Slay in Your Lane: the self-help must-read for black women
Slay In Your Lane is a book, which for me, a black woman, felt long overdue. Before I read it about a week ago, I had never come across a self-help book that fully addressed the intrinsic difficulties that come with being a black woman. However, there is a feminist thread running throughout the book that means that people that aren’t black or aren’t women will be able to read the book to become better educated about the systemic oppression of black women and how they can help to open more doors and acknowledge our worth.
In addition, the beauty of this book comes from the fact that it contains interviews from 39 inspiring black women who have worked hard, and continue to work hard to cultivate success in their fields. From BBC Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo, to acclaimed author Malorie Blackman, the interviewees are diverse in terms of careers and also in terms of their personal journeys. This book is important because it is probably of the first of its kind, in the way it comprehensively and sensitively deals with advice on navigating life and the workplace as a black woman. The foreword to the book describes it as the ‘love child of exasperation and optimism’, an apt description that captures the book’s encouraging argument that for a black woman pursuing a fruitful career in the face of oppression is not impossible.
It feels like just the right time for a book like this, in an age in which black women have access to language that defines difficult aspects of their experience. Words like ‘micro-aggression’ and ‘mansplaining’ may seem superficial and a sign of the world becoming too ‘politically correct’, but this is far from the case. Furthermore, the ever-growing language of racism and sexism enables black women to identify and speak up against the limitations and obstacles of a world in which power lies concentrated in the hands of white men.
Slay In Your Lane also addresses the negative associations with black womanhood, those that are obvious and those that are more subtle. For instance, the narrative of the ‘strong black woman’ is deconstructed to reveal the way in which that denies black women a sense of identity. Furthermore, the ‘strong black woman’ narrative is harmful in the way it seems to suggest that black women cannot be emotional beings, and are only of value if they are successful. Of course, black women have to face systemic racism as well as sexism which means that daily life requires a lot of resilience, but that’s only part of the picture.
The narrative of being ‘strong’ does not indicate the culture of over-achieving behind that, and the fact that we often have to work ‘twice as hard to get half as good’, especially when competing for something against white men; black women are serially underestimated and underemployed. There are figures to support this, ‘black graduates, on average are paid £4.30 an hour less than white graduate’. These are tough pills to swallow, but it indicates the insidious systemic racism present in the UK. This racism means that Perhaps its time to dismantle systems limiting the progress of black women, instead of feeling smug in comparison to the horrific state of race relations and the blatant nature of racism in the US.
For instance, the chapter ‘Black Faces in White Spaces’ deals with the emotional and well-being costs of pursuing a career where you are a minority in terms of race. Situations easily become toxic, as afflictions such as Imposter Syndrome can eat away at even the most determined and focused of black women who may question their competence in the face of persistent ignorance and harrasment. It is put perfectly in the book ‘you’re invited to the table to sit, but you’re being asked to speak in the same voice as those that you’re occupying the table with. Therefore, black women are made to feel hyperaware of their behavior, making sure we ae not ‘too loud’ or ‘too ratchet’. But the book appreciates the necessity of rejecting the notion that as black women, we must ‘negotiate’ who we are. The book encourages the appreciation of black people and discourages the system of control that tells us we are less by excluding us and overanalyzing our behaviour.
Some might yawn and argue that the self-help book for women in the workplace Lean In, renders Slay in Your Lane mediocre in terms of subject matter, but that standpoint is simply untrue. In fact, it is groundbreaking for its unique and intimate focus on the black female experience which is so underrepresented. Mental health, and difficulties in terms of career and culture in the black female context is addressed thoroughly, giving the book enormous value. As the book affirms, ‘For far too long, black women’s aspirations (in the UK) have not been part of the conversation’ and a lot of work must be done if progress for female equality, and especially empowering black women, is to be maintained. The conversation is being extended to black women through this book and is extremely encouraging. Slay in Your Lane has secured its place as a staple on the bookshelves (and hopefully, hearts) of black women in the UK and beyond.