Tressie McMillan Cottom’s ‘Thick’ and What America Needs to Learn From Black Women

Tressie McMillan Cottom appears on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Trevor Noah to discuss her book Lower Ed on March 8th, 2017, in New York City.

In her new book, Thick, Tressie McMillan Cottom recounts how MTV shut down its race and culture desk after the 2016 election. “Black,” she writes, “was over.” Mostly white, mostly male talking heads supplanted the “race whisperers” who’d been given airtime during the Obama administration. Some pundits explained President Donald Trump‘s victory as the result of a dangerous emphasis on identity politics. The Democrats, these critics argued, had focused too much on the supposedly fringe issues of minority groups, thereby driving white working-class voters into Trump‘s arms.

For the black women in the audience, like McMillan Cottom, the message that “their” issues were not central to the American project likely felt too familiar.

Thick is a powerful rejoinder to those who want black women to make peace with a marginal status. When we ignore what black women see about the world—as McMillan Cottom makes clear in essay after essay—we fail to see that “black women’s issues” are the world’s issues. In her final essay, she imagines the columns she, or another black woman, would produce if given the job of op-ed columnist at a major newspaper. Maybe they’d write about weaves. To McMillan Cottom, it seems that “you could not talk about a hair weave, really talk about it, if you were not also talking about supply chains, currencies, gender, and geopolitics.”

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