The Wheeler Centre
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Broadside: Tressie McMillan Cottom
'People really like to consume [black women] – our emotions, our cultural exchanges, the way we look, the way we speak, our experiences, our traumas. We do not have as much capacity for rendering visible our intellectual work … Can I evoke an emotional response from an audience? Publishers will want me to publish something that will be evocative, without being thought-provoking.'
With Thick, Tressie McMillan Cottom delivered a treatise on beauty, media, money, misogyny and race, a searing analysis animated by the ‘radical idea …[that] black women are rational and human’.
An award-winning sociologist, professor and author described as ‘transgressive, provocative, and brilliant’ by her Hear to Slay co-host Roxane Gay, McMillan Cottom works her way through politics, history, sociology and culture with critical dexterity and unapologetic force.
In this episode, recorded at the inaugural Broadside festival of feminist ideas, McMillan Cottom joins Aminatou Sow to discuss her work and career – including navigating academia, the publishing industry and addressing perceptions of how her work fits into various categories.
‘Being too much of one thing and not enough of another had been a recurring theme in my life. I was, like many young women, expected to be small so that boys could expand and white girls could shine. When I would not or could not shrink, people made sure that I knew I had erred.’
Tressie McMillan Cottom is an award-winning Associate Professor of Sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University and a faculty affiliate at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Her work has been recognised nationally and internationally for the urgency and depth of her incisive critical analysis of technology, higher education, class, race and gender. Her most recent book, THICK: And Other Essays, is a critically acclaimed Amazon bestseller that situates Black women’s intellectual tradition at its centre. THICK won the 2019 Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize and is a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in nonfiction. Along with Roxane Gay, she is the co-host of Hear To Slay, providing listeners with incisive reads on politics and popular culture: a self-styled ‘black feminist podcast of your dreams’.
‘When you talk about a lack of “insert minority” into “insert any industry”, what you’re also saying is that you’re not willing to support the people who are actually there.’
Aminatou Sow is a writer and cultural commentator. She co-hosts with Ann Friedman the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend, which tackles the intricacies of feminism, pop culture and politics. Together she and Friedman coined the term ‘Shine Theory’, a practice of mutual investment committed to collaborating with rather than competing against other people –especially other women. She is a member of the Sundance Institute Director's Advisory Group and previously led Social Impact Marketing at Google. Sow is also the founder of Tech LadyMafia, a group that increases opportunities for women in tech. She was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in Tech.