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

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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 Ngozie 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.

258 pages, Paperback

First published January 30, 2018

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About the author

Morgan Jerkins is the author of the New York Times bestseller, This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America and the forthcoming Wandering In Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots.

A graduate of Princeton University and the Bennington Writing Seminars, Jerkins is the current Senior Editor at ZORA of Medium and former Associate Editor at Catapult. She teaches at Columbia University's School of the Arts and most recently was the Picador Professor at Leipzig University in Germany.

She's based in Harlem.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 896 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books160k followers
August 27, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Gabriella.
290 reviews264 followers
September 5, 2018
Wow...I think my main question about Morgan Jerkins' debut is similar to many on my timeline—what book were the rest of y'all reading?

My first introduction to Jerkins was her black gentrifier essay, 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 Jerkins' musings about her darker, lower-income black classmate, 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, Evangelical, 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 Naima Coster's debut, but at least Halsey Street 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 my update at the 63% mark.) 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.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
February 18, 2018
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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Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,639 reviews2,156 followers
August 23, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,521 reviews9,007 followers
February 14, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Cynthia.
76 reviews33 followers
March 7, 2018
There are fragments of gems here. When Jerkins is good, she’s stellar. The best essay was “Human, Not Black,” about her time studying abroad in Japan and finding anonymity and freedom as a foreigner. But much of the rest is either a disorganized mess, frustratingly superficial, or overly dramatic. Jerkins is obviously a talented writer, but she lacks the maturity and wisdom to really grapple effectively with the issues she raises. I was also surprised by the amount of thinly veiled disdain for black women that aren’t as wealthy and educated as her. On a less substantive note, I found the list essays off-putting and lazy. This is a book, not Buzzfeed. 2.5 stars.
Profile Image for Hannah.
595 reviews1,055 followers
March 4, 2018
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 my blog
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,439 followers
April 3, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
943 reviews14k followers
February 18, 2019
4.5 stars

TW: bullying, racism, mentions of rape/assault

This is the first collection of feminist essays I've read that's specifically focused on black women's experiences and how their experiences are distinguished from the general movement of feminism. And I loved it. This book was never info dumpy; it actually was quite anecdotal and would discuss a lot of the author's life and personal experiences and then transition from that storytelling format to a discussion of black women and prejudices and how they are defined in a white majority and white-governed society. I was tabbing in this book quite a lot because I think her discussion between black women and white women was really valuable, especially in the ways that white feminism neglects to recognize black women and what needs to be done to recognize their experiences without trying to force empathy. I also think this would be a great resource for other black women because it talks about the ways in which other black women perpetuate white supremacy, and though i'm not black and can't use that information personally, i think the discussion it merits is important.

This collection talks about topics from black women's hair to sex and dating to Beyonce, and I loved most of the essays. My only critique is that sometimes the essays would be quite meandering where she would start on one story but then skip around and discuss multiple situations and fluctuate between them within one essay, and I would have preferred chopping up those longer essays into shorter, more succinct ones. still, this book was an excellent exploration of one black woman's life and how she's come to terms with intersectional feminism, which I think has created a great resource for women of any race. I found despite our experiences being quite different, I was still able to relate to her (especially in her chapter about men and sex). I highly recommend it if you're looking to diversify your feminist shelf.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
811 reviews1,270 followers
July 5, 2019
​I am not going to critique this book because it was not written with me, a white woman, as the intended audience. Suffice to say, I mostly enjoyed it and am thankful for another book by a Black feminist to inform me about the particular struggles faced by Black women. ​Morgan Jerkins is an author whose voice we desperately need to hear and she writes honestly, eloquently, and with much insight into her experiences of being a Black woman in a white supremacist and patriarchal country.
Profile Image for LeeTravelGoddess.
784 reviews48 followers
March 31, 2018
I AM NOT ROOTING FOR EVERYBODY BLACK. This book is horrible, confusing at best. There is no flow and just when I hoped that she would win, SHE DOESN’T. Where is she undone exactly?? There comes a time in ones life where you must take off the expectations/impressions of others and wear your own. She is HAUNTED by her mother’s words, the love that she feels she deserved but never stuck her neck out for— at least that is what i perceived from her words. I am no brighter from this book nor am I willing to dredge through the mud with her. I can not relate and that is just never the case for me.

I feel as if she wanted notoriety for writing a book but the book was not carefully thought out nor was it pieced together cautiously. I was tossed to and fro with not sign of departure and suddenly at the end there was a listing of how she came to peace but it doesn’t feel genuine— a screeching halt is what I came to and a “see ya later” mentality. So what if no one gave you contacts?? She wines and complained the entire time and for what?? A Princeton grad w/ no student debt who travels and is questioned about her “blackness” by a Russian (you’re disturbed by a Putin??) 🙄 get over it & yourself; the love & validation that you seek are within my dear. Go inward. 💚
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,115 followers
March 5, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Ella.
736 reviews131 followers
May 26, 2018
I had a hard time with this book of essays, and I know this is an unpopular view. (Though I don't understand how books get the high grades they get on GR usually.) I have held off on mentioning anything because my viewpoint seemed so different, but I finally got together with my Black Women Read group - an in person one - tonight, and we all had very very similar reactions. We are black women living in Baltimore who are all over 45. Many of us are well over 45.

We decided, as a group, once someone finally broke the ice, that this book bothered us because it worried us about younger black women and women in general. Where, we wondered, did all the work my generation, the generations preceding and following mine, go? Why is this young woman so scared, confused and unprepared for real life? We were - to a person - astonished at Jerkins' unpreparedness, and we all felt like our own struggles (and classes, and groups, and sit-ins and marches) were rather worthless if this is the state of young black women in 2018.

I don't usually share my kindle notes and highlights with anyone because I tend to be blunt and I type even worse on a kindle "keyboard" than I do a real one. When reading them, though, I noticed how often my reaction was "really? still? in 2018?"

Even more, I want to go back and reread Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist because I kept thinking of it while reading this. I wanted this book to have a conversation with Roxane Gay's book. 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, and 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. 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.

There is a scene early on where she gets verbally abused by a man in a deli. Instead of walking out, clapping back or a variety of other reactions, Jerkins stays quiet and terrified. I, too, was a light-skinned woman living alone in Harlem once, during the 1980s. New York as a whole wasn't as gentrified back then, and crossing 110th was something my white friends didn't do often. I rented a room, lived on like $25 a week after rent/subway tokens and lost a lot of weight from all the walking I did - no matter the time of day or night. Needless to say, similar events happened frequently to every woman of every race I knew, and they still do (though hopefully a tad less often.)

I, too, stayed quiet at first. Though eventually I came around to the realization that "this has got to change." I knew women should be safer riding the subway or walking the city. I worked hard to impart that knowledge to younger women, to take - then teach - self-defense, to roleplay situations exactly like this one so younger women would have tools other than fear and acquiescence. I certainly don't think this should be something we're all just satisfied with, but I also don't think staying quiet and sweet while being abused (instead of, say, walking the F out of there - sandwich or no) then coming home to call friends and play the victim is the "right" answer either.

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.
Profile Image for Chanda Prescod-weinstein.
73 reviews4 followers
February 10, 2018
Chapter 9 is great. There are some good threads elsewhere. There is some really problematic writing about Black women in here that literally made me feel that awful feeling in my chest. I wish Morgan had been pushed more to work on her prose here — but more, to work on what she was saying, about whom, and why. I am so confused about why Black women are so heavily targeted and why there are thinly veiled attacks on well-known Black women writers. She also speaks in general terms about Black mothers that don’t really make sense as a generality.

Still, I hope Morgan keeps writing and learns from this experience. She clearly has the skills.

This is less central to the book’s problems but: the orientalist writing about Japan was very ??????
Profile Image for Christine.
6,673 reviews489 followers
March 3, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Obsidian.
2,791 reviews962 followers
February 14, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Rebel Women Lit.
22 reviews56 followers
December 14, 2017
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
Profile Image for Dawnelle Wilkie.
182 reviews
April 7, 2018
Two* stars for brave, honest, unapologetic writing. That's the positive stuff. Now for the rest...

I wanted to like this book more than I did and as a middle-class middle-aged white woman, I feel wildly out of my lane commenting at all but I've got a big mouth, too many letters behind my name, and shit to say so here we go.

First bone of contention: Uh, what kind of feminism is that?

I have nothing but respect for women who write openly and honestly (read: vulnerably) about sexual violence, especially sexual violence perpetrated against us as children. But I take umbrage with another woman who flat out denies the realities of other women just because she didn't witness them. Your titillating butt-slapping elementary school story was cute and all, but I, a white girl, was indeed pinned against the play shed wall while a group of boys pulled down my underwear "to see if the carpets match the drapes." That was only ONE instance. ALL female bodies are susceptible to getting pinched, slapped, grabbed, pulled, groped, and penetrated against their will. Her belief that these things simply don't happen to white girls is unbelievably ignorant and offensive.

I also have deep respect for women who are able to write openly about their sexuality. We have been told for too long that our bodies are not our own and any pleasure we feel from them must be denied or undercut with shame and guilt. ANY woman who is able to wring out any bit of power and pleasure from her own body and then put that to paper is, in my opinion, a feminist hero. HOWEVER... when Jerkins admits that her best thigh-shaking teeth-rattling orgasms only happen when watching other women get brutalized (gang bangs, slapping, choking, etc.) in porn is, to put it lightly, REALLY FUCKING PROBLEMATIC. And while I'm not here to judge what gets anyone off (sexuality is gloriously complicated and messy), I do have a MAJOR problem with her calling herself a feminist while celebrating these violent misogynistic sexual fantasies.

Second bone of contention: Money = Privilege.

Jerkins all but ignores her socioeconomic privilege, mentioning international travel and semesters abroad as de rigeur. And perhaps, for her, they were. But the reality is most of us (of ANY race) didn't spend the summer in St. Petersburg in a Russian immersion program, those of us who were lucky enough to go to ANY college were busy working two/three/four jobs just to afford tuition and instant ramen. Somewhere between the doctor father, tenured professor step-father, real estate agent mother, Ivy League college applications, and multiple international trips my eyes started rolling on their own. They have that reaction to unchecked privilege. Needless to say, if this was written by a white woman, I would have stopped reading and chucked the book across the room.

Her socioeconomic cluelessness takes its most disturbing turn in her repeated fantasies of police violence. When another Black girl bullies Jerkins in school, she fantasizes about her getting body-slammed by police. Take a minute with that. It deserves further contemplation: she fantasized about a (Black) female child getting body-slammed by (presumably white male) police officers. And no one encouraged her to unpack that shit before putting it in print?

In another instance, Jerkins is in her twenties when a Black man tries to sell her concert tickets outside a mini-mart and instead of saying "no, dude, not interested" she feigns interest but gets quickly overwhelmed and intimidated when he pushes the sale. And where does her mind go? To the possibility of using police violence as a weapon to not only ensure her comfort but to remind this man of his place in the socioeconomic hierarchy. After all, she's an upper-class, educated, professional, able-bodied young woman. And he's just some dude selling DMX tickets outside a mini-mart. Although, to be fair, she recognizes turning to the police would be a betrayal and claims she would never do this. But the thought is there. And what about the thought behind the thought? Is it "How dare he?" or, even more simply put: "I'm better than him."

Third bone of contention: Intersectionaliwhat?

For a book with the word "intersection" in its title, one hopes Jerkins would address some level of interesectionality. And she does, sort of. But only as it relates to herself. She talks about what it's like to be Morgan Jerkins, a self-identified Black Female Feminist. She wrote almost 250 pages on what it's like to be HER. But she fails to take into consideration what those identities might look like or mean to anyone who is not herself. And while I certainly won't speak to what it means to be Black in America [I'd kick my own ass for that], I do have forty-one years of experience as a Female and a Feminist and this book does nothing to honor or explore either of those identities.


BUT... I do like her writing style so I will read what comes next. Anyone who ends a book with "You should've known I was coming" is someone to listen to. As a Female, as a Feminist, that line resonates deeply. Hopefully next time she'll have considered her words, and the lives of others, more carefully and with more respect.

* On further reflection, I've changed this to three stars because of the sheer fearlessness of Chapter 6: Black Girl Magic. As another reviewer stated "I know her vagina better than I do my own." Jerkins extremely personal essay is nothing if a not a celebration of her body, her relationship with it, and her power in making the choice to alter it. That is, quite frankly, feminist as fuck.
Profile Image for l.
1,671 reviews
December 7, 2021
Describing in detail how you get off seeing white women abused in pornography is not feminist and is not well.

"Most of the porn clips I enjoyed featured only white people. White men and women in my mind were like chess pieces, figures that I could move wherever and however I wished, a privilege that I could never have in real life. Watching white women being worn out fueled my most intense orgasms. Especially if the women were blonde. Blonde women in any other context embody the female ideal. Their bright hair and alabaster skin represent their purity. The blonde woman is always the most sought after, the most loved, and the most protected. What better way to destroy her titanic influence on my conceptions of beauty and desire as a black woman than to watch a man splatter cum all over her face? The more painful her moans sounded, the better.

Watching a blonde woman have sex with one man was too gentle a scenario. I relished multiple men pulling on all her limbs, using them to pleasure their penises. I wanted them to take her all at once. I wanted her to be completely overwhelmed, pushed towards the precipice between ecstasy and death. As long as the men didn’t turn me off by calling her a bitch or a slut as they rammed inside of her, I was satisfied when they put their hands around her neck or slapped the side of her face. I wanted to hear and see the slaps, the red marks on her body, and the disheveled hair. The more force, the better. I am almost at a loss for words for how consuming these orgasms were. The ripples in my legs expanded to my pelvic region. I would climb and climb as the sensations pushed against me like a strong tide, until the ripples exploded into sparks while I strained to eject that final, strenuous moan. My clit would be so raw and sensitive that I wondered whether I’d burned it off with the vibrator’s incessant buzz. I was not at all interested in watching ebony porn. I did not wish to see black women get handled with the same violence."

Incredible that this was published.
Incredible that Jerkins is a professor of any kind.

- what happened to you was aggressive panhandling. there may have been a street harassment element but if you're going to talk about it and a potential police response you should also talk about status offences and how they've been handled by the law
- the story about the bully girl seemed really classist tbh
Profile Image for  Sarah Lumos.
125 reviews104 followers
November 20, 2018
“I was never taught that the world would nurture me, so I perfected the ways of hiding.”

I feel a bit conflicted about this book. The topics discussed in it are so important, but I did have a few minor issues with it. I listened to the audiobook version of this and it was narrated by Jerkins herself. If you can, I would recommend listening to the audio. I always find it makes memoirs a special experience if you can hear it in the author's own voice.

This book is a collection of essays connecting blackness, womanhood, feminism, and pop culture. What I respect most about Jerkins is her honesty. Writers like her are important because they further our understanding of social inequality. In order to progress, we need all voices to be heard. From people who are both different and similar to us. We need to have compassion and empathy for others. And without having these real and often uncomfortable conversations, genuine progress cannot be made.

I appreciate the rawness of this book. Jerkins’s bares her emotions and thoughts onto these pages. She is unrestraint. She does not sugarcoat what she went through. She writes with power, conviction, and affirmation. Her essays about sexuality, racial division in schools, and colourism made me uncomfortable, but these are important things to talk about. They reflect how Jerkins felt as a black woman growing up in America.

As an Asian woman, I found a lot of what Jerkins’s said to be relatable. When you google Jerkins, you will see a beautiful woman staring back at you, and it saddened me to read about her struggles with not feeling good enough because she was not white. It reflected how I used to feel about my facial features, body type, and skin colour. She also talks about black hair - its history, its portrayal, and what it means to black woman. I think this was one of my favourite parts of the book.

However, there were a lot of things in this book that were my cup of joe. Jerkins is still very young - only 25, and she is undoubtedly a talented writer who will only continue to grow as she hones in on her craft. I am 21, and I was in awe while I was reading this at how well-spoken she was.

However, I do think she makes a lot of generalizations without taking the time to deconstruct them. Given what Jerkins is trying to accomplish by writing this book, I found this confusing. I wish she was a bit more introspective when she spoke about certain issues. For example, she puts all white women in a box. She describes them as being beautiful, thin, athletic, and sheltered. Without acknowledging that there are white women who are disabled, poor, uneducated, and overweight.

Also, when she talks about her high school experience, she recalls looking down on her black
classmates who were darker, lower-income, louder, and not in advanced placement classes. She tries to make herself feel better by differentiating herself from them. She looks down on them. I know Jerkins wrote this from the perspective of her teenage self. I know as a teenager, you can sometimes be inside your own little bubble without taking into account other people's experiences.

But Jerkins is not a teenager anymore. She has grown, gone onto an ivy league school, worked and lived in different cities. Instead of just stating her experiences, I wish she took the time to reflect upon them more. I would have liked to see how her opinions have changed and matured since she was in high school.

Nonetheless, as a non-black reader, this book offered me a valuable insight into what Jerkins went through as a black woman. And as an Asian woman, I found myself connecting with what she wrote on so many levels. Our struggles might have been different, but they do share common themes. Like others have said, a lot of this book could have been improved if she had editors who gave her better constructive criticism. I still admire Jerkins. And I admire her strength for writing this book because I know it could not have been easy speaking her truth. I look forward to reading what she puts out in the future.
Profile Image for Kris (My Novelesque Life).
4,660 reviews189 followers
June 18, 2019
2018; Harper Perennial/HarperCollins Canada
(Review Not on Blog)

I found Morgan Jerkins' collection of essays very engaging and quick to read. Jerkins takes on big topics like race and feminism and disarms her readers with humour and compassion. She relates her experiences as a black feminist woman in America so that we see her perspective but also that this not just an anomaly. I don't live in the US and I am not black but there were moments as I read this book and knew that exact feeling. (I am a Canadian of Indian- India -background). I hope some day to write like Jerkins and look forward to more of her writing.

***I received an eARC from EDELWEISS***
Profile Image for Charlotte.
397 reviews100 followers
April 3, 2023
I'm DNFing this book after the first 4 chapters/essays. Although I do agree with Morgan Jerkin's point that Black women are still mainly excluded from the feminist movement, from what I've read so far, this book was a letdown. The author is trying to speak for a generation and maybe even Black women in general but fails to regard them as individuals thus painting a generalized picture, seemingly often looking down on them as being too loud, too dark or not achieved enough. This didn't help me understand the complexity of Black womanhood any better. Chapter/essay 4 was so difficult to read ranging from a disturbing reference of a sexual childhood game in Zadie Smith's Swing Time to the author's enjoyment of watching pornography with "white women being worn out" while she "did not wish to see black women get handled with the same violence". After that, I decided to stop reading.
Profile Image for Nicole Froio.
54 reviews34 followers
August 29, 2017
THIS WILL BE MY UNDOING is a book about the experiences of a young black woman in America. Jerkins writing is nothing short of addictive, I devoured this book and learned a lot from it. She writes with honesty, weaving her own experiences with historical references about black culture and resistance, writing and art that made her think, black people who inspire her and white people who disappoint her. Jerkins' writing is complex and her reasoning is nuanced, and she makes clear that this book is for other black women by addressing them specifically in a couple of chapters. As a Latina woman, I understand this book was not specifically written for me, but I find it important to read books that are outside of my own scope of experiences and this books is excellent.
Profile Image for Kenya Wright.
Author 105 books2,279 followers
February 1, 2018
This isn't a beach read.

You'll probably be pretty angry after reading this book.

But then you'll probably also gain some understanding of American society through a black woman's eyes. And even if you're a black woman, understanding still comes.

Many times I thought she's gone into my head and just wrote things down. I remember wanting to be a white girl, when I was a kid. I remember the horror of perms and the fear of looking too black, too African, and acting too much like an angry black women.

She's insanely honest in this work--from exposing her deepest insecurities to explaining her masturbation pornography preferences. I laughed. I cried. I was angry a whole lot.

Again, this isn't a beach read.

But it is a great cup of coffee in this drug induced reality we're calling 2018.
Profile Image for chantel nouseforaname.
628 reviews327 followers
March 8, 2018
This is one of the best books I’ve read about what it means to be a black girl in all it’s prisms. I related to it and it blew my mind that Morgan Jerkins distilled so many experiences into this book.

It’s definitely a book I’d share with my children if I had any. For now, I’ll just share it with my friends and family.

Fantastic effort.
Profile Image for Keyona.
296 reviews156 followers
February 15, 2018
There's much to say about this book but I will keep it brief and come back if I need to. This book is exactly what I had hoped and more. This book should be required reading for black women. It is not watered down so that white people can feel comfortable while reading because it isn't about them. If they want to read and learn something then great. Morgan gives us her experience as a black woman in America and basically says " Yea, I know". We may not have had the exact experiences but same script different actors. I know this frustration, this pain, this sense of being on the outside and never getting a foot in. Chapter 12 made me cry because I sometimes wonder "Is it just me? Morgan says no, it's her too. We have been told that we need to assimilate or be deemed as ghetto, aggressive, or unkempt. This book is a celebration of black women and I just loved it. She has footnotes and references that support her claims which I appreciate. It is a coming of age story because in the beginning she speaks of wanting to be white and doing all she could to disassociate herself from the other black people she came in contact for fear of looking even blacker. That is a REAL thing in our community. Morgan is unflinchingly raw in this book. She even has an entire chapter on the ins and outs of her vagina. That is bravery and I look forward to reading more of her work.
Profile Image for Ylenia.
1,073 reviews387 followers
October 4, 2018
...that saying I feel for you to a woman unlike yourself means you somehow share in experience, is one of the pitfalls that plagues mainstream feminism. It signals to women of color that their stories are only worth telling if a white person can understand them, and therefore that a white person's emotions and responses are of greater importance than the stories themselves. We cannot come together if we do not recognize our differences first.
These differences are best articulated when women of color occupy the center of the discourse while white women remain silent, actively listen, and do not try to reinforce supremacy by inserting themselves in the middle of the discussion.
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