Raw, Relatable, Redemptive

Book review: "Hush Money" by Jacquie Abram

Hello friends, today I’m passing the mic to my sister, fellow anti-racism activist, and Introvert Sisters co-host, Lisa Hurley. Take it away, Sis!

Co-authored by Jacquie Abram, along with her two daughters Deborah and Delilah Harris, Hush Money is a “ripped-from-reality” fictionalized tale of one woman’s harrowing experience of navigating racism throughout her career. 

The novel’s main character is Ebony, a Black woman who is not only struggling financially and dealing with family issues (at one point her mother is diagnosed with cancer), but is also stuck in a series of dead-end, low-paying jobs. Finally, her American dream started to come true…or so she thought. She got her dream job and started movin’ on up. Her ascent on the ladder of success came to an abrupt halt – or at least got much more difficult – when she became the target of interpersonal and systemic racism. Hush Money takes readers on a roller coaster ride, detailing Ebony’s emotionally eviscerating experiences, and how she was ultimately able to triumph over the trolls.

Here’s what stood out to me: 

The Title

The book’s title spoke to me, but the subtitle even more so. On its face, Hush Money sounded like it would be easy and entertaining; however the subtitle sent it straight to the top of my TBR list, foreshadowing that it would be much deeper than a light vacation read. “How One Woman Proved Systemic Racism And Kept Her Job” appealed to the me of old that had experienced similar situations, but been unable to either prove them, or successfully advocate for myself. It piqued my interest, as I wanted to discover how the heroine was able to confront racism head on and remain employed. I did not know that it was possible to do both.

The Tension

Hush Money is a fast read, but not an easy one. I completed it in two sittings, but only because it honestly made me feel too tense and anxious to finish it in one. Reading the book was a visceral experience: as I turned each page, my stomach was in knots; my breathing was shallow; I had flashbacks to similar experiences of my own. I had to put it down a couple of times in order to de-escalate, regulate my breathing, and give myself an emotional respite. 

The Triggering

I felt simultaneously triggered and validated. As alluded to above, I took breaks, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. Reading this alarmingly familiar story was extremely triggering. This is not a negative—I definitely enjoyed reading the novel and recommend it highly. However, for those of us who have been in the trenches dealing with corporate racism, it can unearth uncomfortable memories. For example, with a simple change of name, this could have been my story:

“...Ms. Kelly tried to break me, like I was a wild horse she was determined and eager to tame. She humiliated me in meetings on a daily basis, degraded and dehumanized me with threats and fear…”

The validation came because I have been through similar attacks more than once, but no one believed me. Or if they did believe, they tried to gaslight and manipulate me into thinking that what I knew was happening was not happening. Ebony’s tribulations in Hush Money echoed my own lived experiences, and confirmed that I had not imagined them. (This is one of the reasons, btw, why companies prefer to hire Black people as “the only.” As the sole Black woman or minoritized person, you can’t compare experiences, form coalitions, and get support. You are made to fend for yourself, toe the line, and surrender to the subjugation.) 

The Truthfulness

The book is fiction based on real events, which probably accounts for its raw authenticity. Anyone who has ever experienced racism in the workplace will (alas) be able to relate to the overall storyline as well as the details. Hush Money sheds light on why so many minoritized people, and Black women in particular, are in a semi-permanent state of trauma, stress, and exhaustion. 

Just as Ebony finds herself in situation after situation, having to struggle, strain, and remain strong, so do most of us. Hush Money unflinchingly illuminates what is, for the majority of marginalized people, daily life on the corporate plantation. We don’t get to simply turn up to work and be great. There are battles for us to fight at every turn. If any companies are wondering why so many Black and brown people prefer to WFH and are participating in The Great Resignation, Abram’s novel provides an inkling as to why:

“Things…were so bad that I dreaded coming to work, afraid of the new attacks each day would bring. My job became a living nightmare from which I could not awake, gave me an enormous amount of anxiety, and resulted in forty pounds of weight gain over a three-month period due to stress.”

The Teachings

There are many, but the lesson/reminder that stood out most to me is this:

Racism is not confined to hoods, capes, burning crosses, bombed churches, murdering Black people for existing, or (insert other overtly racist act). As Black and brown people have been saying for decades:  Racism. Is. Everywhere. 

  • Racism also looks like moving from pet to threat. 

  • Racism looks like being used as diversity window dressing. 

  • Racism looks like being denied promotions. 

  • Racism looks like being “the only” at the office. 

  • Racism looks like being gatekept out of the club. 

  • Racism looks like microaggressions and misogynoir. 

  • Racism looks like people throwing shade on your hair, food, or manner of dress. 

  • Racism looks like colleagues deliberately mispronouncing our names.

  • Racism looks like the glass ceiling that we all know is there, but that those in power deny exists. 

  • Racism looks like being told to use bootstraps while others benefit from nepotism. 

  • Racism looks like being excellent, but overlooked. 

  • Racism looks like having to code switch to be accepted or viewed as professional.

  • Racism looks like being simultaneously ignored and micro-managed. 

  • Racism looks like having our livelihoods adversely impacted. 

  • Racism looks like being gaslit and not believed when we say that our workplaces are racist and unsafe. 

  • Racism looks like never being able to relax and simply exist. 

  • Racism looks like needing receipts not only in stores, but also, as Ebony taught us, in our places of work. 

The Triumph

We have a saying back home in Barbados: Night runs until day catches it. In other words, the truth will always come to light, and karma will absolutely have its moment. As Ebony’s mother once advised her: 

"While he's diggin' a hole under you, he don't know God's diggin' a bigger hole under him. I guarantee you he'll fall in his hole before he finishes diggin' yours."

Although the novel addresses some difficult issues, including suicidal ideation, it ends positively. Hush Money takes the reader on a rollercoaster of tribulations, tears, and ultimately triumph. 

The Takeaway

I recommend Hush Money for all marginalized people who want their lived experiences validated. The validation, the knowledge that you are not alone, can help to start your healing process. I also recommend it for anyone who is in a similar situation, because it provides a step-by-step roadmap for how to compile airtight documented evidence. Finally, I recommend the novel for allies, as it provides a point of departure for how to put allyship into action, and clarifies why it is important to believe, advocate for, and protect Black women. Looking forward to reading the sequel, which is already available.

Folks, I hope you found this review as informative as I did. We’d love to hear your thoughts, and be sure to connect with Lisa on the links below.

Lisa Hurley is a writer, speaker, and activist whose work focuses on anti-racism, texturism, and destigmatizing introversion. She is also a passionate advocate for inclusion, equity, and gender equality. Lisa is the Editor-At-Large of Linked Inclusion™, co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast, and a member of the Black Speakers Collection. She has been quoted in Forbes, Essence, and Fast Company. Lisa is always interested in having meaningful conversations! Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.

I am an anti-racism writer, a professional B2B writer and blogger, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast. If you value my perspective, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription.

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