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
Morgan Jerkins is in a hurry to become a well known writer and she is trying to get our attention in any way she knows how—jump-starting her celebrity by being polarizing. She is young still, twenty-five now. I predict she will recognize her own sense of entitlement when she is a little older. But it is awfully hard to dislike someone so articulate and eager to participate in the big questions we face today. At least we know what she is thinking.
The more I read by and about black women, the more I think this is a long time coming, a national therapy. As long as black women feel comfortable talking out loud about how they interpret the behaviors of the rest of us, we should be listening. Black men have been trying to tell us forever that black women are fierce. Well, white America is just about to find out how fierce.
This book of essays gives insight into the experience of a young woman growing up, discovering her sexuality, despairing of her beauty, seeking a path to enlightenment. What kills me, after I saw a picture of her online, is that she is gorgeous, radiant with youth and health, and all we hear in this book is how afraid she is that she is not beautiful enough. Yes, her figure is a handful—an armful, really—but for plenty of folks this is a good thing.
We get a perspective on black hair that I haven’t heard before. I have wondered about the fetishization of hair among black women. I could see they were traumatized about it, and made to feel as though their natural, soft, curly hair weren’t beautiful. Jerkins tells us black hair has always been a source of sexuality. That not only white people want to touch that corona of power—black men do, too. This makes enormous sense to me. Of course black hair is powerful, and sexy…which is why it must always be corralled in braids, or straightened.
Even within these constraints, black women have managed to make an art of their hair. I won’t take that away from them. But I definitely think it is time to stop feeling badly about black hair. Natural hair makes a powerful statement, and it is a touch-magnet. Use it.
Jerkins was brave alright when she gives us chapter and verse on her sexual fantasies. All of a sudden I’m glad I don’t have long straight blond hair, when most of my youth I, like Jerkins, yearned for that unattainable source of beauty, privilege, and class. But these are distractions, youthful stumbling blocks we place in front of ourselves. Jerkins had much more than blond hair to worry about when she attended an IV-League school where most everyone tries to act as though everything is under control.
It is a privilege to attend Princeton, it has enormous resources. Fortunately Jerkins was able to take advantage of the access Princeton offers, but like many of her fellow students, she got confused by everyone’s seeming self-sufficiency. She didn’t feel self-sufficient—why does everyone look, act, sound so self-absorbed? This is the whitest thing Jerkins did…to take advantage of that bastion of privilege and not realize that it doesn’t automatically give one access to a job, or everyone else’s attention.
But I wish her well. She’s brave. Fierce. She is far more willing to expose herself than I would be, say, and more willing to lay claim to her right to other people’s contacts. She’ll surely find a place in the conversation. Good luck with that.
The final essays in the book felt exploratory, which is only right when the author is just getting started. Jerkins discusses a worthwhile French film by a white filmmaker, Girlhood, about young black girls in Paris. This is the third time in two months that I have read discussion about the appropriation of experience by someone only looking, not experiencing, certain events. I am not sure how I feel about this yet, so will just have to take onboard that this is a discussion which animates some people.
Jerkins raises Beyoncé’s Lemonade special, how it is not exploitative but inclusive even while recognizing that "black women are not one thing.” Further, Jerkins shares the criticism bell hooks has aimed at Beyoncé for a “simplified worldview…a false construction of power.” This is a powerful argument that Jerkins does not deny, she merely says that not all of us have to be always fighting for something larger than ourselves.
This is a particularly hard position to argue in light of all she said about Beyoncé’s army of musicians, followers, admirers. Without a doubt Beyoncé is magnificently talented. With great gifts come great responsibility. No? hooks has a good point. Beyoncé works enormously hard to stay at the pinnacle of her field, but even she can learn concepts that may be new to her and important to that army she commands to generate real power.
Jerkins’ book did its intended work on me: I hadn’t seen the HBO video released when Beyoncé’s Lemonade album came out. I’m looking around for an opportunity to see it now. I want to read bell hooks’ essays discussing Beyoncé, and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl again, to see what Jerkins calls “perhaps the finest example of satire by a black woman.” I’m interested.
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.
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.
Thank you to Harper Perennial for an advanced readers copy of "This Will Be My Undoing" in exchange for an honest review.
Now more than ever, owing to social media and online publications, black women are at the center of discourse; both as subject matter and narrator. "This Will Be My Undoing" sees Morgan Jerkins, a young black woman, interlacing her personal experiences with historical and modern sources to underscore black girlhood and womanhood against the white backdrop of America. With her unmistakable intellect, Morgan carries us across the landscape of black female existence. From the stripping of young black girls' childhood innocence and black women's centuries of emotional labour to they're daily fight for autonomy over their physical bodies. Through the lenses of her own experience navigating predominantly white spaces, Morgan displays the full gamut of systemic, emotional, social and generational issues that black women face.
What was most appreciated about "This Will Be My Undoing" was the fact that the exploration of black womanhood did not stop at the burdens that black women face every time they meet a new day. What was alarmingly clear, especially in the final chapters of this memoir-esque essay collection, was her humanisation of black women. They feel love, pain, grief joy and happiness. They have hopes, dreams, aspirations and create art. Morgan's emphasis on celebrating ourselves as an inherent act of resistance was a necessary punctuation to this collection. #BlackGirlMagic
Equally appreciated is how relatable and understandable this book is. Because Morgan's writing is descriptive and enlists the use of literary devices, it removes a barrier that academic writing often erects. It gives access to the understanding of complex systems of oppression to persons who academia sometimes neglect and, for that reason, we would recommend this collection to persons who are new to black feminism, who desire a fundamental understanding of its tenets.
"This Will Be My Undoing" will make waves and so will Morgan. #RebelWomenLit
- Kristina Neil
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.
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