Jerkins’s debut collection of essays forces readers to reckon with the humanity black women have consistently been denied. Her writing is personal, inviting, and fearless as she explores the racism and sexism black women face in America: “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.” In her opening essay, Jerkins recounts the moment the division between black girls and white girls became clear to her, when she was told by a fellow black girl that “they don’t accept monkeys like you” after Jerkins failed to make the all-white cheerleading squad. This marks the first of many times that Jerkins asserts that a black woman’s survival depends on her ability to assimilate to white culture. A later essay addresses the paradox of the explicit sexualization of black women’s bodies and the cultural expectation that black women must be ashamed of their own sexuality in order to be taken seriously in a white world. At one point in the book, Jerkins lauds Beyoncé’s Lemonade as art that finally represents black women as entire, complex human beings. One could say the same about this gorgeous and powerful collection. (Jan.)
Morgan Jerkins is a star, a force, a blessing, a scholar and a critic, and now can add great American essayist to that list! I found myself sighing, nodding, gasping, laughing, and crying while reading this collection–but mostly cheering! We can all sleep well at night knowing this country will inherit heart, mind, and soul like this. It’s safe to say I’ve never read anyone this young–barely at quarter life!–who can understand herself, those around her, past and present, with such dignity and clarity and generosity. Intersectionality in America is dissected, investigated, celebrated and challenged all without being pedantic or preachy or pretentious. And Jerkins is the sort of benevolent intellectual you want to spend time with–who will never lie to you, but also will never let you lie to her. I’ve long known that feminism and arts and media owe so much to the excellent work of black women and
This Will be My Undoing is yet another testament to that.
Without turning linguistic or lyrical cartwheels, Jerkins lucidly articulates social dynamics that have dictated the realities of American black women for centuries…. Indeed, [
This Will Be My Undoing] is a book I wish everyone in this country would read.
New York Times Book Review
In Morgan Jerkins’s remarkable debut essay collection, This Will Be My 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.
There’s a radical honesty and warmth in these essays, no matter the topic.
Threaded together by prose that is at once tender and disarming, Morgan Jerkins’s debut collection is an invitation to conversation with a ferocious intellect and a singular, uncompromising voice. In essays that confront the forces of anti-blackness and misogyny, Jerkins demonstrates that being unflinching does not require that we be unmoved. Readers who encounter this debut will be hard-pressed not to have felt something shifted within themselves when they put it down.
Jerkins is one of the smartest young writers of her generation, and this is an insightful, revelatory collection of personal essays about a variety of today’s important issues. So fantastic.
Jerkins’ forthright examination of her own experiences leads to a triumphant reclaiming of blackness in all its power.
Jerkins has strong character, and
This Will Be My Undoing is likely just the beginning of her influence on the role of black women in the United States. As she is careful to point out, she is just one voice and her story doesn’t speak for all black women, but with any luck her one voice will inspire other voices to add to the chorus of change.
A beautiful example of possibility, nuance and passion coexisting, even in our heightened political moment…there is a brutal honesty Jerkins brings to the experiences of black girls and women that is vital for us to understand as we strive toward equality, toward believing women’s voices and experiences, and toward repairing the broken systems that have long defined our country.
This Will Be My Undoing, Jerkins confronts the real world and her own real life — including deeply private aspects of growing up black and female, confronting racism, sexism, her Christian upbringing, family secrets, and community fault lines.
The truth about a writer being anointed a Voice of the Generation is that it’s also a curse… [but Morgan Jerkins’] exhilarating new essay collection
This Will Be My Undoing makes her a leading contender for the title — and the writer most likely to rewrite the rules for it, too…If this collection is any indication, [Jerkins’] blueprint for a lifelong intellectual and creative enterprise will continue to challenge, thrill, and delight her readers throughout a long career.
In her debut release, Morgan Jerkins takes readers through life as a black woman on the street, in foreign countries, on dates, at the workplace, in the beauty parlor — everywhere, anywhere. An essential and vital read,
This Will Be My Undoing is destined to become a classic essay collection on race and feminism.
Beautifully crafted… what makes [Jerkins’] writing so powerful is her ability to point to precise moments that oppression was at work and unpack it for readers, who may not be black, female, or consider themselves feminists, but who will still understand the emotional impact that prejudice carries. Her personal experiences are political, but in ways that challenge previous feminist declarations about which experiences mattered and how to interpret them.
Jerkins examines pop culture, misogyny, black history and racism. She reflects on growing up in Atlantic and Gloucester counties and unravels what it means to be a black woman in today’s society, seamlessly weaving the personal with the political in powerful essays such as ‘A Lotus for Michelle.’
In her piercing debut essay collection… Jerkins is equally critical of the social structures in place to erase the black narrative and the pressures from within black communities to ensure that their daughters conform to white ideals—often through physical means, like the arduous process of hair straightening. She also doesn’t shy away from exploring different experiences of blackness—or wrestling with the ways the black experience is unique from those of non-white women of color.
Jerkins takes the reader to deeply personal and, at times, uncomfortable places. She chronicles her struggles with dating and heartbreak, unflinchingly guides her reader through a personal surgical procedure and wrestles with a variety of different gazes: that of white men and white women, but also of potential lovers, of her host families and other people in Japan and Russia, of her black female peers and, most important, her own evolving view of herself.
Combining memoir and criticism, Jerkins’s potent “mental fermentation” broods on black female oppression and the limits of racial equality in a society dominated by white people who have “fooled themselves into believing that they are unraced.
In her first book of essays, Morgan Jerkins holds nothing back... [she] skillfully ties together personal experience with cultural critique.... [and] her voice is strong and clear.
Jerkins has penned a complex look at what it means to be an African American woman who subscribes to the tenets of feminism but finds herself marginalized by and chained to a narrative crafted for her, not by her. These essays explore the many ways systemic racism and a lack of true solidarity within feminist circles impact black women. In "Monkeys Like You," the author deftly juxtaposes her dream of making an all-white cheerleading squad against the lunchroom bullying she receives at the hand of darker-skinned African American classmates. "How To Be Docile" examines how African American mothers sometimes unwittingly limit their daughters' sense of agency. Jerkins also thoroughly inspects the politics of natural hair, dating while black, and problematic voyeuristic writing, explaining how our culture separates a black woman from her humanity. This is an intensely personal, honest account of one woman's fight to reclaim her own narrative one word at a time. VERDICT An excellent addition to memoir collections.—Desiree Thomas, Worthington Library, OH
In the provocative essays collected in her first book, Jerkins meditates on how it feels to be a black woman in the United States today.Brought up in suburban New Jersey, educated at Princeton, and now living in Harlem and working in publishing, the author often feels like an outsider. Her essays, usually deeply personal and always political, examine that unease. In the first, she goes back to elementary school, when she realized that "the only thing I wanted was to be a white cheerleader." Other pieces consider the fraught issue of hair for black women, the self-repression imposed by the taboo against being thought a "fast-tailed girl," the social pressure to identify as a "human" rather than as a "black woman," and her ambivalence about the "black girl magic" movement. Some of her most effective essays take unusual shapes: one is an open letter to Michelle Obama, addressing her as "the beacon that reminds white people that 99 percent of them will never reach where you are," and another is an ironic list of instructions on "How to Be Docile," which provides the black female subject with everything she needs: "looks, deference to man, suppressed sexuality, silence." At times, particularly in the final essay, which lists many of the black women the author believes could have helped her and didn't, Jerkins comes across as whiny. Sometimes, as in the piece about the many reasons she decided to have labiaplasty, she appears to be working hard to justify her actions. While she identifies herself as a feminist, the primary "other" against whom Jerkins sets herself is the automatically privileged white woman, "supported, cared for, and coddled."At its best, the book reveals complicated, messily human responses to knotty problems. Never intended as the final word on the black female experience in America today, it uncovers the effect of social forces on one perceptive young woman.
Jerkins provides a critical view of American culture, similar to Reni Eddo-Lodge's Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, which is about the intersection of race and feminism in British culture. Here, the pop culture essayist examines her life as a feminist woman of color while sharing insight on her faith as it relates to contemporary culture. Weaving personal narratives with historical, social, and cultural anecdotes, Jerkins discusses such topics as body image, race identification, fitting in, dating, sexuality, faith, disability, and the Black Girl Magic movement. Each chapter provides insightful, personal, and frank analysis of how several identities can and do overlap with one another; especially being a black women of faith in white America. Jerkins provides awareness into her own complexities—college-educated, black, female, Millennial, feminist—in an attempt to figure out where she fits in and in an effort to uncover the intricacies of her multilayered identity. VERDICT For those interested in a younger perspective on black studies and feminism.—Tiffeni Fontno, Boston Coll.