Tressie McMillan Cottom tells it like it is in Thick: and Other Essays. This one sentence from the titular essay encapsulates her perspective for me.
“I do not paint ethereal black worlds where white people can slip into our narratives and leave unscathed by judgment for their unearned privilege.”
Given that, I cannot say that she allowed me to step into her shoes or slide under her skin. That’s the exact opposite of how these essays felt to me. And I think Cottom intended it that way. As she should have. She wrote about her world for the people who have similar experiences—people of color, blacks, African Americans. Or as she says, black blacks. Which I am not.
Still, I found plenty of connections. Cottom talks about the evolution of the personal essay as a genre. She discusses the oddities of LinkedIn and Twitter. Her discussion of beauty myths linked back to Naomi Wolf’s book, which I read last year. And her essay about competence, health care, and black women connects directly to headlines about today’s pandemic.
This wasn’t an easy book of essays, despite it’s relatively slim size. Every sentence is crafted to pack a punch. Cottom wastes no words, and crafts each thought with care.
As I’ve said when reviewing other similar books, I know I’m not the intended audience here. But I can appreciate and learn from what Cottom writes. Her assessment of the Obama presidency correlates in many ways with We Were Eight Years in Power. But it’s written deeper into the current GOP administration, which changes her analysis. As does her female perspective.
And my heart utterly breaks at the essay about lost black girlhoods. This one made me think of my last read, although that girl was a Mexican immigrant. Nevertheless, women’s lives are never the same when a man comes into the picture with abuse on his mind.
So, I’d recommend Thick: and Other Essays if you’re interested in the perspective of a black woman academic. Those three qualifiers show up in equal measure in the essays. Cottom is research-driven, opinionated, and a superb writer. This is definitely a valuable book.
Pair with The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore, or Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson.