There Was Nothing We Could Have Done, Because We’re Racist and You’re Black

closeup of an adult white man's hands holding a stethescope
Photo by Alex Proimos via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Those of us who are Tressie McMillan Cottom fans — if you’re not, why not? — have been eagerly waiting for her new book, Thick: And Other Essays to arrive. It’s available now, and Time has also kindly published an excerpt. It’s a horrifying story, shared in the generous service of helping us all understand just how deeply our social and political organizations trade in stereotypes that prop up capitalist, racist systems.

After several days of labor pains that no one ever diagnosed, because the pain was in my butt and not my back, I could not hold off labor anymore. I was wheeled into a delivery operating room, where I slipped in and out of consciousness. At one point I awoke and screamed, “Motherfucker.” The nurse told me to watch my language. I begged for an epidural. After three eternities an anesthesiologist arrived. He glared at me and said that if I wasn’t quiet he would leave and I would not get any pain relief. Just as a contraction crested, the needle pierced my spine and I tried desperately to be still and quiet so he would not leave me there that way. Thirty seconds after the injection, I passed out before my head hit the pillow.

When I awoke I was pushing and then my daughter was here. She died shortly after her first breath. The nurse wheeled me out of the operating room to take me back to recovery. I held my baby the whole way, because apparently that is what is done. After making plans for how we would handle her remains, the nurse turned to me and said, “Just so you know, there was nothing we could have done, because you did not tell us you were in labor.”

(For more on Thick, take a look at Morgan Jenkins’ critical essay on the book and the ways it unpacks racist, exclusionary definitions of beauty.)

Read the excerpt