Straight Bobs and Silk Shells: Performing Respectability

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Previously, we blogged about an essay on students in for-profit schools that happened to coincide with Stephen S. Mills’s Rumpus essay about employees of for-profit schools.

That essay’s author, inequality scholar Tressie McMillan Cottom, has a stunning new essay up on her blog, understated but heart-rending, exploring the motivations people have for spending beyond their means. A preview:

It took half a day but something about my mother’s performance of respectable black person — her Queen’s English, her Mahogany outfit, her straight bob and pearl earrings — got done what the elderly lady next door had not been able to get done in over a year. I learned, watching my mother, that there was a price we had to pay to signal to gatekeepers that we were worthy of engaging.


Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →