Morgan Jerkins’ This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America has been named one of the most anticipated books of the year by Esquire, Elle, Bitch, Electric Literature … the list goes on. There’s good reason for this. Through a collection of lyrical, connected essays about her gender, race, body, childhood and relationships, Morgan peels back the layers of her life, inspecting the tender places. She then uses these details to piece together an achingly personal, yet sharply critical perspective on what it means to be a black woman in the United States today.
Catch her at Women and Children First in conversation with Chicago’s own Britt Julious on Thursday, February 15 at 7 p.m.
I asked Morgan a few questions about her book.
JB: You seem to have a strong and beautifully candid relationship with your mom. You also write about your hopes and worries for the kids you’ll have some day. What has your mom taught you about being a parent? How has writing this book changed or enriched your relationship with your family?
MJ: Well, thank you. I’m really grateful that I have such a great relationship with my mother, but I will say that she has set the bar really high for motherhood. My mother has taught me to devote herself to her family often at the expense of herself. And I don’t want to glorify that kind of negative image, so I want to be careful with what I say, but I have never seen anyone love another as much as my mother has loved me and my sister. I hope I can emulate that one day, but those are some large shoes to fill!
Writing this book has enriched my relationship with my family, I would say. My mother was worried about the reception because she is still a part of a tight-knit Christian community. But I remember her telling me that she wished she were as brave as me, and I’ll never forget that.
You point out that the Black Girl Magic movement often focuses on able-bodied individuals. Is part of the issue a lack of platforms for black disabled voices? Where do we find them? How can we center them?
Absolutely. There always needs to be more platforms for voices from black women with disabilities. Talk to Keah Brown, Vilissa Thompson, Dr. Linda Chavers, and Crystal R. Emery, for starters. They are out there. They have blogs, portfolios, and active Twitter accounts. We center them by giving them money. We center them by publishing their words. We center them by getting out of our own ways and being quiet to allow them to speak.
You write about the problems — especially for black women — within the very complex relationship between desire and violence. For other black women reading this, how do you find peace in order to accept your own desires and allow for your own pleasure?
It is always in flux, if I can be honest. One part of me wants to answer, “Well, it’s because I’m a black woman in a racist, patriarchal society.” But it’s more than that. I think we should always question our desires because desires are not divorced from our politics, right? But how do we allow for our pleasure? We have to allow for our pleasure by owning our truth and acknowledging whatever shame we have before we talk.
There’s a really beautiful section about the black female imaginary and a call to collect black women’s “imaginations together in order to build a body of knowledge.” What do you imagine this body of knowledge would contain? What examples of it are already out there in the world that you’d recommend?
I imagine this body of knowledge is going to be incredibly multitudinous and may seem contradictory to one another. Why? Because no one black woman can monopolize black womanhood. One cannot speak for another and one may have a different experience from another. It would be full of so many voices of different registers and it would be neverending. Some examples of this are Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” Betye Saar’s work, Toni Morrison’s oeuvre, and the Portuguese word Saudade, meaning that feeling of missing someplace where you’ve never been. I’m so fascinated about the ways in which black women create these innovative, revelatory works that give us a glimpse into ourselves and our past selves, our ancestors, our foremothers.