PTW Pick - Thick ... And Other Essays Review

In The Thick Of It

Written by: Angelica Little

America is “stuck in the first gear.” Tressie McMillan Cottom urges the Nation to graduate from “race 101” and other age-old discriminations in her book, Thick...and other Essays. Black girlhood and womanhood unite the collection of eight essays that span beauty, wealth, education, race, and the trait of her tribe: thickness.

McMillan Cottom offers up two sides of herself in this collection. She is thorough Academic and the transparent author. Beneath her colorful commentary and storytelling, she leaves a trail of footnotes. She refuses to settle for white beauty standards. To be what white people consider attractive is to make them feel better about themselves. Her HBCU was a place she adores because “I wasn’t being defined by a standard of beauty that, by definition, could not include someone that looked like me.” She also bears some of her darkest moments within the pages. In “Dying to be Competent” she shares the unfortunate death of her premature child while exposing the consequences of assuming every Black woman is incapable of expressing herself because she lacks the intelligence. America is the wealthiest nation in the world yet black women’s childbirth mortality rates (243 percent compared to white women) are on par with poorer nations. In the first year of their lives, Black children are two times more likely to die. And as she and her child were wheeled out, a nurse told her “Just so you know there was nothing we could have done, because you didn’t tell us you were in labor.” But she did. More than once.

Despite such an academic background, she does not compensate for her storytelling abilities for such heavy material. Knowledge is supplied to the reader while using real-life examples to further expand upon the point she is getting across. McMillan’s personal stories supplement the material for each essay. These recounts are intimate and brutally honest. In “Black Girlhood Interrupted” she admits that as a child she searched for the inevitable loss of innocence because “the easiest way to locate the girl in a story about a woman was to search for the sexual trauma.” When she isn’t reminiscing, she’s hurling hard evidence to support her view on the wrongdoing of a society that views Black women as problems. “Too readable to be academic, too deep to be popular, too country Black to be literary and too naive to show the rigor of my thinking in the complexity of my prose,” even though she wasn’t exempt for bias in one of her first experiences in publishing.

As a sociologist, her role is to dissect topics. Though it sounds daunting, especially with her impressive resume, first-time readers will be guided through her musings with clarity. She is an academic for the people, taking complex narratives and dissolving them into comprehensible material. When recollecting her education, she reveals how institutions prefer international Black students over African-Americans because they will hold their education to a higher standard. However, even I feel like I missed several of her points and highly recommend that you either give this book a second read after its completion or read it when you have the mental capacity to truly digest everything she has to say.

It’s as though you’re in discussion with that wiser family member or friend full of facts who wants you, as a young Black woman, to be prepared for every bias that will come your way. The collection is led by a strong female voice that commands attention and keeps it within its grip. Thick asserts its statements and never once falters in its views. It lives up to its title with an abundance of relevant and necessary information. Those looking for a smart, layered read by a wise female voice, this is a great pick. In the meantime, however, she suggests you keep up with her on Twitter, putting her 280 character limit to good use.