This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) Americaby Published 30 Jan 2018
|This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America.pdf|
From one of the fiercest critics writing today, Morgan Jerkins’ highly-anticipated collection of linked essays interweaves her incisive commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism with her own experiences to confront the very real challenges of being a black woman today—perfect for fans of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists.
Morgan Jerkins is only in her twenties, but she has already established herself as an insightful, brutally honest writer who isn’t afraid of tackling tough, controversial subjects. In This Will Be My Undoing, she takes on perhaps one of the most provocative contemporary topics: What does it mean to “be”—to live as, to exist as—a black woman today? This is a book about black women, but it’s necessary reading for all Americans.
Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality. In This Will Be My Undoing, Jerkins becomes both narrator and subject to expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression that influences the black community as well as the white, male-dominated world at large.
"This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America" Reviews
In Morgan Jerkins’s remarkable debut essay collection This Will Be Our Undoing, she is a deft cartographer of black girlhood and womanhood. From one essay to the next, Jerkins weaves the personal with the public and political in compelling, challenging ways. Her prodigious intellect and curiosity are on full display throughout this outstanding collection. The last line of the book reads, “You should’ve known I was coming,” and indeed, in this, too, Jerkins is prescient. With this collection, she shows us that she is unforgettably here, a writer to be reckoned with.
Wow...I think my main question about Morgan Jerkins' debut is similar to many on my timeline—what book were the rest of y'all reading?
My first introduction to Jerkins was her black gentrifier essay, which I read in my freshman year at Penn. As a student attending a university responsible for many of our city's gentrification problems, I found the article to be introspective in a way many pieces aren't. Instead of scapegoating faceless institutions or white hipsters, Jerkins put her own privilege and complicity on the table.
I think she tries to do the same in This Will Be My Undoing, but often fails miserably. Many Twitter readers were reasonably distressed by Jerkins' musings about her darker, lower-income black classmate, which, amongst other belated comebacks to her high school bullies (if we're calling them that), included a police violence fantasy. These are very upsetting, especially coming from an author desperately seeking to prove that she supports and stands for black women.
It's not my place to gauge how much Morgan Jerkins loves black women, but from what I read, she seems to do so in an abstract, self-indulgent fashion that allows her to make a living (see: this book deal) opining about our pain and celebrating idyllic, trite, Blavity-esque notions of "black girl magic" while she remains uncomfortable with real-life black women who are louder, darker, and less helpful than she'd like them to be.
As someone who is similarly classed, churched, and complexioned, I admittedly understand where she's coming from. Many of the aggressions our people (light, Protestant, well-to-do black folk) perpetuate are ingrained into our familial, communal, and religious experiences, so I personally wasn't surprised by Jerkins' hostility and superiority towards her non-AP track classmates. I'd hoped this book would attempt to unpack these emotions, since I'm sure I could check my own privilege from such a reflection. Instead, she writes off her harmful opinions about other black women as growing pains on her journey to "#blackgirlmagic." A stronger writer would’ve spent more time mining her personal experience of black girlhood, instead of presuming to speak on behalf of those she consistently deems below her.
All of this mess would still warrant a 2-star review from me. After all, I found many conceptual problems with Naima Coster's debut, but at least Halsey Street had some stylistic merit. The other thing no one's really mentioning is the writing itself, which could've used some serious help—her list essays seem gimmicky, her tone is off-putting (especially in the cringe-worthy second-person moments), and her thought process is often jumbled (see my update at the 63% mark.) Honestly, if she'd taken more time to think about her ideas, assess the impact of her words, and solicit more honest editors, we likely wouldn't be having this conversation.
In This Will Be My Undoing, Morgan Jerkins attempts to be unrestrained, and instead comes off as undisciplined in both her politics and her craft. I don't believe in cancelling people from one mistake, and really want to see how she addresses the pushback, but won't be rushing to read her future work.
I read a lot of books by women of color, and specifically black women. But I think THIS WILL BE MY UNDOING may be the single book that has most clearly showed me the experience of being a young black woman in America today. I am a white woman and I think part of the reason Jerkins succeeds so wildly is that she is not centering her book around readers like me. Much of what we encounter in the world centers on a default white audience. The fact that this book isn't "for me" is exactly why it works. This is not an effort to translate the experience of black women for other audiences, this book simply seeks to portray the experience of black women as purely as possible, with black women at its center.
While this is a book of essays, it also feels much of the time like a work of memoir. The best essays are those most closely tied to Jerkins' own experience. She writes about her life with a clear-eyed wisdom that frankly makes me extremely jealous. She is not just vulnerable, but willing to identify and examine her own flaws and biases. That she is able to do this while still in her twenties is astonishing.
I admit I had this book for weeks before I read it. It's a difficult world right now and I wasn't sure if I wanted to dive into a book like this. It turns out that once I started I sped through it and it felt good. I wasn't weighed down by these essays, instead they crystallized ideas, helped me see perspectives more clearly, and led me to my own journey of self-examination. It wasn't a depressing experience but an invigorating one.
A compelling essay collection that tackles the intersections of womanhood, blackness, and feminism. I would recommend This Will Be My Undoing to everyone - Jerkins centers black women in her writing so that demographic may find a home in her work, and the rest of us can listen and learn. Weaving the personal and political, she writes about how black women's bodies are viewed and treated as sexual objects, the ways that white women can do things like abuse drugs and share all the details and be rewarded whereas black women do not have that privilege, and other experiences of oppression and discrimination experienced by black women. Through critical analysis of pop culture, odes to Michelle Obama and Beyonce, and stories of her own coming-of-age, Jerkins crafts a powerful argument for black women's humanity. I am excited to read more of her work, especially as her voice becomes even more assured and refined.
*Edit: 2/14/2018: I would encourage Jerkins and readers of this collection to question her writing about Japan and how it exotifies/others Japanese people, as if their country and lives are made for the purpose of helping people from America escape from their issues and learn about themselves.
I call myself black because that is who I am. Blackness is a label that I do not have a choice in rejecting as long as systemic barriers exist in this country. But also, my blackness is an honor, and as long as I continue to live, I will always esteem it as such.
This Will Be My Undoing is a fantastic portrait of one woman's experience with black girlhood. Jerkins explores through essays what it was like growing up as a black girl with racial divisions in school, white beauty standards, and race-based harassment. She is quick to acknowledge that her memoir is not a "one-size-fits-all" story, and that there are many different experiences among black women.
As a personal memoir, it shines. Jerkins's raw honesty about her disdain for blackness and other black girls while growing up is tough to read, but necessary. She also speaks frankly about sex, desire, masturbation and her body. In "Human, Not Black" she reunites being a black woman with being human, reminding the reader that the two are not mutually exclusive; by calling herself a black woman, she is not denying the common humanity she shares with others.
However, when Jerkins goes political - as she frequently does - the book is less effective. She resorts to stereotyping and contradictions, which seems to be the opposite of what she was reaching for.
Throughout, Jerkins speaks of the "white woman" as a monolith. This elusive creature is beautiful, slender, straight, wealthy, upper middle class and a Trump voter. "Supported, cared for, and coddled" universally. To Jerkins, it seems that queer, poor and fat white women do not exist.
If this were a work of fiction, I might think this an intentional play on traditional white literature that has frequently portrayed black people as a stereotypical monolith, but it seems Jerkins genuinely has not considered that white girls exist outside of this narrow definition.
Strangest of all was when Jerkins pointed out that 94% of black women voted for Hillary Clinton and 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump, and then proceeded to treat "white woman" as synonymous with "Trump voter", completely ignoring the millions who voted for Clinton.
Additionally, Jerkins still needs to work out some of her own double standards. In one essay, "A Hunger For Men’s Eyes", she defends the black and Latino men in the Shoshana Roberts street harassment video, questioning whether the men calling at her to “have a nice day” or calling her “beautiful” was really harassment. However, Jerkins is not so understanding when such comments are directed at herself. Men complimenting her beauty and asking her if “[she] was having a good time” at a party are sexual aggressors. When one man asks if he can take her on a date, she lies by telling him she has a boyfriend, to which he responds “Well, he better be treating you right.” Jerkins then adds in her own head “In other words, He better be treating you right or else you gon’ be mine.”
I longed for the parts where Jerkins dropped the social commentary on society at large and returned to her own experiences. For non-black readers, she has a lot to offer in terms of insight into black girlhood; for black readers, I hope she extends a hand of understanding and normalizes their experiences with race, beauty and sexuality.
It is often said that the "personal is the political" but here they feel separate - a personal that offers deep, important insight, and a political that, in short, does not.
Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube