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“No Thanks” by Keturah Kendrick is an honest exploration of Black womanhood

“I wrote this book because twenty years ago, I needed to read it.” Keturah Kendrick, writer, teacher, and speaker opens in the preface of her award-winning 2019 memoir No Thanks: Black, Female, and Living in the Martyr-Free Zone.

In her debut novel, composed of a collection of personal essays, Kendrick gets candid about the complex reality of navigating Black womanhood. 

From exploring religion and spirituality on her own terms to subverting the expectation that all (Black) women aspire to motherhood, Kendrick writes for every Black girl or woman who has felt the exhaustion of carrying the world’s expectations on her back.

In many of Kendrick’s anecdotes, you will see yourself. Like when the New Orleans-born writer discusses the occurrence of being labeled “one of those Black women” (i.e.: one who doesn’t accept the status quo of her community simply because it’s familiar). Or when she highlights that starting anew in a big city isn’t just for “the twenty-something backpacker.”

But, if you don’t exactly see yourself in Kendrick’s story, you may find commonality in other Black women’s stories whose quotes are woven throughout each essay. And who’s contribution to the novel is equally as vital.

For example, alongside Kendrick, Sabrina — a divorced mother in her forties —  also talks of challenging herself to pick up and move to a new location. Grace wants to be free from the expectation that her life is solely devoted to others to the expense of her own autonomy. Natasha thinks we should show compassion and empathy to mothers who don’t fit society’s burdening stereotype of “the perfect mom.”

What makes this particular book special is that there’s a sense of community in this memoir, which accurately reflects the nature of Black womanhood. As is noted in the novel, Black women are substantially shaped by our ancestry, community, family, and friends. We are so often the backbone of the communal relationships in our lives.

Although, because of this last point, No Thanks encourages Black women to reconsider what it means to be selfish.

The second chapter of the book titled “The S Word” explores this topic more deeply. This section touches on how the idea of selfishness is weaponized against (Black) women; especially looking at how internalized misogyny and misogynoir often lead to those critiques against other women.

“When someone is called selfish, it suggests there should be some corrective behavior. There is also an implication that thinking only of self is a direct correlation to someone else being placed in a less-than-satisfactory position,” Kendrick explains in this chapter. But what is selfish about choosing one’s own path? Or rather, what is inherently wrong with selfishly making the right decisions for you?

Typically, Black women are expected to yield to the wants and whims of everyone else, while neglecting our own desires for peace, independence, or better yet support. Kendrick refuses to be a labor mule or a martyr and instead chooses to live unapologetically and wills other Black women to do the same.

No Thanks will make you laugh, it’ll make you think, and if you’re a Black woman it’ll help you feel seen. Some of Kendrick’s tales may even make you reconsider that what other people have told you is what’s best for you. And hopefully, like Kendrick, you’ll find the courage to explore your desires and ambitions on your own terms.

Keturah Kendrick discusses all of the aforementioned themes and subjects in her podcast, Unchained. Unbothered.

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By Ebony Purks

Ebony Purks is a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in professional writing. She is currently a freelance writer and Junior Life Editor at The Tempest. Ebony specializes in writing about pop culture, social justice, and health, especially examining the many intersections between those subjects. Though when she’s not writing, she’s rewatching her favorite comfort shows or excessively tweeting.