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

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
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bookshelves: mma-2018, feminism, nonfiction, 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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Reading Progress

January 10, 2018 – Shelved
February 16, 2018 – Started Reading
February 17, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Laura (new)

Laura Great review, as always. Thoughtful.

Emily May Laura wrote: "Great review, as always. Thoughtful."

Thanks, Laura :)

Shall I Download A Black Hole And Offer It To You excellent review! i'll skip this on and look for something lighter on stereotyping white females... personal experience is great but not at the expense of fairness and understanding... we all fit into many groups... racist America is awful but perpetuating white stereotypes doesn't really help...

Erin Thanks for this review. I just finished listening to this audiobook and, while I found so much of it valuable, it left me with an odd feeling I wasn't entirely able to reconcile until I saw your review. Thanks!

message 5: by Patricia (new)

Patricia Thank you. I'll be taking this off my to-be-read list.

message 6: by JuliAnne (new)

JuliAnne Thanks for this review. As a fierce equality advocate, I can’t help but be saddened when I’m categorically and negatively defined as a white woman. I get it. I honestly understand our racially oppressive society and how POC, especially women, are routinely marginalized. I want so badly for race and gender not to matter, but I don’t know if we will ever get there in this country, let alone any others across the world. I wonder sometimes if humanity just hasn’t evolved enough to stop being so tribalistic and nationalistic. However, I don’t think that large segments of white advocates and allies should have to be put on the defensive just to make a point. It alienates us. It isn’t kind, accurate, or helpful. And with so many books to read and so little time, I will choose one that doesn’t force me into a group with whom I don’t identify.

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