Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible Book Review
Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible is a brilliant compendium of honest interviews, energy, and evidence. The book signifies a movement of unity and, despite the unavoidable hard truths and depressing statistics, positivity. Although some of the references are a couple of years old now (the book was published in 2018), it is still so relevant today. For young black women trying to make their way in a white, euro-centric, patriarchal society this book will support them with the advice, anecdotes, and cultural comparisons that can often be hard to come by. For those white people who are in positions of influence, this book hopes to expose their ignorance and inform their behaviour and their policies.
It is clear upon reading this book that there are a myriad of factors that affect the perception, health, success and happiness of black women. From daily microaggressions, to institutional racism, black women have many unfairly imposed barriers to overcome. As I wrote about in my previous blog, black women have at least two glass ceilings to break through: sexism and racism. In this intersection of being black and being female, lie circumstances that make their lives, on average, harder than those who are neither. Throughout the chapters on education, health, work and representation (to name a few), I began to recognise themes that came up again and again.
We are hypervisible in predominantly white spaces, but somehow, we often remain unseen.
Black people and other people of colour are part and parcel of our society. The fact I even have to write that is a sad reflection of our current climate. It turns out, though, that black women in particular often feel invisible, under-appreciated and under-represented. The mantra of having to work twice as hard as everyone else is something engrained from a young age, to try to compensate for the unfairness of the systems ahead of them. I have seen evidence that shows a direct correlation between the pride students feel and their actual test results. We owe it to these children to challenge these norms. If students felt represented and their cultures appreciated, not only is it the right thing to do morally, but it actively encourages better opportunities for them. The confidence which is so often lacking is a significant inhibitor to progress.
For African parents, I think it was just that thing that they wanted stability.
High expectations placed early on, in spite of fewer opportunities given to them, creates an extra burden on black girls. Instability and lack of equality produce anxious parents, which in turn produces anxious children. This problem seems to be self-perpetuating. Pressure and expectation is one of the experiences that seem to plague the lives of a lot of black women. When discussing education and the workplace, blackness can be a burden. As is commonly the case, black people feel like they are representing their race. Not the individuals they are. On a related note, there is a whole chapter dedicated to mental health entitled ‘Black Girls Don’t Cry’ and one quote that sums up the situation well is:
The stigma of mental health in the black community often means many sufferers are silent about it.
It is this pressure, this lack of inclusion and, of course, the assumptions made by others that is making their health worse. So much so that:
A UK study found that minorities were more likely to attempt suicide if they lived in areas lacking ethnic diversity.
African-Caribbean people living in the UK are more likely to be diagnosed with severe mental illness than any other ethnicity in the UK.
Black people are three times more likely to be admitted to hospital and up to 44 per cent more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act than white people.
A 2013 report by mental health charity Mind found that the majority of respondents said staff weren’t diverse enough within mental health.
This last point is a thought that is so commonplace, I am completely unsurprised by it. Having written about lack of diversity and proportional representation in the media, in our courts and in our schools, it does not surprise me that mental health is another sector which has a distinct lack of diversity. As this book also points out, if a black woman gets a leaflet through the post about their breast cancer screening but they see a white woman in the pictures, they’re more likely to think that it doesn’t apply to them. I guess I have never really considered that a lack of representation could actually be killing black people.
As I read this book, and look through my notes, I feel sad that there are often swathes of potential that have not been tapped into simply because of the restricted opportunities afforded to black children and adults. As a teacher, the chapters on mainstream education and university really hit home. I have read and written about institutional racism across the education sector before (I thank Akala’s Natives for large parts in that) but the point is not driven home quite so impactfully as it is in this book. The two authors write with such compassion and honest reflection that it is hard not to reflect on my own teaching. The Pygmalion effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein high expectations lead to improved performance in a given area. If white students are given more encouragement than black children it is unfair to then compare attainment. And yet, we do. In short, we often set black children up because of our assumptions made about them. It is shown that there are: "Fewer leniencies than their white counterparts, and written off as problem children more quickly." Not to mention, that there are too few black teachers to for black children to relate to.
One in five black children believe their skin colour could damage their job prospects.
Education really is everything. Maybe I am exposing my ignorance in suggesting that if we can that right, everything else should fall into place. We simply have to encourage equality, education, inclusion from a young age. With a lack of aspirations, lack of self-belief, lack of awareness, lack of inspirational figures and lack of representation, black girls should be able to rely on the British education system to help. Presently though, it seems to be the cause. Not the solution.
This book goes on to talk about the racism prevalent in our universities as well. It explains that flippant racism/micro aggressions are as common amongst the educated as the uneducated. Do not be fooled into thinking that highly educated students, or educational institutions themselves are devoid of racism. As is so well articulated in this chapter, it is often the powerful that are most guilty. For instance, "In 2010, 67.9 per cent of white students gained a first-class or upper-second-class degree at university compared to only 49.3 per cent of BAME students who entered with the same grades." A common feeling amongst black students is "Imposter syndrome". Indeed, this experience of feeling undeserving or unappreciated is a thread we see throughout black women's lives.
There are so many other things I learned from the book, and I did write a few more paragraphs out. Unfortunately, I lost everything I wrote from this point onwards so instead I'll summarise the main points.
Are under-represented and they often feel a lack of inclusion or invisibility.
Feel a lot of pressure to meet society's expectations, meet parents' expectations and represent the black community in general.
Face constant micro-aggressions.
This book has definitely informed me and I hope that it goes without saying that I would recommend it. The messages are essential but I also love how they are communicated; with passion and with thoroughness.