Journalist and essayist Jerkins journeys to discover her ancestral lineage. As she travels south, she learns the complexity of her genetic heritage, dating back 300 years, and peels back the layers of myths in Black culture.
... a mesmerizing reminder that this divide between Black and white is a false binary ... the story of [Jerkins'] personal heritage, and its erasure within her own family, reveals the reductive power of the white gaze to flatten the complexities of Black lineage ... Hers is a journey that exists at the crossroads of so much contemporary analysis of the African-American experience ... Like these other masterly recent works, Wandering in Strange Lands is in many ways a quintessentially American story, one that posits the South as a motherland where, as Beyoncé recently declared, one’s 'roots ain’t watered down' ... This is one of the many profound injustices Jerkins describes powerfully yet accessibly. Her writing has a light touch as it takes on subjects like land dispossession, punitive taxation, a lack of public services, and environmental contamination, blending them seamlessly with the tastes of couche-couche, chitlins and crawfish étouffée ... The tone of the book feels as meandering as its subject matter, verging on repetitive at times; but Jerkins herself confesses her task is Sisyphean. She has a gift for turning circular stories of identity into something conclusive ... Her task is also courageous. Jerkins approaches territory that is taboo even in Black circles: the complexities of caste and colorism within Creole culture, the denial of Black claims to citizenship in Native nations, even the fraught question of whether it was possible for sex between master and slave to be consensual ... Jerkins makes plain that denying space for Black identities in history is itself a legacy as American as its original sins of racism and enslavement. By exploring the truth of that past with such integrity, this memoir enriches our future.
The text is timely, as people are increasingly looking to learn about race and the Black experience in the United States through books, amid calls for conversations on justice and equity sparked in part by protests about systemic racism ... Jerkins weaves a vivid and painful backstory of Black people forced into enslavement in the American South ... The book is filled with poignant examples from across multiple centuries, including those retold in classrooms and those relegated to forgotten parts of our country's consciousness ... Jerkins speaks truth to power....She also does the research, inputting all the relevant facts and figures to give some necessary numerical context to her musings on the migratory patterns. She relies on scholars, professors, family members and residents of the cities from her travels to provide the instructive mise-en-scène that accompanies her analysis. The numbers are critical in connecting the dots, with both the hyperpersonal stories and the universal truths shared by many Black Americans over generations, though in a few instances the data can come off as pedantic ... It's when Jerkins sews her familial threads with those poignant historical facts from deep in the archives of America that the book is most impactful. Equally heartbreaking and reaffirming are the trials and tribulations too many Black people in the United States have faced and somehow conquered, coming out more resilient on the other side.
... sensitive, insightful ... After her illuminating visits to Louisiana, Oklahoma and the Georgia-South Carolina low country, Jerkins ends in Los Angeles, where she spent part of her childhood ... moving.