This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America

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...

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Title:This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America
Author:Morgan Jerkins
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Edition Language:English

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America Reviews

  • Roxane

    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

    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.

  • Jessica Woodbury

    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 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.

  • Thomas

    A compelling essay collection that tackles the intersections of womanhood, blackness, and feminism. I would recommend

    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 r

    A compelling essay collection that tackles the intersections of womanhood, blackness, and feminism. I would recommend

    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.

  • Hannah

    I have slightly confused thoughts about this: I thought it was important, well-written, super interesting but at some points not always convincing. I listened to the audiobook read by the author and can only recommend this. You can tell how her confidence in her voice increases and how self-confident she reads her book in the end. I loved that.

    I adore how Morgan Jerkins does not write for a white reader but rather other black women. As such it worked wonderfully as an insightful glimpse into a w

    I have slightly confused thoughts about this: I thought it was important, well-written, super interesting but at some points not always convincing. I listened to the audiobook read by the author and can only recommend this. You can tell how her confidence in her voice increases and how self-confident she reads her book in the end. I loved that.

    I adore how Morgan Jerkins does not write for a white reader but rather other black women. As such it worked wonderfully as an insightful glimpse into a world that is in parts very different than mine (I love that in memoirs). She centers her own experience successfully in making her larger points and thus contructs highly personal essays that still work wonderfully as fully fledged academic essays.

    I especially appreciated what she had to say about hair; black hair to be exact. I do love how she uses sources to underscore her points. The rigor of her essay construction works extremely well here.

    I do not always agree with her on her analyses but that might be because my academic background is different than hers – and different disciplines always bring with them different ways of looking at the world. I do know that whatever she shall write next, I will be reading it, because I think it will be insightful and exciting. I cannot believe Morgan Jerkins is younger than me.

    You can find this review and other thoughts on books on

  • Janani

    The thing that makes this book absolutely spectacular is that it doesn't center non-Black people. Morgan writes about what it is like to be a young Black woman in America, without diluting the content for those of us who aren't Black women, and it works brilliantly. This is a collection with a memoir-esque feels, interweaving a lot of personal experiences with community experiences. There is a lot of self-examination- she isn't afraid to discuss her flaws. She's also unapologetic about her stren

    The thing that makes this book absolutely spectacular is that it doesn't center non-Black people. Morgan writes about what it is like to be a young Black woman in America, without diluting the content for those of us who aren't Black women, and it works brilliantly. This is a collection with a memoir-esque feels, interweaving a lot of personal experiences with community experiences. There is a lot of self-examination- she isn't afraid to discuss her flaws. She's also unapologetic about her strengths. This is not an easy read, but it is a necessary one.

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)

    An important read focused on the black, female, feminist experience. What I appreciated was how Morgan Jerkins takes another look at events that have already had their 15 minutes, contextualizing them in ways I appreciated learning from, from Linda Chavers' much contested essay about black-girl-magic (and how disability fits in) to Beyonce and Lemonade. She talks about the importance of having a voice in a world that tries to stop it from the moment you are born, and the importance of self-care.

    An important read focused on the black, female, feminist experience. What I appreciated was how Morgan Jerkins takes another look at events that have already had their 15 minutes, contextualizing them in ways I appreciated learning from, from Linda Chavers' much contested essay about black-girl-magic (and how disability fits in) to Beyonce and Lemonade. She talks about the importance of having a voice in a world that tries to stop it from the moment you are born, and the importance of self-care.

    I listened in Hoopla.

  • Emily May

    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 rac

    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

    , 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

    , 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,

    .”

    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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  • Chris

    Feb 2018 My Book Box Non-fiction pick.

    Disclaimer: I am a white woman. Additionally, I teach students who come from the same places in New Jersey that Jerkins cites in this book. I am trying not to center myself in the narrative, but the first paragraph of the review is in part a gut reaction, so please bear with me.

    I am conflicted about this book. The thing that Jerkins does and does is generalize. These sweeping generalizations are off putting. I’m not even talking about the whole voting for Tr

    Feb 2018 My Book Box Non-fiction pick.

    Disclaimer: I am a white woman. Additionally, I teach students who come from the same places in New Jersey that Jerkins cites in this book. I am trying not to center myself in the narrative, but the first paragraph of the review is in part a gut reaction, so please bear with me.

    I am conflicted about this book. The thing that Jerkins does and does is generalize. These sweeping generalizations are off putting. I’m not even talking about the whole voting for Trump thing. A high percentage of white woman voted for Trump, and these are the women she speaks about there (the grammar backs this up, so if someone is complaining about that, that's misguided to put it nicely). No, I’m talking about like in her discussion of the French film Girlhood. I remember the discussion and reaction to that movie. While Jerkins' take on the film is overall interesting, she makes it sound like Black women all across the global are exactly alike. Look, I’m not a black woman, so maybe, for all I know, this is true. But I would imagine that recent immigrants to France who come from Africa also have a whole set of issues that are not related to being slaves in America – connected to the slave trade and colonialism, yes - and are different than an African-American woman from whereever USA. She does the same when she talks about white girls at her school, and how they never had to deal with being assaulted, harassed or molested sexually because their whiteness protected them. In fact, the one time she does mention harassment towards a woman who at the very least presents as white, she is almost dismissive of it. I’m not disregarding or ignorant to misogynoir that exists, and it is far easier to be female and white. However, I teach students (white, black, Asian, and Native American, some of whom present white, so I doubt another sweeping generalization Jerkins makes), and I know that the number of all-female students who have been sexually molested or harassed (or raped) by their lower and secondary school’s peers (as I have been) is great. In fact, it is a rarity to have a class where a female student hasn’t been (and the classes have far more ladies than gentlemen). I found the dismissal and generalization hard, perhaps cruel.

    But that’s the point isn’t it? The world has been belittling or simply out right ignoring the pain of black women and girls for hundreds of years. This is what Jerkins is talking about. She’s showing the reader here a bit of it, whether Jenkins intended to do so or not.

    What’s the term? Checking my privilege? Humbling?

    It’s why I am conflicted about this book. Feminism should be intersectional. To be so, we need to listen to everyone, talk, and listen without judgement or hackle raising. We need to listen and need to have voices like Jerkins’. In many ways, I think Twitter and Facebook have made the knee jerk reaction easier and far more dangerous. True conversation means listening to unpleasant and hard truths (whether an individual’s truth or the truth – is there even THE Truth?). Whatever I think about what Jerkins is saying, I have no doubt that she is speaking her truth and should be listened to because her experience is just as valuable and important as mine, as yours, as Clinton’s, as even Ivanka’s (yeah, I know, me too).

    This doesn’t mean that I am blind to the book’s faults. Jerkins does go off on some strange digressions. She wanders at points, and her progression in some of the essays could be far, far tighter. I’m also reading Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, and Union does consistently what I wish Jerkins had done more – introspection. For instance, when Jerkins is relating about her watching of porn, there are so many other themes that could have been touched on – to porn actors connection to abuse, to a society that is designed to make one group of women take joy in the degradation of another (I have no doubt that there are nonblack women who watch/watched the same material that Jerkins did, just different races). I found myself thinking how Union, Gay, or Robinson might have done better. In some of the essays, this lack of connection or whatever, makes the essay weaker and digressions more annoying.

    Yet, at least half the essays are stand outs. Her “How to Be Docile” and “How to Survive” should be in every composition and woman’s studies class. Period. They are that good furthermore. Furthermore, her “The Stranger at the Carnival” is just, quite frankly, a masterpiece. Two sections of Malcolm X’s Autobiography tend to appear in composition readers – his learning to read in prison and his first conk. Usually the conk selection is paired with Gates’ essay about his mother’s kitchen and the importance of the kitchen in the family. But after reading Jerkins’, her essay should be paired with it because not only is hers a more recent presentation of the issue, but because she is a woman and raises other points. Quite frankly, it is even better than Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair.

    Conflicted about this book I might be, but I am glad I read it. You should read it too. You need to read it.

  • Trish

    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

    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,

    , 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

    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

    power.

    Jerkins’ book did its intended work on me: I hadn’t seen the HBO video released when Beyoncé’s

    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

    again, to see what Jerkins calls “perhaps the finest example of satire by a black woman.” I’m interested.

  • Gabriella

    Wow...I think my main question about

    ' debut is similar to many on my timeline—what book were the rest of y'all reading?

    My first introduction to Jerkins was

    , 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

    Wow...I think my main question about

    ' debut is similar to many on my timeline—what book were the rest of y'all reading?

    My first introduction to Jerkins was

    , 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

    , 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

    's debut, but at least

    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

    .) 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.

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