Dying To Be Competent

Hey everyone!

I hope you all are doing well. In this blog post, we’re going to be discussing Tressie McMillian Cottem’s book Thick. 

Since her book did cover quite a bit we will only be focusing on a few chapters. Enjoy!

To start let’s talk a bit about the chapter “In The Name of Beauty”. In this chapter, she touched on the commodification of beauty and its distinct relations to whiteness. In a capitalistic society, beauty is a type of capital targeted primarily at women. The point she tries to drive through, though, is that beauty being a product of whiteness is upheld at the expense of nonwhite women (and especially black women) to maintain a system of oppression. When Cottem is talking about beauty she isn’t so much as describing physical appearance as she is discussing the systematic ways in which certain ideas are used to maintain prominent social hierarchies. The great lengths taken to convince women that beauty is achievable is sickening but unsurprising given the fact that there’s not much money to be made from telling women they’re ugly without at least proving a solution. She wrote on page 66, “White women need me to believe I can earn beauty, because when I want what I cannot have, what they have becomes even more valuable.” I thought that was such a powerful statement because it truly underscored why ideals of beauty are so important in our society. She talks about the freedom one receives from acknowledging that they are not the standard of beauty and how that recognition exposes the violence of using beauty as a means of social control. To understand your ranking among the standards, according to her, is to be free.

Another chapter that struck a chord in me was “Dying to Be Competent”. This chapter went into the atrocities that black women, specifically expecting mothers, face in the healthcare system. Her experience receiving care as she described it was horrific. Her discomfort and pain were minimized and her concerns invalidated. But what was truly unfortunate was how social position and status were of no use when the nurses and doctors saw her. It didn’t matter that she was a well-learned and accomplished scholar or that she spoke “well”, all they saw was incompetent and she was treated as such. Just imagine if people like her and even Serena Williams can be ignored and dismissed by medical professionals, how much harder must it be for less-privileged, poor black women to navigate the healthcare system. To be viewed as incompetent is to be de-valued, and stripped of any sense of human dignity. Cottem mentioned how the rates of Black mothers that die during childbirth in America are similar to those found in much much poorer countries. It’s insane to have such a high mortality rate in a country that views itself as a “city on a hill”. I think this chapter spoke to my fear of pregnancy but it also spoke to the gross realities of being a black woman in America.

Lastly, let’s talk about the chapter, “Black Girlhood, Interrupted”. In this chapter, she wrote about the perceptions of black girls/ black women and their sexuality. She discussed how the adultification and over-sexualization of black girls are extremely harmful and destructive. Desirability is mentioned for the role it plays in whether a woman is viewed as being a ho or not. This desirability as dictated by men makes them susceptible to immense violence. And as her cousin mentioned in this chapter, once you’re a ho you could never be a victim. Although Cottem didn’t discuss this very much in her book, I think it’s worthwhile to consider how the dynamics of victimhood collide with the way we understand toxic masculinity and the sexual exploitation of black women. This whole convo around victimhood also led me to think about how sex work is viewed and the little protection sex workers are given. We can even consider the way similar ideas manifest themselves in the outburst of violence that has been dealt upon black trans women. 

I think ingrained in all of these chapters is a discussion around value: Who is valued in society? How is that value distributed? And how is it used to perpetuate greater inequalities among groups? All of these are questions that are vital to the way we move throughout this world.

Applying to Grad School? Read This!

Applying to graduate school could be an incredibly taxing process. But fortunately, you have me to walk you through it- your fairy grad mother (I just had to). Okay, so let’s dive right in!

Planning is essential to surviving this process. Ideally, I would say to start exploring programs of interest a year before applying. The summer before applying, however, is way more crucial in the planning process. Take the summer break to start drafting your personal statements. Also, start thinking about how you might financially take on the costs of graduate school and research scholarships and grants.

What I found amazingly helpful was creating a spreadsheet. Open a google sheet and consider having a column dedicated to the following information: list of the schools and programs, required documents, required tests, application deadlines, and any other vital information you may want to include.

So let’s talk about the letters of recommendation. You might need 2-3 letters but be sure to inquire on whether the program specifies that a portion of the letters come from certain people such as professors. Identify potential recommenders early and make a list of 4-5 people you could ask to write the letters. When you find people to write those letters you must give them more enough time to write them. I would say to allow them around a month to complete them and possibly even send them a reminder email a week before the month is over. Your recommenders might specify the type of information they need from you to write the letter (e.g., a draft of your personal statement and resume) but, it wouldn’t hurt to create a package with any information you think might be helpful.

Last, but in no way least are the personal statements. Constructing personal statements are arguably one of the hardest things to do, at least in my opinion. It’s strongly recommended that you tailor the personal statements specifically to the schools/programs you’re applying to. A few ways to make the statements unique is to focus on the different courses, distinguished faculties (and possible research supervisors), and program design and structure. You’re going to want to make sure that these statements are top tier like it needs to scream, “YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO NOT ACCEPT ME!” To perfect these essays you must have them revised over and over again. Take advantage of the writing services on campus. Also, elicit help from career advisers and professionals in your prospected field of interest. Don’t rush it and take the time to plan out what you want to convey to the board of admissions, and be sure that your essay addresses the prompt sufficiently.

A few last thoughts:

  • Plan ahead. Last-minute planning will bring unnecessary stress and might even jeopardize your chances of getting into your program of choice.
  • Pay close attention to deadlines and thoroughly research the program(s) you’re interested in.
  • Attend as many info sessions as you can before you start the application process.
  • Don’t forget to apply for financial aid and brainstorm ways in which you can finance your higher education.

Best of luck!

Heavy by Kiese Laymon- A Brief Discussion

Heavy by Kiese Laymon- A Brief Discussion

I read Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon and here are my thoughts (with a couple of spoilers).

Trigger alert: This piece contains some mention of eating disorders, abuse, and sexual violence.

So before reading Heavy, the memoir by Kiese Laymon, I had watched a few interviews with him describing the book and his thought process. My favorite interview though, was the one he did with a YouTuber named Joulezy because I think she was able to connect with him in a very genuine way. The authenticity he showed in that interview was also very prominent in this book and was the vehicle that carried some of the key themes of black masculinity, gendered and raced violence, sexuality, eating disorders, and abuse. When I first starting reading it I felt as though I was in the midst of a deeply personal conversation and I wrote in my notes, “I’m tearing up. I feel like I’m opening the curtains to the lives of individuals I have not earned the right to.” There was this clear feeling of intrusion. That feeling did subside a bit as the book continued but it was still uncomfortable to read especially in the beginning.

Laymon is essentially writing this book to his mom as a tell-all account of all that he has been through throughout his life. From the very beginning though, he makes it known that the relationship he had with his mother was very intimate in ways that were comforting at times but also quite distinctly unhealthy. For most of his life, it was just his mother and him, although his grandma did play a very important role. His mother was a professor who always encouraged him to read and so from a very young age, he was able to gain these skills that helped to advance him academically. However, his mother represents what I believe to be for many black children, the pressure to have to be excellent and to work twice as hard.  It’s that love that parents and guardians try to express but it’s that love that feels prickled with pain.

As the book continued we see that Laymon takes on the role of being the man of the house (as a boy) which is where I think he became entrenched in an emotionally draining relationship with his mother. I couldn’t help but wince during certain parts of the book, which I suppose was the author’s purpose, because I felt the heaviness in his experience of growing up as a black boy in the south. In one of the chapters, his mom called him his best friend and those were one of the parts that we were able to see that “okay yeah this isn’t supposed to be like this.”  This creates a weird relationship between them because at the same time his mother is also disciplining him in an abusive way.  It becomes kind of difficult for Laymon to understand the type of relationship they have because he still feels the need to protect and care for his mother. This showed the complex ways of loving a black woman while being a black man.

He details his experience of being overweight and not loving his body but also wanted his body to experience being touched. He spoke briefly in part about being prompted into having sexual relations with an older woman, who was actually at the house to babysit him and feeling rejected after seeing her engaging with someone else. His response though was to blame himself for being fat.  I thought it was interesting to see how most of the times when he described his experiences with wanting to or actively engaging in intimate relationships with women he also mentions food or his body. We see this connection he had with food and his body progress throughout the book, as he goes to college and begins to start aggressively dieting and exercising. He becomes so obsessed with being as thin as possible that he manages to injure himself. It’s quite apparent that he is suffering from an eating disorder possibly body dysmorphia but he’s eating to avoid dealing with the trauma he has experienced. Food becomes his therapy. His obsession with food is very present throughout the entire book and is a motif that enhances the weight of his experiences.

This book doesn’t end with a “kumbaya” moment but it ends more so with an acceptance of what it means to be black in society. He’s owning his experiences and he’s lingering in the realities of those experiences and the experiences that other black Americans like him have faced and continue to face. 

This was a very condensed run-through of the book so I would strongly encourage you to read it. It was such a great read and Kiese Laymon is a dynamic author so I know you’ll enjoy it. Also, please feel free to leave any book recommendations in the comments!

The interview I watched!

Maybe it’s Maybelline

The meaning of democracy lies in American values. From a young age we were taught the romanticized version of American history, which most times started with the Boston Tea Party, moved into the American Revolution, and then the mention of, arguably America’s favorite founding father, good ‘ole Benjamin Franklin. Now, of course, it would be preposterous to talk about Benjamin Franklin without talking about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This is where I believe ideas of democracy took center stage.

Democracy was framed as the rights of the people (those that were not considered three-fifths of a person) to exercise their freedom in the governing of society. Democracy thus became fundamentally tied to Americanism and to this day I don’t know of any other country that discusses democracy the same way America does. However, tied up in ideas of democracy were questions such as: Who’s American? Who’s American enough to be considered American? and lastly, Who gets to decide who’s American and American enough? One of the most interesting ways in which we saw those questions play out is through the practice of voting and to vote in America you had (and still have) to be a citizen. Well, there we have it! Connected to ideas of democracy and Americanism was citizenship. Therefore, in an almost ironic-but-not-really-ironic way “we the people” was sort of exclusionary, right? “We the people” were only considered a part of “the people” if they were citizens and citizenship was tied to whiteness.

Essentially my point in discussing the historical roots of the use/meaning of democracy is to show that although the concept of democracy in and of itself isn’t complicated, it’s meaning is. I personally, especially with all that has been going on with the injustices that have occurred and the little change that has been made, question whether democracy is just an illusion. Sometimes it feels as if we the people have the power, but it’s as if that power almost always disappears whenever we try to use it. I guess, I just don’t know what democracy means. Maybe my inability to come up with a firm definition of democracy is a reflection of the veil of naivety gradually being lifted from over my face or maybe it’s Maybelline. 🙂

My Long Lost Love

The happiest times of my life were when the only obligation I had was to my books. I remember the excitement I felt walking into a library, a Barnes and Noble bookstore, and my favorite a school book fair. I always felt like I was on cloud nine when I was in one of those places. My heart fluttered in complete happiness. My mind near damn about to explode, as I attempted to take in the magnitude of all the books that surrounded me. I started like most kids with “Junie B.Jones”, “Amelia Bedelia”, “Geronimo Stilton”, “Thea Stilton”, and “Diary of A Wimpy Kid then progressed to more advanced chapter books like those in the Alex Rider series, and books such as “Out of My Mind”, “The Skin I’m In”, and the most memorable one of them all “Every Soul a Star”. (Quick sidebar, I lent that book to an ex-friend but when she “lost it” I grieved the loss of it for weeks. I went through all the stages of grief, most notably the denial stage where I aggressively searched my home for it over and over again but to no avail.) There wasn’t a fraction of a second of time left for my mind to wander. A fraction of a second was too long a moment for my eyes to separate from the pages of a book. My thoughts floated out into the air where it gracefully danced with the words that glided off my tongue. After that phase had passed, I reconnected with my immense love for reading once more through Wattpad. Now, Wattpad was something else. When I found out there was an app where I could download an unlimited amount of books for free, I must’ve thought I was in heaven – book heaven. I would be reading books during class, reading books in bed, reading books on the bus, reading while walking, walking while reading. I would like to think that was where I learned how to multitask because if I had a free hand to scroll, I was reading. My friends and I eventually decided to write our books and then I not only become obsessed with reading but also writing. The book is still on Wattpad but I’m ashamed to say that although I was in high school, I had not properly grasped the concepts of grammar and punctuation. I had over 1000 reads on that book, many of which I will admit were from my friends and myself, but at the time I thought I was an accomplished writer. I’m not too sure what happened after that but I believe after encountering writer block numerous times, I abandoned my book. But not only did I abandon writing but I also abandoned my love for reading. I look back at those times, almost tearfully, knowing that my love for reading will never be as strong. I hope that one day I will be able to reconnect with my long lost love again and relive the glory days.

My sanity visibly scattered

I need to protect you.

My love for you is unfathomable. 

From the moment of your conception, a blessing you were.

My little cocoa bean, I delight in you.

Sometimes you catch me stealing glimpses of you.

I want to protect you.

When you leave my presence, I worry about you.

“Will you make it home alive?”

“Will, I ever get to see you again?”

Oh God, please protect him.

I turn on the news.

Another shooting.

Another unarmed young Black man- gone.

My heart… I can’t think. 

Could it… no it can’t be.

My legs start shaking.

I frantically dial your number.

Struggling to maintain my composure, I forget how to breathe.

It rings, no response.

I call again.


Tears roll down my cheeks,  my entire body is shaking. 

A Category 7 storm rips me apart

I fight against my thoughts.

“Did I do enough to protect him?”

My anxieties devour me.

They pick at me like vultures at a carcass.

My sanity visibly scattered – it’s existence questioned.

I see your text.

“Mom, I’ll be home soon.”

I allow myself to complete a breath.

My body relaxes immediately.

A prayer escapes my lips.

A close call.

But I’ve done all I can, I’ve invested all my time and energy into raising you.

“How much longer will I be able to protect you?”

“Where will our story end?”

EDIT+ CHAT: Five Ways To Preserve Your Sanity in College

Hi, and thanks for stopping by! For this month’s blog post, I recorded a short editing session while also discussing a few tips for surviving college. I’m thinking of maybe making this into a series but don’t hold me to that. Anyway, in this video, I discussed how to stay organized, the necessity of a work-life balance, the importance of seeking help and communicating with professors, and the benefits of sleep. I love talking about the things I’ve learned over my many years in college (three years to be exact). Hopefully, I get to share some more of my experiences in the upcoming blog posts. Enjoy!


“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

The event hosted by Cathy Davidson and her colleagues Carla Shedd and Tressie McMillan Cottom was truly invigorating. Excellent points were made throughout the program but some of my favorite points were centered around ideas of collectivism and community. I believe it was Professor Cottem who stated, in regards to higher education that, “It only works if it works for everybody.” When I heard that quote it reminded me very much of another quote by civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer who stated, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” But I think the reason why that quote resonated with me was not only because it touched on the need for collectivism but it also pointed to the fact that some private troubles are indeed public issues. The issue of certain schools, especially schools located in urban areas and concentrated with minoritized students, being inadequately funded is a public issue that mimics the systems and structures that exist in our society. Furthermore, the reason why we have yet to have seen these inequalities fully addressed is that once again they’re viewed as private troubles as opposed to systemic issues. We have to stop placing bandaids over gunshot wounds and address the real issues that exist. Another thing that was discussed was the need for us to see schools beyond a place of learning but to view them as an outcome. An outcome, that for many young people is a means of economic mobility and a newfound possibility of a wealth of new opportunities. Professor Shedd even talked about schools not only being seen as just a place of surveillance but as a place of much more value – a place worthy of investing in. The idea of colleges also being vested in the communities they exist in is also a key part of reimagining the way we view higher-ed institutions. Imagine if colleges were open regularly for highschool students to do research when libraries were closed. Imagine if colleges had childcare programs for working moms in the community and free college prep programs for older children. Finally, imagine that there was also a mentoring program in which students were able to form positive relationships with professionals, thus encouraging them to further their education after high school and to earn a college degree. Wouldn’t that be great? Now I admit maybe some of these solutions might be a bit idealistic. I honestly believe, though, that the possibilities are endless when colleges and communities work together and are supported at the federal and state level. That is where measures such as differential funding can be implemented to create a more equitable space for minoritized students. At the end of the night, though, this program had me asking myself, “Am I doing my part? And how can I do better knowing what I know now?”