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.
This Will Be My Undoing is a collection of essays that focuses on Jerkins’ own experiences framed by race, gender, sexuality, and politics. What makes this collection of essays stand out among others is that Jerkins writes to portray her experiences as purely as possible without diluting them for a particular audience. Her writing style is unapologetic from start to finish.
Her essays range in topics from the obvious and subtle white privilege in everyday life, black women’s bodies (more specifically their hair), relationships, friendships, and education. Jerkins’ writing is masterful when she’s discussing her personal experiences while connecting them to the past or giving them context. Through this format, the reader is able to connect with Jerkins on a personal level, even if said reader is not black.
“[…] I will force you to keep your eyes on me and, in turn, us, and see the seams of everyday life that you have been privileged to ignore but that have wrecked us.”
This Will Be My Undoing was a learning experience for me as a reader and a person. I like to think that I’m educated in topics like race inequality, mass incarceration, and white privilege, but then I come across a piece of work that broadens my knowledge and expands my world views. This Will Be My Undoing made me rethink, reassess, and confront some of my worldviews and beliefs while reshaping them. The best example of this is my lack of knowledge or understanding regarding black women’s hair. My ignorance is showing when I say I didn’t know about the beauty rituals black women endure to work their natural hair and the history surrounding it. There isn’t one aspect of a black woman’s body that has not been forced to conform to white standards of beauty and this is all the more evident in hair.
After finishing the final essay, I immediately started browsing the reviews on Goodreads in hopes of gaining other people’s insights and perspectives. I was surprised to see quite a few negative reviews and had a hard time reconciling how someone could rate this book of essays one star after I had such a positive experience. One of the common threads I found while reading the negative reviews was their criticism of Jerkins’ ignorance of the segment of the white female population that is not wealthy, slim, or straight. Instead, she lumps all white women together as all being privileged. Though this is a valid criticism, I think those reviewers may have missed the point being made. The use of and discussion of stereotypes is prominent throughout almost all the essays, especially that of the obnoxious, sassy black woman. This stereotype is usually applied to all black women regardless of their sexual orientation or weight. So, lumping together all white women as privileged is just another stereotype being used deliberately.
Overall, This Will Be My Undoing is a fantastic collection of essays that deserves to be read by all. It offers an unapologetic look at a black woman’s experience within the context of history, sexuality, gender, and politics.