl Bible, and this is a very deliberate choice of words.
‘One publisher did try and suggest ‘what about making it women of colour’ but thankfully there are two of us to say ‘no and no,’ Yomi tells me.
‘We wanted to do justice to women of colour, if someone of another ethnicity wants to write their own book, that’s important in and of itself, we always say this is the start of a conversation, not a full stop.
'But it’s important that our experiences are not amalgamated into one. In a lot of Elizabeth’s education chapters, it was really difficult to find data because researchers are so quick to amalgamate the experiences of all women of colour. It’s important that these things are distinct.
'Whilst woman of different ethnicities are oppressed, they’re oppressed in different ways, and it’s important to note that sometimes they’re oppressed opposing ways - for example with the stereotypes of anger that affects black women, the opposing stereotype for Asian women is that they’re submissive.'
‘Everyone should feel uncomfortable reading this book’
Yomi and Elizabeth insist the book is for everyone, but reading it I was surprised to see words I’m used to hearing among friends, “oyinbo” for example, printed boldly for the masses, with no asterisk to explain them.
‘Where it was necessary to define and explain the terms, and where it would help our demographic to do so, we did,’ Elizabeth tells me.
‘We thought that most people reading the book would understand oyinbo, and if not there’s Google’ Yomi adds. ‘There’s Google for wagwarn, there’s Google for feds. We talk how the people reading it talk, and if you really want to find out then… Google.’
‘As much as this book is for everyone, I think everyone will feel uncomfortable reading this book,’ Yomi says. ‘We’ve had messages from black girls that have said I’m halways through the education chapter and I’m already upset, it’s making me feel uncomfortable about my own experiences at school that I tried to supress, and tried to see through a lens without race.
‘White people will feel uncomfortable because these are conversations that they’re not always privy to, and they might think these conversations aren’t happening or don’t affect them but we all live in the same world.’
‘Black men will feel uncomfortable, there’s a lot in the book about dating, so whenever I see black men tweet about gifting the book to their girlfriend or sister it really touches me, because I was very nervous writing the dating chapter because I realised we were really going to have to go to places that even in the community we don’t address.’
‘We didn’t want to drag anyone, we just wanted to explain this is what’s happening and this is how you’re complicit in it. Even as black women sometimes we’re complicit in things that are to our own detriment, for example insulting other women based on their skin tone or their hair.
'So whether it’s because you feel triggered by something you read or whether you were part of it or didn’t know about it, people are going to feel uncomfortable, but discomfort is not always a bad thing – you’re learning.’
‘This book should be a relic in the future’
‘Reni Eddo Lodge walked so we could run’ Elizabeth tells me, referring to Reni’s 2017 best seller Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race.
‘Even though it’s called the Black Girl Bible, it’s not a full stop. This is a comprehensive guide, but there are more stories to be told.’
Do Yomi and Elizabeth think this book ever would’ve been written if they didn’t pitch it? ‘I think it may have been written in some form,’ says Yomi. ‘But I don’t think it would be the book it is now, and that’s because there’s a reason why, when Elizabeth called me and tried to give me this ridiculously good idea for free, I said no, let’s do this together because we both have our strengths. And that’s where friendship is so important, Elizabeth tried to gift me this and I brought her back in – there were no egos involved.'
As we finish off our interview, I ask Yomi and Elizabeth how they hope people will react to the book in the future.
‘Someone told us they want to give it to their daughter, but for her to not need it. We know this book won’t solve racism, we’re not stupid, you cannot slay your way out of systemic racism, but it would be amazing if this book became a relic. I love reading about history, things have changed a lot for black British women and if this goes some small way towards changing things that would be a dream.’
‘Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible’, by Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke, is out now (£16.99, 4th Estate)