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Thick summary

Tressie McMillan Cottom

And Other Essays

4.2 (37 ratings)
25 mins

Brief summary

In 'Thick', Tressie McMillan Cottom offers a collection of essays that critically examine issues of race, gender, and inequality in America. She challenges readers to interrogate their beliefs and assumptions and think more deeply about the systems that shape our society.

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    Thick description allows Tressie McMillan Cottom both to embrace her unique position and to reveal the world in which she lives.

    One day, a man approached Tressie McMillan Cottom at a bar, and the two started to chat. Just before he asked for her phone number, he told her, “Your hair thick, your nose thick, your lips thick, all of you just thick.” 

    This statement wasn’t just true of McMillan Cottom’s appearance – it applied to her existence, too. Throughout her life, people had made her feel like she was too much – thick where she should have been thin, more when she should have been less. This was especially true of her interactions with white teachers, white classmates, and white people in general. 

    For a long time, McMillan Cottom tried to change herself. She tried losing weight and disciplining her manners. But when an editor deemed even her writing to be too thick – too complicated to be easily classified as academic, literary, or popular writing – she had a realization. To express herself authentically, she had to stop trying to fit in; instead, she decided to embrace her thickness. 

    In doing so, McMillan Cottom also turned to thick description, a concept she encountered in her work in the social sciences, to make sense of her position. Thick description is the notion that in order to understand a social behavior, we need to understand its context. A woman crying at her mother’s funeral, for instance, means something entirely different from a woman crying with joy at her daughter’s high school graduation. In thick description, McMillan Cottom finally found a label as complex as her way of thinking. 

    McMillan Cottom’s essays exemplify thick description by drawing on the research concepts and methods of the social sciences to illuminate behavior in context. More than that, though, they also reflect the term according to her personal definition – using her position as a “thick” Black woman as a lens through which to read the world. That lens is an important one because McMillan Cottom’s social location as a Black woman reveals a lot about the society in which she lives. 

    This may be the best time in the history of America to be Black, but Black women are still more likely than other groups in America to die younger, make less money, experience police violence, and be punished by social policy.

    In other words, thick description allows McMillan Cottom to embrace her thickness in all its complexity, as well as reveal much about American society today. 

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    What is Thick about?

    Thick: And Other Essays (2019) is a collection of essays by author Tressie McMillan Cottom that centers on the experiences of African American women. Drawing on her own lived experience as well as that of others, McMillan Cottom’s smart, incisive prose provides a fresh perspective on topics as varied as race, beauty, politics, and capitalism, and sheds light on the most pressing issues of today. Part sociological tract, part polemic, the book reveals the brutal and often absurd paradoxes of modern-day America. 

    Thick Review

    Thick (2019) explores the intersection of race, gender, and social inequality in America with a fresh and thought-provoking perspective. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With meticulous research and real-life stories, it delves deep into the complexities of racial discrimination, challenging conventional narratives.
    • The book offers a nuanced examination of how power dynamics shape society, shedding light on the experiences of marginalized communities.
    • Through its incredibly insightful analysis, it prompts readers to question their own assumptions and understand the structural forces at play.

    Best quote from Thick

    [W]hiteness defends itself. Against change, against progress, against hope, against black dignity.

    —Tressie McMillan Cottom
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    Who should read Thick?

    • Feminists interested in deeper insight into the experiences of Black women 
    • Activists who want to learn more about the current state of racial inequity 
    • Social scientists and academics interested in current affairs

    About the Author

    Tressie McMillan Cottom is an associate professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the author of Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy, and her essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Washington Post, among others. In 2019, her book Thick: And Other Essays was a finalist for the National Book Award. 

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    Thick FAQs 

    What is the main message of Thick?

    The main message of Thick is a compelling analysis of race, gender, and inequality in America.

    How long does it take to read Thick?

    The reading time for Thick varies based on reading speed, but it typically takes a few hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Thick a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Thick is a thought-provoking read that sheds light on important societal issues. It's definitely worth your time.

    Who is the author of Thick?

    Tressie McMillan Cottom is the author of Thick.

    What to read after Thick?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Thick, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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