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Review: I'm Not Yelling by Elizabeth Leiba
A powerful and impactful book, especially for Black women
Here’s my review of a highly recommended book: I’m Not Yelling by Elizabeth Leiba. I’ll start with the short review I posted on Amazon, before moving to a deeper dive.
I’m Not Yelling: My Amazon Review
When Liz Leiba said she was writing a book, I knew it would be an excellent read. I wasn’t disappointed. From the poignant and powerful foreword by Lisa Hurley (yes, she’s my sister) to the very last sentence, I’m Not Yelling takes you on a journey through Black women’s experiences of corporate and other workplaces.
More importantly, it charts Liz’s journey of rediscovering and reclaiming her voice and fighting back against the many injustices Black women experience. And it shows how we can do it too, both by illustrating ways to stand in our power and with the affirmations at the end of each chapter. Simply put, I loved every word, and it’s a book that will remain on my digital bookshelf and to which I’ll return at intervals for a pick-me-up.
Digging Deeper Into I’m Not Yelling
I’m Not Yelling has 8 chapters.
1: how it began
2: finding your voice
3: imposter syndrome or imposter treatment
4: code-switching and other exhausting behavior
5: afros, locs, twists, and braids - the politics of natural hair
6: I’m not yelling - the psychology of micro-aggressions
7: opening the door - mentorship, sponsorship, and sisterhood
8: a seat at the table or building your own empire
I’m Not Yelling starts with a foreword that sets the scene for all that follows. It is, in fact, a masterclass in how word choice can evoke feeling - and there are a lot of feelings evoked in this scene setter.
As Lisa Hurley talks about the weaponisation of “why are you yelling”, she is clear on the purpose and the effect: “This phrase is weaponized to police our tone. It is an attempt to manipulate us into quiet submission. It is meant to mute our voice.”
Like Liz, Lisa sees and finds redemption in reclaiming her voice, and ably preps us for all that follows.
Hearing Important Truths
When reviewing a book, there’s always a balance between sharing enough to whet other readers’ appetite and giving away too much, so I’ll simply say that if you’ve ever worked as a Black woman (or Black or Global Majority person) in white majority spaces, you’ll recognise the code-switching and negation of self Liz describes throughout the book.
And if you’ve lived through the past few years, you’ll also relate to the need to throw off those shackles - for that is what they are - and speak your truth. And this book is FULL of truths:
truths about “imposter syndrome” and the poor treatment that creates that false feeling
truths about how Black natural hair is perceived and politicised
truths about the importance of sisterhood in creating space for Black women to thrive
truths about the need to create our own spaces and make our voices heard rather than make ourselves small and silent in spaces that were never intended to include us.
And there are truths that skewer you with their accuracy, like this:
“We are careful, calculating, and not fully sure of ourselves, even though we seem competent and feel that way based on our attitude, experiences, education, and background. But that fully invested sense of trust in ourselves, based on living the truth of who we really are in professional spaces, just isn’t quite there.”
“at some point you will experience a trigger that will bring all of that unconfronted trauma right to the surface.”
I can attest that this kind of trigger happened to me in 2022 and this is completely accurate.
What I Learned
I learned things, too. We often see the experience of Black people who’ve been minoritised in the USA. We hear less about those who manage to live a largely Black existence in their youth. That’s one experience Liz shared, and as someone who grew up in the Caribbean I totally related to the richness and power of that upbringing, and the feeling of having a voice, only to have it denied later.
One aspect of the book that stood out to me is Liz’s use of interviews of other Black women. These lend additional weight to what is already a very compelling narrative of the lived experience behind the stats we often see.
Encouraged to Reflect, Heal and Grow
The inspirational quotes at the start of each chapter are a source of healing. Another aspect I loved about the book is the invitation to reflect, with questions at the end of each chapter. This makes it not just a book, but a workbook, with an invitation to all readers to begin their healing process. And the affirmations at the end of each chapter allow us to speak a new reality into being, which is another important aspect of healing.
Among other things, Liz brings academic rigour to her book. Every fact is supported, and every reader will learn things (like for example how Sojourner Truth’s words were appropriated and changed by a white woman). It’s an easy read, but it doesn’t allow you to look away from the truth or turn off your brain. That’s a delicate balance not many writers can achieve, but Liz does it effortlessly.
There’s no better way to end this review than with the author’s own words, which are a clarion call to all of us now making our voices heard:
“If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, a mantra I believe in, and an affirmation I repeat to myself daily, it’s that my voice is power. My voice is worthy. My voice is authentic. My voice is true. And I will never fail to recognize how critical it is to step into that reality every day as I navigate the world around me.”
10 Key Quotes
Here are just 10 of the many, many quotes that stood out to me (I don’t think I’ve ever highlighted so much in a book):
“My mission has evolved into showing other Black women how to achieve this freedom. It comes from embracing this mantra of authenticity, which has brought me such a keen sense of emotional well-being and peace of mind.”
“Black students get the illusion of education without the critical components of a quality education. This systemic approach to denying Black students a quality education has resulted in inequities in high school graduation, college enrollment, graduation rates, and degree attainment.”
“much of the joy we lose is because we are always on guard. We always feel as though we must be exemplary, but in many ways that stifles our true potential.”
“in America, being too bold in how you told your story and how you spoke to others that didn’t look like you, or even learning to read and write, could get you killed. So that tradition and legacy were stolen. Reconciling generational trauma associated with that reality can be painful; however, leveraging the power of our true narratives is essential to reclaiming our power and finding our individual voices.”
“How we speak to ourselves matters. What we say about ourselves matters. And I make a conscious effort to speak to myself and about myself with love.”
“The lesson to learn here is not to follow popular advice that suggests Black women must assimilate and only tell our stories in a way that makes sense to everyone. The truth is that our stories are unique, and those who relate to us will be drawn to us”
“as a historian, I can’t understate the importance of storytelling to the Black community from a cultural perspective. Oral history was a part of our African heritage that allowed us to tell our stories, pass down family lineage, and create a sense of identity.”
“I also immediately felt struck by the revelation that, despite the common narratives, no matter what you do, you can still be a victim of trauma and even murder by people who perceive you as a threat. And this can simply happen because of how you look and sound and, more specifically, because you don’t look—or sound—like them.”
“The onus is placed on Black people to speak, act, behave, and dress in a manner that mimics those in the majority. But there really isn’t a clear reason why, other than the fact that who we are in our natural, authentic state is seen as undesirable—not worthy of being in those spaces.”
“By categorizing microaggressions as subtle, unconscious, or unintentional, it minimizes the responsibility of the person committing the act as well as the amount of harm inflicted. Even the name “microaggression” gives the impression that it’s no big deal or something that can be overlooked. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.