A Fireside Chat with Tressie McMillan Cottom
TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM is a celebrated cultural critic, an esteemed sociologist, and award-winning writer of phenomenal breadth. In this engaging moderated conversation, Dr. Cottom explores today’s most pressing issues including politics, technology, beauty, media, and more, with an essential lens – balancing sharp insights with humor – making for an impactful and unforgettable event for audiences of all kinds.
Building Inclusive Corporate and Brand Culture
Leading sociologist TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM is frequently called on to consult with global brands and leverage data-driven and research-based approaches to create meaningful narratives, unify corporate identities, and drive innovative decision-making. Dr. Cottom is able to bring issues of race, gender, and class together in dynamic conversation, providing CEOs and C-Suite leaders important and essential ways to understand what is happening in their workplaces and how their brands are performing in the marketplace. This talk can be programmed as a keynote, fireside chat conversation, or as a consultancy to ensure maximum impact for your organization.
The Future of the American Democratic Project
Celebrated sociologist and author TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM offers key insights into the current state of politics, and how Black women are shaping the future of the American Democratic project. From defining social movements, to how our identities influence our electoral choices, Dr. Cottom’s profound analysis makes for a dynamic, relevant, and memorable talk.
The Present – and Future – of Discourse
MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellow and award-winning author TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM is in demand for her thrilling analysis of how pop culture, politics, and policy that are in the headlines and at the heart of the zeitgeist. In this imagination-expanding moderated conversation, Dr. Cottom uses personal history, her background in social science, and her gifts for humor and storytelling to offer a wide-ranging yet accessible view of the essential factors impacting current discourse.
Technology, Culture, and the Reproduction of Inequality
For trenchant cultural critic and leading sociologist TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM, the most pressing conversation about the ever-evolving role of technology in our culture is how people use it, how it shapes our lives, and how it inevitably reproduces inequality – from changing access to higher education to making the labor market more unequal. In this potent conversation, Dr. Cottom untangles the threads, offering personal and empirical insights that shift our thinking and spark innovation.
Black Motherhood and Maternal Health Care
Sociologist and award-winning author TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM delves into the Black maternal experience of healthcare in this resonant and eye-opening talk. Drawing from one of the most impactful essays in her book Thick: And Other Essays, Dr. Cottom weaves together her personal experience with irrefutable data in an urgent analysis of the healthcare system in the U.S. and how it impacts Black women throughout their lives and most critically, during maternity and into motherhood.
For celebrated sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom, pop culture deserves serious conversation
Celebrated sociologist, writer, and cultural critic TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM says serious business happens in popular culture. When it comes to understanding cultural criticism, it’s ultimately about the story – what are the stories we tell ourselves? What are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, and who we want to be? And what do these stories say about our society? This public conversation is playing out in large part in the television we watch, the podcasts we tune into, and the social media we consume. And in addition to being one of the world’s leading sociologists, Dr. Cottom is also a prolific cultural commentator – from sprawling essays on Dolly Parton, to an incisive piece about the popularity of the TV show Yellowstone, to her takes on the maverick fashion choices of Senator Kyrsten Sinema. The award-winning author of Thick draws mind-bending connections between the high- and low-brow – making a profound case for the towering relevance of the things we consume, and what that says about the stories we’re telling. In her writing, as well as in engaging and culture-building speaking engagements, Dr. Cottom blends her personal experience with essential cultural analysis while keeping the conversation accessible and relevant for audiences of all kinds.
All of Tressie McMillan Cottom’s work starts with one essential question – “Why me, and not my grandmother?”
For world renowned sociologist and celebrated author TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM – whose work earned her the prestigious MacArthur “genius grant” – each new essay or book begins with the same question: “Why me, and not my grandmother?” In a wildly popular episode of The Ezra Klein Show podcast, Dr. Cottom unpacks this recurring question in her work, which includes the books Lower Ed and National Book Award finalist Thick, countless viral essays, a New York Times opinion column, and more. The esteemed cultural critic uses this question to interrogate the systemic oppression that meant her grandmother – an incredibly smart and creative woman, who lived during a remarkable period of change in U.S. history – was a domestic worker, instead of living the life Dr. Cottom now has.
She speaks and writes often about her mother and her grandmother, as she names the intersecting influences of race, class, and gender and illuminates how they impact not only her own, but all our lives. As Ezra Klein introduces her in the episode, Dr. Cottom is “one of those people who you can ask her any question, any question at all, and you just get a sparklingly interesting answer.” A gifted storyteller, Dr. Cottom weaves data-driven research with personal history for riveting analysis that leaves audiences feeling heard, seen, and understood.
Sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom consults with global brands to bring a savvy analysis of race, gender, and class to their decision-making
In one of her most widely read and consistently viral essays, sociologist TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM untangles and illuminates the role race plays in beauty and consumer marketing. Her essay, “In the Name of Beauty,” has been reshared innumerable times on the internet – continuing to spark dynamic conversation – and is featured in her award-winning book, Thick: And Other Essays. In her work as a consultant, for global brands such as Dove Beauty, Dr. Cottom supports decision-making around branding, inclusive customer narratives, and more with her sought-after social science background. Dr. Cottom levels profound insights about ‘beauty capital’ – and how it plays out for women across racial identities – using her own personal experience to humanize the research. While delivering key marketing insights for corporate and C-level groups that hold major value in terms of the commercial and economic impacts, Dr. Cottom also offers language to free her audience from the constrictions of an idea of beauty that shapes their leadership potential as well as inclusion in the workplace.
Tressie McMillan Cottom is sought-after for her insights about the future of American democracy
In politics, and especially in our public discourse about policy, TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM illuminates how we are grappling with potentially massive social change as we approach ever more-consequential election cycles. Her insights are in demand in forums of all kinds, from the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas at Austin – where the celebrated sociologist discussed how Black women are shaping the future of American democracy – to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, where she offered election night commentary about the mindset of voters. Going beyond the immediacy of the data, the award-winning author of Thick expands the scope and tells an urgent story about how race, gender, and our party identities influence our choices as voters and our politics as a whole. In her compelling commentary, Dr. Cottom advocates for messier and more nuanced conversations – free from assumptions and geared toward open communication.
“With passion, eloquence, and data too, McMillan Cottom charts the harm we are doing to our youth, to higher education, and to democracy itself.” —Cathy N. Davidson
A trenchant cultural critic, celebrated sociologist, and award-winning writer, Tressie McMillan Cottom is known for rearranging your brain in the span of a carefully-turned phrase. Her breadth is phenomenal – it moves from the racial hierarchy of beauty standards and the class codes of dressing for work to the predation of for-profit colleges and the stain of racial capitalism on our plural democracy – all while reimagining the essay form for the 21st century as she goes.
Professor Tressie McMillan Cottom’s first book, Lower Ed, captures the zeitgeist on how profit, and debt, moved from the margins of higher education to bankrupt the very heart of American meritocracy. Influential change-makers like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and activists like The Debt Strike Collective cite her book as important for changing the conversation about higher education. Her sharp insights do not let anyone off the hook – she argues that bad federal policy, state disinvestment, amoral narratives about meritocracy, and prestige-driven cultures of traditional higher education all share responsibility.
Dr. Cottom’s far-ranging intellectual interests include books, articles, magazine profiles and opinion-editorials but it is her essays that routinely shape the discourse. Dr. Cottom’s version of the essay – or Tressays, as her devout fans refer to them – is part revolutionary pamphlet, part poetic chapbook, part sociological analysis, and part call-to-arms. Her 2019 collection of essays, Thick, was a National Book Award finalist that reimagines the modern essay form. Tressays are powerful storytelling that make problems for power. Careful and poetic, Dr. Cottom explores the everyday culture of big ideas like racism, sexism, inequality, and oppression by giving us the language to live better lives.
Tressie McMillan Cottom is a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, a 2020 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, and New York Times contributing opinion writer.