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TitleThis Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White
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Total Pages163
Table of Contents
Title Page
1: Monkeys Like You
2: How to Be Docile
3: The Stranger at the Carnival
4: A Hunger for Men’s Eyes
5: A Lotus for Michelle
6: Black Girl Magic
7: Human, Not Black
8: Who Will Write Us?
9: How to Survive: A Manifesto on Paranoia and Peace
10: A Black Girl Like Me
About the Author
About the Publisher
Document Text Contents
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body is still perceived within our own community as “normal.” As Crystal R.
Emery said in her 2016 essay for Time, because she is a black woman with a
disability, a “wheelchair-riding quadriplegic,” she is stigmatized in three ways:
for not being white, male, or able-bodied. The dismissal of Dr. Chavers’s words
reinforces our ableist privilege. Her second piece should have prompted us to
recontextualize her original argument, but unfortunately it received less than 126
Facebook shares; her first essay received over 9,000. We do not teach young
black women that they should recognize and aspire to the achievements of black
women with disabilities, perhaps because we know so little about them—and we
must change that.

used to call it my “second tongue.” My left inner labium protruded
approximately four centimeters from my body, and I do not remember it ever
looking different. It was thick, wrinkly, and long, and I thought the extra skin
was fun as a child, a bigger appendage that I could play with. When I pulled
back the flap of my left labium majora, my left labium minora would
immediately unfurl like a tongue. My mother would frequently pop into my
bedroom when I was changing for church or gathering my towel to go into the
bathroom to bathe and ask, “That thing doesn’t hurt?” With my legs together, I
would look down at myself, my vulva seemingly neat from that vantage point,
and shake my head. That “thing” did not hurt, until it did.
The pain began somewhere around middle or high school. If I wore stockings

underneath my plaid skirts or dress pants, the nylon would rub up against my
inner thighs and the friction would cause my vulva to protrude and my “second
tongue” would unfurl again, sometimes even sticking out of my panties. When
this would happen, I could only readjust the elastic band and hope that that this
would push my left labium minora back into its original, hidden position.
Wearing shorts was its own kind of torture. Denim chafed against it, pain
surging and swelling from the inside out. I figured that if I began a strict exercise
regimen I would lose weight in my thighs and that would eliminate the chafing
altogether. Unfortunately, I soon realized after several weeks of elliptical and
treadmill sessions and calorie cutting that most of the weight I lost was from my
stomach and face. No dietary regimen could stop my “second tongue” from
When I moved into an apartment in Harlem that had no air-conditioning, the

humid ninety-degree weather presented another challenge. It didn’t matter if I
wore stockings, shorts, a tight skirt, or a maxi dress: my left labium minora
would still stick to the inside of my panties. I would trudge the two flights of
stairs to my bedroom, close the door behind me, place my two fans on the

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stairs to my bedroom, close the door behind me, place my two fans on the
opposite sides of my desk chair and turn them on to the highest intensity, sit at
that desk chair, remove everything from the waist down—my left labium minora
hitting the seat before any other part of my body—and delicately massage in
whipped shea butter until the pain subsided. I never thought that this ritual was
problematic because I never assumed that this pain was a problem. I never
assumed that it was a problem because I assumed that pain was an integral
element of womanhood.

I got my first period when I was ten years old, and the first several times I was
plagued by severe migraines. When I whimpered and complained to my mother
about never wanting a period again, before giving me a Midol she told me that I
would have to deal with this for decades. When I had my first gynecological
exam, seconds before the speculum was placed inside of me, I looked at my
mother sitting to the right of the table and she said, “This is just a part of being a
woman,” believing that that solidarity would help. It didn’t. When the speculum
opened me up, my face contorted as I tightened every muscle in my body
because I believed that the gynecologist had gone too far, that I was too open. I
wanted to be closed again. I learned from my mother that pain from first-time
sex and birth was normal, even to be expected. My conceptions of pain were
inextricable from my conditioning as a cisgender woman, and the pain I
experienced from my “second tongue,” along with the meticulous rituals to
soothe it, made me feel not only womanly but also superhuman for being able to
endure it. I thought that the pain in and of itself was in fact admirable. I was able
to present myself to the world as a bubbly, eloquent, and educated black woman
while the site of my womanhood afflicted me. I thought:

I was never taught that the
world would nurture me, so I perfected the ways of hiding. I figured that because
I was born with a longer labium, I was destined to take care of it. If I
relinquished that honor, then I would be unworthy of this life that I have, this
grand body that I inhabit. I did research to support my theory. Women of the
Bahima clan, in western and southern Uganda, keep their labia minora long
enough to cover their vaginal opening in order to make access harder for
potential rapists. In Rwanda, girls will pull on their labia for ten to twenty
minutes a day in order to lengthen them so that once they marry, their husbands
will have an easier time making them orgasm and squirt. Some women,
particularly those in Zimbabwe, have even gone as far as getting procedures in
order to and their labia. I thought. There were other
women of the diaspora who had, or aspired to have, long inner lips just like

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The names and identifying characteristics of some of the individuals featured throughout this book have
been changed to protect their privacy.

THIS WILL BE MY UNDOING. Copyright © 2018 by Morgan Jerkins. All rights reserved under International
and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the
nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text
may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced
into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or
mechanical, now known or hereafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data has been applied for.

Title page art ©photolinc / Shutterstock Digital Edition JANUARY 2018 ISBN: 978-0-06-266616-1

Print ISBN: 978-0-06266615-4

Page 163

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