Thick | Tressie McMillan Cottom

Summary of: Thick: And Other Essays
By: Tressie McMillan Cottom


Dive into the captivating and thought-provoking world of Tressie McMillan Cottom’s ‘Thick: And Other Essays’, revealing the truth about the struggles faced by Black women in contemporary American society. This insightful summary explores McMillan Cottom’s journey to embrace the complexities of being a Black woman in a world that prizes whiteness and simplistic beauty standards. Witness the revelations about racial disparities in the medical system, personal encounters with assault, and the challenges Black people face in gaining acceptance. ‘Thick’ illuminates these issues and more, confronting them head-on with a unique combination of scientific analysis and personal anecdotes.

Thick as a Label

In “Thick: And Other Essays,” Tressie McMillan Cottom reflects on her personal experiences as a “thick” Black woman and her journey towards self-acceptance. She describes how she tried to change herself to fit in with societal norms but ultimately realized that she needed to embrace her thickness. McMillan Cottom introduces the concept of “thick description,” which she uses to make sense of social behavior by understanding its context. Through her essays, she exemplifies thick description by drawing on social science research and her personal experiences to shed light on American society and the experiences of Black women.

The Importance of Status Symbols

Tressie McMillan Cottom learnt at a young age that being poor and black meant dressing well and speaking well to access opportunities, such as securing benefits. Black people and women are judged by a harsher set of standards and acquiring the “right” status symbols is essential. However, this often means spending money that they do not have. Status symbols can make the difference between employment and unemployment, a good job and a bad job, and even housing and homelessness. As someone from an underprivileged background, McMillan Cottom knew the importance of status symbols in opening doors.

Black Women’s Voices

The exclusion of Black women’s voices from prestigious publications is glaring amid an industry that floods its pages with banal white male opinions. While such men are afforded the luxury of expressing their sometimes trivial thoughts, Black women struggle to gain a platform to share their more critical perspectives. Even in spaces purported to represent all demographics, there remains an appalling lack of representation for Black women, despite their unique contributions on crucial topics like fascism, which they’ve experienced firsthand.

The Neglect of Black Women in the Medical System

Serena Williams came close to losing her life due to blood clots in her lungs after giving birth. She also had to fight to receive the necessary treatment, highlighting a chronic issue of Black women being neglected by the medical system. The wealthiest country in the world, the United States, has Black women dying in childbirth at rates comparable to those in much poorer countries, which the CDC estimates is 243% higher than white women. Black women are often perceived to be inherently incompetent even when it comes to understanding their own bodies due to the intersecting oppressions of racism, sexism, and classism. Tressie McMillan Cottom’s own experience of being dismissed by medical staff due to her race and gender resulted in the loss of her daughter. The medical system needs to address its bias and provide equal care for Black women.

Race Relations in America

In her book, Thick, Tressie McMillan Cottom examines the significance of Barack Obama’s election and reveals that it did not lead to much change in white–Black relations. She argues that Obama’s election left white privilege intact by not challenging white Americans to consider their role in systemic inequality and oppression. McMillan Cottom reiterates that white privilege always finds ways to survive and thrive, whether through Obama’s presidency or the election of Donald Trump.

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