Cover Image: Taking Up Space

Taking Up Space

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Member Reviews

I wished this book existed when I was at university, but I am so glad it does for my own child. 

While being the only black woman in a lecture hall at predominantly white institution is the norm for many young Black women in the UK, Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi, and their interviews of 14  other Cambridge graduates have given us a not only much needed insight for non Black people, but also information  for Black people on navigating these spaces. 


The Chronology of the books essays takes us through the dreaded pre-application anxiety, the years of study and post-graduation expectations, perfectly capturing and articulating the challenges of Black women in higher education face, and how the actors they meet along the way may help or hinder. 

However I couldn't help but be put off by the weight given to the perpetuation of the Oxbridge fetishisation that comes across with this book  even so it offers much needed debate and adds to the often times invisible narrative of the Black experience.
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This book manages to be both informative and humourous, and is a book that is particularly relevant in light of the recent public protests and movements seen across the world. I would highly recommend this.
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This was brilliant; a necessary read on subjects that are usually extremely centred on white voices.
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Taking up space is a value resource to black women who are determined to pave the way they wish to walk, with deserved spirit and appreciation. The UK is not absolved from racism and subverted prejudice. It isn’t always subtle, and it doesn’t always have to be violent. This book presents an incredible series of discussions, an excellent motivator and piece of resistance
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This is powerful and practical book offering advice for teenage black women about what to expect at university in the UK. But if you're not that target market, this is is also a valuable window into the experiences of a group of young women who went to elite universities where they were often (or almost always) the only black women in a group. It's particularly good at articulating the difference between the black experience and the experience of other minority groups and how frustrating it is for black people to have their experiences seen as part of a BAME/BME narrative.

This has given me a lot to think about - and I hope will make me a better ally.
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I think everyone should read this book! 

Unfortunately, it is one of those books that, in many cases, preaches to the converted. Even if the converted aren't as conscious and knowing as they think they might be, there is still some understanding there for someone to pick up this book and those who would never pick it up are the people who need to read it the most. 

While I think it is a great book that raises awareness of the structural racism and disadvantage black women experience in higher education and should therefore be read by everyone, I think is just as, or even more important, for young black girls who are thinking about applying to university, especially to elite institutions. It is full of understanding and warmth, of encouragement and of I-have-been-theres and you-can-do-its. It is honest and personal and well-researched at the same time. 

The authors skilfully include discussions of various topics, from the reasons why POC don´t apply, why they don't get in, and what happens when they do but then are faced with racism and discrimination in predominantly white spaces. There is a strong focus on mental health and the potentially damaging effects of the Black Excellence narrative as well as on "finding your group" and a discussion of relationships at university, in particular how stereotypes and beauty standards are harmful and impact on a person's sense of self. The book also highlights the specific difficulties that are felt by people with intersecting identities, such as black LGBTQ+ students and it speaks about the necessity of Blacktivism. Additionally, and I think this is very important for anyone who considers BME or BAME useful when referring to those who are non-white, the authors stress the ongoing oppression and discrimination that Black people experience from other groups in the BME community, as the Anti-Blackness sentiment is present in other communities too. 

There are various sections in this book that I would like to highlight but I think this is a great example of the different experiences and how they impact on a person´s time at university: 

`To understand why the black experience is unique, it's important to examine why we feel the obligation to be politically active and engage in the ongoing fight for black progress, while our white counterparts have the privilege of choosing to jog on, oblivious to the realities of racism around them. Some white people may not be bothered; others may be afraid; but even those who do choose to man the trenches with us still have the privilege of choosing to ignore racism if they want to. When it's inextricably bound to every part of your life, as it is for black students, you don't.´ 

This section makes clear that the privilege to choose when to get involved and when not to get involved is only enjoyed by those who are not personally affected, thereby being able to focus all their energy and time on other things, such as writing essays or studying for exams, while those who do not have a choice, have to keep various balls in the air at once, and this doesn't even touch on the psychological toll it takes on them. 

It doesn't matter if you are not interested in what happens in universities, I think it represents the experience of black women in many other settings too, with its own particular challenges but not unlike the challenges they face elsewhere.
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'As a minority in a predominantly white institution, taking up space is an act of resistance.'

I'll start this off by saying if you're a teacher in the UK and you haven't read this yet, make it a priority to do so and then adjust your practice accordingly. I'm always wary of books that are lauded as "the X handbook" but I genuinely believe this is one of the most valuable resources Black girls, prospective university students, may come across and I'm going to make sure there are copies available for my Year 12 form class when we return to school.

TAKING UP SPACE follows the formative university years of Cambridge graduates Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi, and is an honest conversation about the reality of being a young Black woman at university, told from our perspective. TAKING UP SPACE is their manifesto for change. This is validation for those of us who have experienced it and preparation for those who are yet to - this is exactly what the babygirls need.

This book is clever, and no I don't mean clever in that "hmmm you're quite articulate actually" way that many of us have been appraised at some point. The intelligence of this book is found in the way it balances irrefutable fact (statistics, research, government reports) with the interwoven experiences of the young Black women who have laid out their own personal stories alongside those of Ore and Chelsea. The meeting of passion and logic here means there is absolutely no room left to dismiss this as two angry anomalies. Which means, if you disagree with the central premise of the book, you're being wilfully ignorant. Wilfully racist. I'll let that settle for a moment.

The book explores the societal causes and effects of the institutional racism embedded in our education system, providing constructive criticism while also highlighting places that are getting it right or at least making tangible, measurable moves towards doing so. One of the strongest elements of this book is the call to action put to all its readers. Chelsea and Ore are clear: 'It's a collective effort. And everyone has a role to play.'
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Russell Group Universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, are elitist institutions whose studentship mainly comprise; rich, white, heterosexual, Cis, men. Taking up space is written by a group of Black women who have bucked that trend by attending these Elite Universities. It takes the form of letters written to; Black girls who wish to follow in the footsteps of the authors, and those individuals who wish to help them accomplish that goal.   The letters take the reader through every step of the process; applying to the university, arriving at the university, Fresher’s week, leaving university, and finding a job.  It gives advice on; how to tackle Fresher’s week, finding your tribe, socialising, balancing work and personal time, issues around mental health, and dealing with institutions that are imbued with hidden and not so hidden Racism.  It clearly outlines the barriers faced by this group of students.  It’s a condemnation of these institutions and an inspiration for those students wishing to survive and thrive in institutions that are hostile to their very existence.  This book was aimed at Black women.  However, many of the issues raised in the text resonated with my experience of being; a working class, queer, state educated woman who attended a Russell group University. It is a thought-provoking work.  That inspires and reproves in equal measure.
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Chelsea and Ore let you see through their eyes, the UK educational system, and all of its consequences.

I received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The narrative loosely follows Chelsea and Ore in the formative years they spend at University. It also features further statements from other black women, cementing that the ongoing struggles are  widespread.
As nothing is truly isolated, the book also looks at the societal effects; the lack of support, the lack of knowledge and understanding of the establishments we trust. The fact that there are few black women at Oxbridge becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Then there are the recurring consequences and limitations for British BAME citizens.

The authors arguments are solid and well-founded. Their narrative is passionate, but logical; they explain every step of the process. They aren't just railing against the system, they are offering constructive criticism and examples of colleges that successfully encourage and support BAME students throughout their educational careers, giving them the strongest platform for what comes next.

As a student from a Working Class background, (I couldn't rely on my parents for financial support and put myself through uni) a lot of this resonated with me. It was only when I moved away, did my Yorkshire accent become a barrier; and I discovered the low regard people had for my hometown (it turns out that Donny is the awkward chavvy cousin in the Yorkshire family).

Still, I'm as guilty as anyone, for not being aware of all the issues facing a BAME student.
I'm guilty of comparing the UK to the awful racial tension the the US and thinking "we're nowhere near that bad"; but being better than the bad guys is no excuse.
This book is quite enlightening, and the message it carries is important to support black students, and to educate the rest of us.

This book has been written by two women that are clearly educated and intelligent, their passion on the subject is clear, and I could imagine them giving excellent talks on the matter.
As a written piece, the narrative isn't the type I can sit and binge read; and the content is quite repetitive.
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There is no doubt that this book brings to the fore some very important questions.  It is equally true that we should be exploring the issues raised more.  It is thought provoking, particularly for me as a former academic, of a certain age and made me think a great deal about the issues and difficulties faced by young black women.  I found it upsetting and very sad in places.  However, I actually did not like the way the book was written.  I agree with an earlier reviewer that the book needs better editing, it is repetitive .  The message is very imporant it requires a more accessible writing style
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Education is the undoubtedly the answer but what if the education system is also partly to blame for the problem. In Taking up Space, Chelsea and Ore certainly raise strong arguments as to why this may be worthy of investigation.  We're talking how we can truly integrate and value the MBE [ minority black ethnic"] in Western society. This is a book all educationalists should read as well as university students - especially those outwith the London area where the MBE presence is so much less.  Does the current school school curricula give due weighting to MBE social history, MBE writings, MBE- led innovation? Do universities recognise and employ sufficient staff from the MBE community so that their syllabi can be empathetic to the whole  student base - blacks included. Can more be done to provide top-class careers outside medicine, law and the NHS for minorities?  Until these changes are made society will continue to cling to outdated colonial values which have embedded superiority into our society. This book, through conversation, discussion and personal anecdote reveals just how long a road there is yet to travel but, by the writing being both inspiring and erudite, some pointers are set out which merit serious consideration if we are ever to truly share this planet as equals. A book to educate and broaden the minds of those who read it.
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Taking Up Space is about the experiences of young black women in higher education and the challenges they face.
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There were parts of this book which brought tears to my eyes. But it is a very positive book full of uplifting and beautiful writing. I am not BAME so I can never experience the discrimination these woman have, but reading their stories allows me some insight... even for just a moment. As a woman who studied engineering in the 80’s I was the only female, but out of Uni, I was back in the majority. As a lesbian, I know discrimination but there have been times when I have "passed" for straight. Again not an option if you’re a BAME woman. I loved the stories of how these authors found their own solutions. And although there are no easy answers, there are lots of possibilities and white people will learn a great deal from this well written, thought provoking book. It certainly needed to be written and needs to be read.

I was given a copy of this book by Netgalley in return for an honest review.
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An important, timely and necessary book. We must educate ourselves and listen, listen, listen. 

My only gripe: the essays are very, very long and have a tendency to repeat themselves. While the message is still brilliant, there were some times when ideas were repeated without needing to be. A little edit would have solved the problem.
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What a wonderful book! This is an invaluable resource to all black women trying to find out what it's like to navigate higher education, especially in institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge. Chelsea and Ore manage to weave in their experience with facts and figures alongside quotes from other women who have been in a similar situation as them. The book is so wonderfully structured and detailed and it was such a joy reading it.
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An amazing book that is a must read. It is a book that holds huge importance. Thank you to both NetGalley and Random House for my eARC in exchange for my honest unbiased review
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This is excellent and a must read book! 

Had this book been published when I was heading to university, I would have made different choices. I've been raving about this book to all my friends because there are so few books sharing the Black British experience and this is much needed not just for women but for men too. All of the chapters were super informative but particularly the issues around Black women and desirability and mental health were the most prominent. I may be more than a decade older than these two ladies, and I was saddened how some things remain the same for young Black women - their account of growing up was so similar to the experience of my own. 
I commend these two women and the launch of Merky Books!
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Written by two black women about their experiences attending a mostly white, privileged university.

It starts with a list of names of women and their accomplishments, who are the women they interviewed for the book to portray experience beyond just the two authors. The authors then explain a little about their respective backgrounds and how they came to be accepted in a Cambridge university.

The intent of the book is to shed light on the experience of what it's like to be a black woman in a traditionally white male setting. They include people who identify as non-binary, which made me wonder, why not black males? Surely they would share many of the experiences of racism and cultural division? This is actually addressed later in the book.

I chose to read this book because although I grew up in a multi-cultural city and have always had friends of whatever race they happen to be, including mixed, I know enough to know that I can never really know their experience. Reading their stories is as close as I can get to understanding.

This book is brilliantly written in that it relates those experiences without the sort of anger often expressed around racism. The authors let you get inside their heads and see through their eyes in a sort of memoir style, opening up their emotions for the readers in a way I found very brave.

The irony is that what made me feel a separation from these women wasn't race, but their ability to get into a top university. I appreciated how hard they must have worked to get those top grades that made it possible. Suddenly my own school career looks like a wasted opportunity. The stress of dealing with university pressure sounded like a nightmare, but add to it that they felt out of place and had no choice but to continually define themselves by their race and feelings of impostor syndrome.

It was interesting to read why they felt compelled to participate in activism and why they sought out others of their race for a support system, even when they didn't always like the individuals. It explained why in school I noticed that people I was friendly with in classes spent their break times among other black groups rather than mixing in more.

I think this book would be a real benefit to any young black girl in school with aspirations to go to a good university as it encourages them to see that it can be accomplished and where the pitfalls can be found, but I also think the book is useful to anyone of any age or race for the perspective it brings.
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How I wished this book existed when I was at university.

While being the only black woman in a lecture hall at predominantly white institution is the norm for many young women in the UK, Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi, along with a host of other Cambridge graduates have lent their voices and opinions to catalogue the trials of navigating these spaces at every point along the way. As the first publication of Stormzy’s #Merky imprint at Penguin Random House, we’ve slowly seen the publishing industry industry acknowledge the problems of a lack of diversity in print. Books such as these not only champion taking up space, whether in society or on a shelf, as an act of resistance, but also as an absolute necessity as opposed to a passing trend.

From pre-application anxiety, the years of study and post-graduation expectations, the chronology of this collection of essays perfectly captures and articulates the challenges of black women throughout their studies and how the actors they meet along the way may help or hinder.

Named ‘The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change’ this is true in every sense in that a genuine motivation and desire to invoke change is made clear from the offset. While chiefly aimed at black women, there is plenty to take away from those who do not identify in this way, should they wish to consider themselves allies.

Taking up space and reclaiming what is deserved offers the opportunity to validate experiences which are too often overlooked and downplayed. Topics such as higher education and mental health and how they uniquely impact black women given weight, value and acknowledgement as opposed to something to ‘protect, defend, and explain’. With charming moments and flecks of humour throughout, Taking Up Space is deserving of its namesake.
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Can't recommend this highly enough - should be required reading for every one involved in education at every level. in order to fully understand barriers  faced by BAME women. A real calling out of the narrowness of Euro-centric curricula and how that impacts everyone's experience and understanding. Also an insightful examination of sins of omission in terms of combatting institutionalised racism by establishments who pride themselves on liberal and enlightened attitudes and so do not do enough to challenge the status quo.
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