Thick: And Other Essays

by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Hardcover, 2019

Call number



The New Press (2019), Edition: Reprint, 256 pages


As featured by The Daily Show, NPR, PBS, CBC, Time, VIBE, Entertainment Weekly, Well-Read Black Girl, and Chris Hayes, "incisive, witty, and provocative essays" (Publishers Weekly) by one of the "most bracing thinkers on race, gender, and capitalism of our time" (Rebecca Traister) "Thick is sure to become a classic." --The New York Times Book Review In eight highly praised treatises on beauty, media, money, and more, Tressie McMillan Cottom--award-winning professor and acclaimed author of Lower Ed--is unapologetically "thick": deemed "thick where I should have been thin, more where I should have been less," McMillan Cottom refuses to shy away from blending the personal with the political, from bringing her full self and voice to the fore of her analytical work. Thick "transforms narrative moments into analyses of whiteness, black misogyny, and status-signaling as means of survival for black women" (Los Angeles Review of Books) with "writing that is as deft as it is amusing" (Darnell L. Moore). This "transgressive, provocative, and brilliant" (Roxane Gay) collection cements McMillan Cottom's position as a public thinker capable of shedding new light on what the "personal essay" can do. She turns her chosen form into a showcase for her critical dexterity, investigating everything from Saturday Night Live, LinkedIn, and BBQ Becky to sexual violence, infant mortality, and Trump rallies. Collected in an indispensable volume that speaks to the everywoman and the erudite alike, these unforgettable essays never fail to be "painfully honest and gloriously affirming" and hold "a mirror to your soul and to that of America" (Dorothy Roberts).  … (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member rivkat
A collection merging Cottom’s “thick description” with the politics of blackness. She didn’t conceive of these as personal essays, even though “the personal essay had become the way that black women writers claim legitimacy in a public discourse that defines itself, in part, by how well it excludes black women.” She discusses the negative reactions she got from black women when she described herself as unattractive; she resists the idea that she could be “beautiful” under racism and capitalism, because the aspiration would make her into a market subject and she wants to name what’s been done to her. The hardest essay to read is about the death of her newborn, which was preceded by pain and bleeding and healthcare professionals assuming she was incompetent and later berating her for not telling them something was wrong earlier (she did, but they didn’t understand her symptoms as important)—I’ve experienced a fraction of this treatment as a white woman, but for black women it routinely kills their babies.

Cottom also writes about universities’ expectations that black “ethnic” students (immigrants or children of immigrants) will do better than U.S. black students, and points out that we are “generally cherrypicking the winners of extreme social stratification in other countries through our admissions processes.” The most bitterly hilarious part is the essay on why she wants banal black women writers at elite outlets, “since David Brooks wrote 865 words about how gourmet sandwiches are ruining America in the New York effing Times.That was 593 words more than the Gettysburg Address and about 365 words more than we allow poor students to write about their neediness on many scholarship applications.” Otherwise, the great black women intellectuals she knows will continue doing second-, third-, and fourth-shift work to get published in the same places, instead of benefits and a salary—the bind is that you get exposure but only by contributing to writers’ economic precarity, but that bind is unequally distributed.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
What distinguishes Thick from other well-written books by black women academics (Brittney Cook, Ijeoma Oluo, Morgan Jenkins)? Her fierce and targeted criticism of how black women are shut out of the hierarchy of success in America, especially in journalism. As McMillan states, until the New York Times hired Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow), the Times had NEVER had a woman of color as a regular opinion writer.

Each of the seven chapters takes issue with a specific painful topic for women of color: perceived beauty, the danger of childbirth, entering white spaces, African-Americans vs black immigrants, the lure of status symbols, rape, and David Brooks of the New York Times. The power of her words can feel like a whip across the face, as does how Cottom defines when black women "become a problem" a/k/a speak up and lead movements of change and disruption.

Quotes: "Privileged people feel that it is easier to fix me than to fix the world."

"What pleases us is any technocratic fairytale of how we can network enough to offset unstable employment."

"The paradox of how we could elect Obama AND Trump is not how black Obama is or isn't. It is how white he is, or is not. White voters needed only to have faith in Obama and in his willingness to reflect their ideal selves back at them, to change blackness without being black to them."

"The act of being conservative necessitates an undesirable progress against which it can rebel."

"I had properly signaled that I was not a typical black or a typical woman, two identities that in combination are almost always conflated with being poor."

"R. Kelly was an unlikely crossover artist, mostly based on a horrible song in which he believed he could fly. It is just the type of inspirational, soulless black music that corporations love. It made R. Kelly a safe negro for millions of white consumers while his reputation as a sexual predator was solidifying in black communities."

'We do not share much in the U.S. culture of individualism except our delusions of meritocracy. God help my people, but I can talk to hundreds of black folk who have been systematically separated from their money, citizenship, and personhood and hear at least eighty stories about how no one is to blame but themselves."
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LibraryThing member muddyboy
A very insightful collection of essays about "blackness" in America. They focus a wide variety of topics including black women's struggle for inclusion in the literary world, the mental and physical abuse of black women and a great essay titled "Know Your Whites' . I am a sixty plus year old white male but the writing is so strong that I enjoyed it. I also learned a lot from a perspective outside my normal comfort zone. A great read.… (more)




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