Morgan Jerkins on willful ignorance and the "new normal"
I first heard of Morgan Jerkins while doing work for Nat. Brut, where she published a short story called "Asha" about a black woman in a white village. This fall, Morgan's name came up again at a conference I attended in New York, where one panelist mentioned her as an inspiring young writer to follow. How right she was! Not only has Morgan graduated from both Princeton and Bennington, secured a literary agent and book deal, and published in leading journalistic outlets like the New York Times and the Atlantic, but she's also leveraged her voice to elevate public conversation on race and gender. Read on to learn what she thinks of Harlem's response post-election, white feminism, and her upcoming essay collection.
1. Was there a palpable sentiment in Harlem after the election? How has your neighborhood been responding?
It was very quiet here as if the rapture just happened. I was yearning for someone to make some noise--any noise. I feel like the neighborhood is back to "normal," but only as normal as it's going to get, you know? It's the new normal.
2. I know from our past conversations that you've been in close contact with some Trump voters in your neighborhood. What arguments did you find yourself having with them? What was that like?
They just clung to their feelings that Clinton was a criminal who should be locked up and that she is just as racist as Trump is. It was debilitating on both my mind and body, and I always felt more disillusioned after every conversation.
3. After the election, a lot of liberal white constituents have been overcome with anger towards America's racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and all-around discrimination. What's your take on that? As a white woman, what can I (and readers like me) do better and be more aware of?
Like them, I have been overcome with anger, too. But I also feel like there are liberal white constituents who have some bigotry that they need to reckon with as well. Now is not the time to think about who are the "good" white people and the "bad" white people. It's time to have some tough conversations on covert racism, the kind that makes many people uncomfortable. I think awareness comes from listening more, recognizing and questioning your discomfort when you learn of different realities, and then teaching others like yourself and not shying away from these tough conversations.
4. One of my favorite quotes from post-election coverage has been from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, telling R. Emmett Tyrrell, "If you are a white man, you don't get to define what racism is." And yet, even I know white men who still defend Trump against charges of racism. What do you say to that?
I wholeheartedly agree with what Chimamanda said. The people who voted for Trump chose white supremacy on November 8th. Despite how much Trump has galvanized white nationalists and particularly the KKK, people, especially white people, decided that this motivation was tertiary, and that the fear of black and brown people across the country was of marginal or nonexistent concern to them. Any white man who defends Trump against charges of racism is being willfully ignorant because he is not in fear of his life and liberties. And aside from the racism, I don't know why anyone would defend a man who has no government or military experience, tweets like a petulant child, and has many conflicts of interests.
5. Given this post-election whirlwind, what do you think about the state of feminism? Do you think feminism needs a rebrand?
Yes. As we've seen with this past election, white feminism had failed in its efforts. Over 50% of white women in this country voted for Trump. Now granted, this isn't some phenomenon. White women have been voting Republican for decades but it's still worthy of mention. Feminism definitely needs a rebrand because this election has shown its stagnation.
8. Now, turning to your individual contributions in this area...Can you brag about some of your accomplishments? You're very impressive! I'm especially interested in this book deal you have up your sleeve.
Oh wow, thank you! Thank you so much. My debut essay collection, This Will Be My Undoing, is forthcoming from Harper Perennial in early 2018. It's about black womanhood and it will be a mix of personal essays, social commentary, and cultural criticism.
8. What can readers do to support your work?
Please follow me on Twitter @MorganJerkins! Also you can set Google Alerts so that you can be notified of whenever I publish something. Last but not least, you can check out my website: www.morgan-jerkins.com.