Insightful perspectives on blackness, body image, and BBQ Becky.
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Tressie McMillan Cottom, the writer, professor, and acclaimed author of Lower Ed, now brilliantly shifts gears from running regression analyses on college data to unleashing another identity: a purveyor of wit, wisdom—and of course Black Twitter snark—about all that is right and much that is so very wrong about this thing we call society. In the bestselling tradition of bell hooks and Roxane Gay, McMillan Cottom’s freshman collection illuminates a particular trait of her tribe: being thick. In form, and in substance.
This bold compendium, likely to find its place on shelves alongside Lindy West, Rebecca Solnit, and Maggie Nelson, dissects everything from beauty to Obama to pumpkin spice lattes. Yet Thick will also fill a void on those very shelves: a modern black American female voice waxing poetic on self and society, serving up a healthy portion of clever prose and southern aphorisms in a style uniquely her own.
McMillan Cottom has crafted a black woman’s cultural bible, as she mines for meaning in places many of us miss and reveals precisely how—when you’re in the thick of it—the political, the social, and the personal are almost always one and the same.
I was pregnant at thirty. Divorced at thirty-one. Lost at thirty-two. How else would I have ended up in a place called Rudean’s? Rudean’s was an institution. It sat in a strip mall on a street, Beatties Ford Road, that had once been the heart of the new black middle class in Charlotte, North Carolina. As went the fortunes of black homeownership, entrepreneurship, wealth creation, citizenship, and health, so went Beatties Ford Road.
Rudean’s held on. So did Rudean. The establishment was named for its owner even though it perhaps would have sounded better were it not. But I do not tell old black people nothing. It is rude. What wasn’t rude was Rudean’s reputation. You grew up on jokes about the old players and aging Tressie McMillan Cottomfly girls living out their glory days at Rudean’s, the nightclub that also sold fried fish plates and chicken wings. You had to get there early because parking was slim pickings. And there were only maybe a dozen or so tables pressed up against a long wall on the empty side of the room. The other wall had the bar, wrapped in tufted pleather and papered with liquor ads featuring smiling, glorious black people living the high life.
Why I love it
Too often, I’m led to believe that I don’t belong anywhere. I don’t quite fit the contours of our society: I’m at an age that firmly situates me between boomer and millennial. I don’t fit the projected expectations of what a woman of my size and shade should be. American society is selective when choosing to recognize the fullness of my humanity—and too often, it chooses to deem my existence a problem.
“Black girls and black women are problems. That is not the same thing as causing problems,” writes McMillan Cottom in Thick. “We are social issues to be solved, economic problems to be balanced, and emotional baggage to be overcome.” McMillan Cottom situates her personal stories as the lens to delve deeper into social constructions that perpetuate inequities and harm. In these eight essays covering her own pregnancy, beauty, culture of competence, and black girlhood, as well as eviscerating critiques of whiteness in American life, Thick centers black women experiences and asserts black women wisdom.
Thick is incisive and heady, cerebral and “black-black,” layered in its storytelling and sharp in its rigor. As a sociologist, she is able to strip away social conventions to interrogate how limiting we view black women. McMillan Cottom moves from the finite to the expansive, exacting in her deconstructions of race, class, and gender work in tandem with the sprawling realities that shape policy that governs black bodies in the public square. She creates space for a layered, complex, nuanced black body, black woman intellectual and social critic, wide-eyed and aware, visible. McMillan Cottom is a stylist and intellectual who defies category and genre, and this collection captures these multitudes that dwell within her.
Member ratings (1,581)
I can’t recommend this book enough. Her writing style is gorgeous. The essays were heartwrenching, eye-opening, and cut to the core. I want more of McMillan Cottom, she should be required reading!
So many topics in racism, feminism, and sub cultures of Black America I never knew existed and honored to walk through these importsnt themes in Cottom’s shoes. Unapologetic and poignant! Must read.
This book offers a very different view of feminism that everyone should see. Seeing the struggle of Black Americans is important in the process of unlearning racism ingrained in our culture. Loved it!
Makes one think about all the little (and big) ways society has not given, and has actively taken, the space (opportunities, support, humanity, etc) for Black women to be successful or even just live.
Just wow. Couldn't put it down, read it in two days. A great insight into what society is and feels like for a black woman writer. TMC's prose is raw, funny, and thought-provoking. Highly recommended