ELIZABETH UVIEBINENÉ and Yomi Adegoke are sitting opposite each other in a café, gesticulating and talking as fast as they can with an infectious enthusiasm.
The 26-year-old friends — and first-time authors — are recalling how they came to sign a rumoured five-figure book deal for their self-help book, Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, which came out a few days ago. ‘We came up with the idea, then googled “how to get a book deal”,’ Elizabeth (top right, with Yomi) laughs.
‘Yeah,’ says Yomi, ‘it came up saying, “You need to get an agent”, so we googled “how to get an agent”… It was literally like that!’
Cue more laughter.
‘We needed a black version of Lean In’
Billed as a ‘guide to life for a generation of black British women’ Slay In Your Lane covers topics such as education, work, dating, representation, money and health. The pair are stylish, sassy and funny, and interact more like sisters than mates — in fact, Elizabeth even moved just a few minutes away from Yomi and her family in west Croydon. So where did the inspiration for this book come from?
‘The idea was formed when I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and thought, “Someone needs to write a black version of this book,”’ says Elizabeth. ‘I had a look online and a lot of people were talking about this but nothing existed. I saw a gap in the market.’
Elizabeth, who worked in marketing, then called journalist Yomi, her best pal since university, and the pair have since spent the last three-and-a-half years working on their inspirational and honest guide, which examines being black and female in the UK in 2018 and gives advice on how to navigate life’s challenges.
It uses examples not only from their own lives but also from interviews with 39 of the most successful black women in Britain, including Amma Asante, Jamelia, Denise Lewis (below), Malorie Blackman, Charlene White and Dawn Butler MP. The pair talked to a focus group of black women.
‘The evidence shows black women are three times less likely to get swiped right’
‘We are both of Nigerian heritage, state school-educated and from south London but we wanted to get a breadth of experiences,’ says Elizabeth. ‘We met girls from different backgrounds, with parents from different countries, but when they gathered, the same issues come up.’
Issues, the pair say, like health.
‘Research shows just how much less seriously black women are taken with things like breast cancer,’ says Elizabeth. ‘A lot of the literature around breast cancer essentially represents one type of woman. As a black woman, you don’t necessarily see it as your issue. The information about illness often says things like “your skin will go red” and we are taught to associate pain with redness — but when that’s not going to happen to you, it’s hard to think the same applies.’
‘With dating,’ says Yomi, ‘the evidence shows black women are three times less likely to get swiped right on a dating app than white women. And when it comes to education, we are falling between the cracks. Everyone is aware black boys and white working-class boys are sidelined in the education system but where do black women and girls fit into that?
‘Again, at work black women — and black people — are less likely to be seen as leadership material. Looking at all these statistics as a whole, there was a definite story there.’
Indeed there is, and Yomi and Elizabeth want to change things.
‘In the black community there are levels in terms of representation,’ says Yomi. ‘The lighter you are, the closer you are to a white beauty standard. We have big black noses and big lips and we’re dark and yet we are visible. We have also had people saying things like, “I just went out to buy the book and I couldn’t believe two black Nigerian girls with complicated surnames have done it”.’
‘This is the book I wish I’d had when I was 21,’ adds Elizabeth. ‘It’s a coming-of-age book. It would have made me realise that I wasn’t so alone in terms of experience and put a name to things I couldn’t explain. It would have also made me feel more confident and made me realise how many different types of role models there are out there.
‘The other day I was walking in west Croydon and I saw a little black girl, maybe about seven, and she had really dark skin like me, how I was when I was younger,’ she continues. ‘And she was just walking with her big book bag and I looked at her and thought, “I want you to have a better experience growing up than I did. I want you to know when you grow up in this country that you can do anything or be anything”.’
So is this the black Lean In?
‘Last week, Sheryl Sandberg sent us an email!’ says Elizabeth. ‘I screamed when I opened it. I just couldn’t have imagined that would happen.’
■ Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl’s Bible (Harper Collins) is out now