By: Monica Joseph, Life+Style Reporter (@monicaj217)
“I read so much about white women’s inferiorities, and I wanted someone to read about mine,” Morgan Jerkins said at the Howard University Barnes and Noble Monday, Feb. 5. Jerkins was discussing her new collection of personal essays, This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist In (White) America.
I, like Jerkins, have spent a lot of time reading revealing narratives centered around white women. However, I consumed them from a distance; my experiences would never be tangential to theirs because the sexism I experience was equally informed by my race.
I wanted someone to write us, to capture the realities of managing the 4-C-ness of my hair in the age of the internet, of traversing white spaces and traversing black ones and somehow feeling lost in both, of encountering young men (of all races, including black) who proclaimed with gusto that they would never date one of us, or that they, “didn’t see color.” I wanted to be one of the first mainstream “millennial” writers to do so. But Morgan Jerkins beat me to the punch. I’m glad she did.
This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female and Feminist In (White) America, is the answer for many black women readers who have been searching for a 21st century voice to document an unflinching account of being young, black and female in America.
“Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie… had a Ted Talk about the danger of a single story,” said Jerkins on Monday. “White people expect people of color to be the all-encompassing arbiter of a certain reality. I can’t be that.”
Jerkins acknowledges that her experiences are unique. She acknowledges her respective privileges: her light skin color, her middle-class upbringing, her Ivy League education, but asserts that in a racist, sexist nation, none of them alter the way she is perceived by mainstream society.
When writing this book, one of her goals was to, “tell black people, and black women, and people who don’t identify by either of those identities that you can understand us… I just hope this will be one of many books by young, black women that know they don’t have to create a sanitized picture of their lives for anyone.”
I honestly don’t think sanitized is in Jerkins’ vocabulary. She talks candidly about her feelings of self-hatred (being called a “monkey” by a friend after questioning why she didn’t make her all-white cheerleading team), her experiences with street harassment, and her sexuality, including descriptions of being raised by a Christian mother who warned her against becoming a “fast-tailed girl,” and conflictedly enjoying pornos in adulthood that called their black, female performers “ebony sluts.”
These accounts in particular work to demolish the jezebel/mammy, stripper/wifey material dichotomies that seek to define black women sexualities, and leach into interactions between young black women and men.
There are only two words on the dedication page of Jerkin’s book: to you. Indeed, I feel that this book was written for me, and black girls similar to me and black girls in general. In fact, this book is written for anyone curious about the new generation of voices commenting upon 21st century black experience. I recommend Howard students keep this book and its writer on their radar; I’m sure we will be hearing a lot about both.
You can buy This Will Be My Undoing at the Howard University Bookstore and Amazon. Follow author Morgan Jerkins on Twitter @MorganJerkins.