Sociology and personal experience blend in a concise collection of essays about contemporary black American women.
These essays are distinguished by the fact that McMillan Cottom (Sociology/Virginia Commonwealth Univ.; Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy, 2017, etc.) is clearly dedicated to including the whole range of her being, from the detached academic who rigorously footnotes each of the essays to the emotional first-person narrator of the experiences of sexual abuse and societal exclusion. As a “black woman who thinks for a living,” the author describes herself as caught in the middle of some invisible battle, accused by one editor of being “too readable to be academic, too deep to be popular, too country black to be literary, and too naïve to show the rigor of my thinking in the complexity of my prose.” From this position—uncomfortable for her but stimulating for readers—McMillan Cottom takes aim at a range of targets. “In the Name of Beauty” makes the controversial case that a black woman cannot by definition be beautiful, because “beauty isn't actually what you look like; beauty is the preferences that reproduce the existing social order. What is beautiful is whatever will keep weekend lake parties safe from strange darker people.” In “Dying to Be Competent,” the author takes the horrifying story of the death of her premature baby and extrapolates to discuss the consequences of assuming that even the most educated and wealthy black women are unable to manage their lives properly. “Black Is Over (Or, Special Black)” dissects with sardonic zeal the tendency of colleges to choose students from Africa or the Caribbean over black students from the United States. “When there is only room for a few blacks there is a competition for which black should prevail,” she writes. Throughout, the meshing of the personal and political and the author's take-no-prisoners attitude make these essays sizzle.
A provocative volume bound to stir argument and discussion.