Interview With Morgan Jerkins

Morgan Jerkins is a writer and editor based in New York. She writes about issues of gender, race and culture with a sharp focus on the real human feelings and effects underneath most major issues. Her debut essay collection is forthcoming later in 2018.

In your piece, The Quiet Racism of Instagram Filters, you talked about something really crucial. I work in the tech industry and come from a tech background, over the last few years diversity has become much more visible. However, it’s usually diversity regarding hiring, and only very rarely about diversity of outcomes. Obviously the two are tightly connected, but I wonder if there’s something appealing in focusing on “solvable” problems that are not your fault as a white, male employee, and that this is maybe a good way to avoid discussions about what diversity means in the work itself - such as what does diversity as a software developer who makes photo filters mean? Do you have any thoughts on this?

Wow, this is a really huge question, and I hope I can answer it as best as I can. Before I answer, just to be clear: Are you saying that as a white male employee, there are things beyond that person's control, such as the hiring process? If this is what you mean, I don't know if I agree with that. 

The tech industry is, like many other industries, very white male-centric. So, therefore, while a white, male employee does not make the hiring decisions, they do see themselves reflected in the workspace more than any other demographic. Therefore, they have the ability to influence decisions, even if it's making suggestions or recommendations on who to hire.

Take the initiative or else the problems perpetuate. It's not just enough to hire a more diverse staff. There need to be systems put in place so that that staff will want to stay there. Diversity, inclusivity, and sustainability all have to work together.

I definitely see what you’re saying, and I agree. If I could rephrase, I’d say I was curious about the possibility that a focus on hiring in diversity is appealing because it’s easier to reckon with, on a personal responsibility basis, than a maybe more high-level issue of diversity in the actual work you’re doing as a straight white male. It may be a bogus thought on my part; your article just got me thinking. 

Well, I don't even know if "diversity hiring" is easier to reckon with because there are still major racial and gender disparities in many industries. I'm not entirely sure if the work in hiring those unlike yourself can be extricated from the personal work one has to do with being more conscious. I think one flows into the other.

You wrote a great piece last year, Why Black Women And Men Critique Each Other, and some of the themes in it have come up for me in conversations recently. One thought I’ve had is, one of the ways in which progressivism in America is hamstrung is because of our tendency (hopefully, and not often enough) to see or look for issues of privilege and power - especially within our own ranks. This leads to, perhaps, a lack of cohesiveness in the liberal project that I wonder if the conservative movement is unburdened by. Do you have any thoughts on the possibility that this status-aware nuance and depth, which is one of liberalism’s strengths, may also be something of a weakness in terms of applied political power?

Wow, this is another a huge question too. I feel a little ill-equipped to answer this to be quite honest because I'm neither a politics writer nor a historian. 

What I can say is that Trump's win exposed a lot of things: performative versus actual feminism and the often weightlessness of what it means to be a "liberal." I felt like during the election season, a lot of white people propped themselves up to be so liberal and distant from their conservative family members and friends, so on and so forth, however, this self-righteousness blinded them from turning inward and critiquing themselves. We all have privilege. 

It's not enough to label ourselves as progressive because we are benefactors of certain systems in place that are burdens to many others. It takes a lot of unlearning, and I feel like that is what we have to do now so we can move forward.

I’m really interested in how writers who have come up through the internet feel about the tradeoffs given to young writers today. I hear all the time about the terrible economics required to support yourself as a writer. What are your thoughts about writing on the internet, in general? 

Writing on the internet has catapulted my career to places that I thought I wouldn't go for at least another 7-10 years. I will say that it is nerve-racking sharing your thoughts with countless amounts of people but also, you never know who you might reach and befriend as well. 

"Making it" as a writer means different things to different kinds of people. It's never a one size fits all, but if you're a very disciplined person, you're always going to want more. What I try to do in my writing is to make sure that I distinguish my arguments from all the noise. If I don't have anything original and/or nuanced to add to a conversation, I won't even pitch the story.

You mentioned that it’s nerve-wracking, do you have any sense of how you know when work is ready to share or when you need to keep working on something?

Honestly, I've been very fortunate in that I've had editors really work me to the bone or even kill pieces when they knew that it wasn't coming together--and thank God that they did! 

Do you have any rituals associated with your work?

Yes. I write only in the mornings because I'm most alert then. I tend to revise in the nighttime. Very often, I pray before I start writing but other than that, I just go for it.