My Introduction of Tressie McMillan Cottom

I had the pleasure of introducing an old friend to a group of newish friends at Lutie a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the text of my full introduction:

When I presented at Baltimore this Spring, Audrey mentioned that she met Tressie McMillan Cottom at a reading and felt she needed to come speak to us, today, in this moment at Lutie.

I was moved in the same way when I read her latest work, Thick—but I thought maybe it was because of the feeling you get when someone you know is killing it on every level.

When I re-read Thick, I realized the reason it resonates with me and so many other Black women is that what Tressie says is what we already know—but don’t want to believe to be true.

In Thick and her earlier work Lower Ed, there are critiques of white feminism, toxic black masculinity, the patriarchy in general, and capitalism.

Some lines that continue to resonate with me are:

“I could use my status to serve others, but not myself” and

“If I knew to be cautious of men, I did not learn early enough to be cautious of white women.”

Dr. McMillan Cottom is with us today, because, even though her declared discipline is sociology and not law, the work she does and the work we all do is the same—and we are often unable to use our power and status for ourselves.

We are all navigating a world that says we do not belong or deserve the status we have while trying to:

Defy norms by getting credit for our work instead of letting the world steal our ideas

Be our truest and most authentic selves

And taking care of everybody else—from our families to our students and our colleagues.

In Tressie’s work she advocates for everyone—black girls, and black women especially. She frequently reminds us that black women are the most educated and also the most in debt, and the most victimized by for profit education. We are somehow at the top and at the bottom at the same time.

Tressie jokes in her essay “Girl 6” that every black women has like 5 jobs and she is right. This is because we are blessed with abilities that may actually be less than the abilities of our ancestors—but we simply occupy a better, but not ideal time and space.

For me, this is why Tressie’s work has so much impact. Like all of us, she is no one thing and difficult to put in a box—she refuses to divorce her blackness from her woman ness from her scholar ness.

This refusal in the face of forces that need black women, and particularly black female scholars to fit into neat stereotypical packages is what makes Tressie’s Thick too much for them, but just right for our group full of women who are team too much in the most bad ass ways.

Tressie refuses to fix her feet, and refuses to make herself small to make others feel comfortable.

For these reasons, I couldn’t think of a better person to help us fulfill this year’s theme of claiming the power of our sisterhood.

In the spirit of this theme, I will close this introduction with a quote from Tressie….

If anyone ever reads me and finds it useful, as I hope that you do, may doing so spark a gold rush for black women writers at institutions and publications that will pay them and protect them. I hope we build a body politic so thick with contradictions and nuance and humanity and blackness (because blackness is humanity), that no black woman public intellectual has to fix her feet ever again to walk this world.

And with that it is my pleasure to present Dr. Tressie McMillam Cottom.