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review 2018-04-24 03:21
Morgan Jerkins This Will Be My Undoing
This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America - Morgan Jerkins

I had a hard time with this book of essays, and I know this is an unpopular view.This is a worrying book about young black women and younger women in general. Where did all the work done by previous generations of black women go? Why is this young woman so scared, confused and unprepared for real life? Why is she so ready to feel victimized and unable to express much beyond anger? Where is her agency? Jerkins' unpreparedness is upsetting given the time in which she grew up. Where she chooses to put her anger seems...flailing, at best. If this is the state of young, highly eductaed and smart black women in 2018, there is much too much work to be done. I think that, actually, is her point, but her angle on blame - everyone but herself - feels unthinking often and irrational sometimes.

There are too many moments in this book when you can feel her anger spilling onto anyone instead of herself and her immediate family, who prepared her for adulthood by telling her dating older men would make her a heroin addict and give her AIDS. There is a combination of religious unwillingness to see the truth and very reasonable anger at current situations that constantly beat up against each other in this collection of essays (loosely arranged as a sort of memoir.)

I wanted this book to have a conversation with parts of Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist, which comes just a few short years before this book but between the two collections, a reader feels the difference between justifiable and just anger from a woman of agency (Gay) turn to a mass of vitriol and victimhood. The women are different in many ways, but the way they handle life in their essays seems almost at direct odds sometimes, and well, I guess I feel more inclined to see the gray areas, like Gay so perfectly navigates in Bad Feminist. Instead this book is very right/wrong, yes/no, good/bad, evil/perfect. Everyone feels that way sometimes, but this is supposed to be a book of thoughtful essays, which seems like it should be different from when I have a bad day and call up my girls to bitch.

While I would never say anyone's pain is not warranted or allowed, some of Jerkins' pain seems to be a direct result of fanciful dreams and unrealistic expectations combined with a strict religious upbringing and parents who say things like speaking to an older man is how you get raped and addicted to heroin (seriously - it's not a joke.) So, she's angry - and she has a right to be. But perhaps some of her anger might be pointed at the people who underprepared her for everything from her sexuality to dating to her clear intellect rather than racial or gender animus. She's perfectly free and easy writing about her vagina in painstaking detail, but she doesn't take any of her preconceptions to task as much as she does her physical self. In consistently placing herself as the victim of nearly every single essay, a reader could wonder "where on earth has a woman's agency gone?" And why is she so invested in constantly being someone or something else's victim?

Of course women should be safer riding the subway or walking the city. Of course black women shouldn't be painted with wide brushes and put into boxes, or as Zadie Smith says so eloquently in her book of essays this year, black bodies shouldn't be fetishized. There is an assumption between many lines that Jerkins (with her dreams of marriage by 22, college as husband-finding-factory, strong intellect, individual voice and humanness of many facets - like everyone) has nothing to do with the outcomes she receives. That is, perhaps, the blindness of youth. But if youth is blind, then maybe it shouldn't assume that everyone's situation is exactly the same or that everyone else is the problem. And maybe a better editor would have made this a much stronger book, one that showed something beyond the black woman as willing victim to her own choices and everyone else's.

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review 2018-03-02 21:59
Conflicted
This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America - Morgan Jerkins

Feb 2018 My Book Box Non-fiction pick.

 

Disclaimer:  I am a white woman.  Additionally, I teach my students that 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).  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.  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 Jenkins 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 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 little, whether Jerkins 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 blind to the book’s faults.  Jerkins does go off on some strange digressions.  She wonders 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 Jenkins 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 doubt that they are nonblack women who watch/watched the same material that Jenkins 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 not 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.

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review 2018-02-14 21:49
This Will Be My Undoing
This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America - Morgan Jerkins

Sigh. I don't know what to say. This collection of essays is very good. Jerkins goes into the highs and lows of being a black woman in America. She goes into what it means to be a black woman while on travel (Russia and Japan). She goes into being a black woman trying to be successful, but still treated like she's from another world since many black men out there don't know what to do with a black woman who is out there being a success and doesn't have time for their foolishness. 

 

Jerkins goes into the cycles of black women in America. When you are just a kid and realize that your hair is going to take a lot of your time/sanity to deal with since you get treated a certain way if your nice is "ethnic." How she felt being one of the smartest girls in her school and how that caused backlash among other black girls. 


From there she goes into going to Princeton college and finding herself un-dateable. I had the opposite problem when I went to the University of Pittsburgh. I just used to lie and tell people I was in a relationship to be left alone. I was focused on finishing undergraduate and that was it. When I did get into graduate school was when I went and found a dude who wasn't worth anything. I am still mad that I loaned this boy (seriously he was such a child) money and he had the nerve to act like I was not being a "good" black woman since I refused to cook for him after coming home from an internship and classes. A few years ago he sent me a Facebook friend request. I was never so happy to block someone in my life.

 

A lot of Jerkins essays though go in unexpected ways. Her essay about Michelle Obama actually made me sad and mad. I still cannot believe how much Michelle Obama was attacked by the media and conservatives out there.  I don't blame her for not running for office in 2020. I would be sitting on a beach and just drinking all the wine. 

 

Another essay I loved was the one Jerkins wrote about how powerful Beyonce is to black women out there and how her latest album, Lemonade, touched a lot of us in many ways. You start to think you are the only one out there struggling with things, because as black women we are taught to keep our pain inside. Keep on walking, stay strong, don't ask for help, etc. Constantly being on guard to make sure you speak "right" around mixed groups, to not be the "angry black woman" so people can dismiss your points is exhausting as hell. 

 

Though I gave this four stars, I still marked it as a favorite. The only reason why I gave this four stars is that in some of the essays, Jerkins jumps around a lot that can get a bit confusing if you don't have context for some of the things she is talking about. Though I liked her essay on "Black Girl Magic" she goes into what the movement was about, how some people attacked it, and then a personal subject about a medical procedure she decided to undergo. It was a bit crowded in there for me in that chapter. I would have liked it if it was broken up. 

 

I also just liked the "How to Survive: A Manifesto on Paranoia and Peace" was not for me. I liked "How to be Docile" much better since she uses similar writing styles in both essays. 

 

I have never heard of Jerkins before, but am going to go out and take a look at some of her writing as soon as possible. 

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text 2018-02-14 21:33
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America - Morgan Jerkins

Wow. What a very good read! I may not agree with all things in this collection of essays, but Jerkins got me thinking which is never a bad thing. This starts off slow and it tends to jump around (essays) but there were some essays I found quite powerful which were: Monkeys Like You, A Lotus for Michelle, Black Girl Magic, Human, Not Black, and Who Will Write Us?

 

I wanted to finish this before I see Black Panther tomorrow night. I can't explain to my friends who are not POC how excited and joyful this movie makes me. It's like going out to a big block party. I have friends who I have not talked to in a long time who are meeting up for dinner first. We are dressing to the nines. And we will be living and breathing Wakanda for two hours. My aunt said to me the last time she remembers this many black people watching something that was almost solely black actors and actresses is when Roots came out. That was in 1977 (I was not alive at that time). 

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text 2018-02-14 21:27
Reading progress update: I've read 80%.
This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America - Morgan Jerkins

Lemonade is not simply a love story, but rather a multilayered portrait of all black woman experiences, all the pain that she endures, divided into eleven chapters: Intuition, Denial, Anger, Apathy, Emptiness, Accountability, Reformation, Forgiveness, Resurrection, Hope, and Redemption. 

 

 

 

Image result for i aint sorry gif 

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