The Black Girl Bible landed a year ago and, wow, what an impact it’s had. Best friends and co-authors Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené started working on Slay In Your Lane in the hope that it would inspire and uplift black British women in the workplace, prompted by a period of time when Elizabeth was unhappy in her job. What transpired, though, was a landmark book with input from 39 women on getting through all aspects of life when so much of what we’re surrounded by isn’t geared towards our success.
"I think it was that whole diversity within diversity thing," Elizabeth tells me. "If we're going to call something the Black Girl Bible, it needs to feel as rounded as possible. It would never be perfect for everybody, it won’t be the exact same experience, but with the stories and the amount of experiences and anecdotes, you can identify yourself in there."
The book earned accolade after accolade – including the Groucho Club's Maverick award for being "culturally progressive innovators, making the change" and support from London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Countless events, panels, interviews and news coverage followed as the book quickly turned from conversation starter to inspirational movement in itself; one that’s still pushing forward right now. A couple of weeks before the publication of their follow-up book, Slay In Your Lane: The Journal, which hopes to give black women practical tools inspired by the contents of the first book, the authors sat down with Refinery29 to reflect on the journey that landed them here.
"Towards the end of our book tour, the Q&A turned into a workshop. It was just us giving loads of advice," Elizabeth explains. "They’d be like, 'I need one more, one more!' It felt like these women wanted to know all these details and we thought, How do we scale this?
"It's just important for us to just keep doing things that are going to empower black women – that's essentially what Slay In Your Lane is. It's working out the version of success for yourself. And then once you work that out, you need the tools and you need the practical bits in order to get you to where you want to be. The journal's a very holistic way to do that."
The hunger for what Yomi and Elizabeth did is evident, and the engagement they’ve received is testament to how deeply their cause resonates with black British women right now. But among the success and celebration, they’ve also seen several people try to jump on the bandwagon and co-opt what they’d created. The irony of the authors being subject to black female erasure having just released a bestselling book on that very subject isn’t lost on either of them.
"The fact people honestly believe they can copy this and that no one's going to say anything, I believe a lot of that is because it's a 'black book'," Yomi tells me. "People don’t believe in black women’s spending power. They don’t believe in our power in terms of organising. If this was a 'white' book… I mean, look at that bloody Zara dress, it’s become a movement in itself!" Yomi half laughs as she references the It dress that sparked memes, think pieces and even real-life gatherings of the huge numbers of women who purchased it. "People see that as a 'sisterhood' and this huge thing. But Slay In Your Lane has been such a sisterhood."
Yomi tells me about a time when she and Elizabeth went to an event where women they’d never met before said they were praying for her. "This is what it is – these amazing black women looking out for us. It’s a sisterhood by its very definition and yet people think they can steamroll over it and be like 'Oh, I’m just gonna put this on a billboard. No one will say anything.'"
Back in May of this year, BBC Sport was running an advertising campaign promoting women's sport. Fans and supporters of Yomi and Elizabeth’s book had been sending them pictures of the billboards that had started appearing and asking if they’d been involved. They hadn’t, but the assumption that they had is understandable. It felt like the images of black athlete Dina Asher-Smith racing in front of the words 'Slay In Your Lane' was a conscious reference to the movement Yomi and Elizabeth were championing, but what frustrated them the most was that they weren’t even cited, having trademarked the phrase when their book was published.
"We made sure that we paid homage to the women that came ahead of us. We made sure that we didn't pretend that we were the only people that have ever done this. We were always thinking about the fact that there are plenty of black, even BAME authors that set a climate which meant that we could do what we did," Yomi explains, citing Afua Hirsch and Reni Eddo-Lodge as pavers of the path they're walking.
"What really hurts about it is that citation is free," Yomi adds. "It costs absolutely nothing to say This is where this came from. Had they [the BBC] asked us, had they in any way involved us in the process, I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t have… I mean it’s common practice, you license a trademark. They’re very aware of this. They chose not to be because primarily, they didn’t believe that we had the following, readership or the relevance, to be frank, to get people to care."
But people really did care. After approaching the BBC and not getting a response, Yomi decided to tweet about the situation. "Imagine being a white woman creating an 'eMpOwErInG WoMeNs' ad campaign for @BBCSport, and choosing to rip off the *TRADEMARKED* name of a book specifically aimed at uplifting black women (and in an almost identical font)," she wrote. Followers and fans were outraged. People flooded Yomi’s direct messages with advice and support, but within just an hour of tweeting what had happened, Yomi says one of the BBC campaign’s creative directors called her a 'bully'. "Elizabeth was like, 'Of all things, I’m not going to have someone call you a bully because this is so obviously rooted in angry black woman misogynoir'."
The BBC eventually responded and said that the legal advice they'd obtained advised that it was "sufficiently far removed from the goods and services covered by the trademark registration in place", and the campaign was subsequently taken down after being live for just five days. The frustration is exhausting and familiar as an observer, let alone being on the direct receiving end, as Yomi and Elizabeth have been – especially after doing something incredibly positive. Yomi thinks that their efforts to get people to understand the significance of Slay In Your Lane and how much it means to people are undermined by the fact that she and Elizabeth are black women. "And you know what, we’re not just black women, we’re young black women. That plays such a big part because I always say that one of the first search terms, when you search my name on Google, is my age, and I think it's probably the same for Elizabeth as well." It’s true. Type in either full name and 'age' will be the third or fourth suggestion.
"We are quite young, we're both 27 years old, but I know that’s used to undermine. Like 'they’re young, they’re black'…" How could you possibly know anything, I suggest. "Exactly! With every facet of our identity, trying to undermine what we’ve done, and I think race has everything to do with it."
Yomi adds: "The book wouldn’t need to exist if it wasn’t about race, the reaction has been incredible but the way people think it can be so easily pasted over and erased is because we’re black women. We’re happy, though, to completely remind everybody that at the core of it this is by black women for black women, it’s not going anywhere."
She’s mindful to mention that they’ve seen other black women and people within the publishing industry try to lift the Slay In Your Lane blueprint and disregard the work that they, and people before them, had done to create their own, which is particularly painful. "I think as much as there’s been a lot of rubbish, at the core of it it’s been so overwhelming and an amazing experience because so many black women have just supported us in so many ways," Yomi says. "I think it's beautiful that black women are buying, not just for themselves, but paying it forward and buying it for their sisters, their friends, their sisters-in-law, their cousins. I think race is at the very core of it, but in a good way."
Slay In Your Lane: The Journal by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené is published by 4th Estate on 5th September.