Tressie McMillan Cottom is a black sociologist and public intellectual. I had never heard of her—which, it turns out, is a significant theme in her book—until I read a review of her newest book, Thick, at the beginning of this year. Something in that review made me want to check it out. I’m very glad I did, and now I count myself among her fans. I greatly appreciate the way she challenges me to think more clearly and deeply about race, gender, voice, visibility, capitalism, and more. Here are a few of the challenging questions raised in the book:
- Why is sexual trauma so central to the story of black girlhood?
- What does it mean when she calls herself “basic black”?
- What is the problem with beauty?
- What is the “paradox of whiteness?”
- Why is it so difficult for the voices of black women to be heard and taken seriously?
As you can see from these questions, Thick’s eight essays cover a broad range of topics. Cottom focuses on the social perceptions of black women and the constraints embedded in those perceptions. The work contains a mix of sociological theory, cultural analysis, and personal reflection, all carried along by strong prose and engaging writing. The book is often challenging, but well worth the work. I read these essays in the company of other thoughtful women (all white) who would likely point to other provocations and insights. The book is that thick and absorbing. I highly recommend reading, pondering, and discussing it.