Tressie McMillan Cottom discusses nostalgia, status, beauty and more on The Ezra Klein Show

April 17, 2021

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Associate Professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), was recently a guest on The Ezra Klein Show, a podcast distributed by the New York Times.

The segment debuted April 13, the same week McMillan Cottom delivered the Ed Mignon Distinguished Lecture at the University of Washington iSchool and the keynote address for the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) 2021 Conference.

Tressie McMillan Cottom
Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, PhD

In his introduction, Klein described McMillan Cottom “one of those people who you can ask her any question, any question at all, and you just get a sparklingly interesting answer.” Their discussion covers a wide range of topics, including the dangers of nostalgia for the early internet, the social construction of smartness, and how beauty is constructed and wielded.

What connects these subjects, and much of her writing McMillan Cottom explains, is the concept of status.

“The thing is, status looks the same everywhere you go, but it wears a different outfit. So it’s always at play,” she says. “It’s always happening. And so when I show up and I see status, it’s not that I’m the person who does race and gender or whatever. It’s just that I entered a room, and I looked around, and I went, oh, here’s what’s happening here. Here’s the status that’s at play. And sometimes that’s a little bit more gender than it is race. Sometimes it’s a little bit more class than it is race, right? But it’s always there.”

Listen to the full segment, titled “Your Success Probably Didn’t Come from Merit Alone.”

In addition to her appointment with SILS, McMillan Cottom is a senior faculty researcher at Carolina’s Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP) and a faculty affiliate at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

She is the second SILS faculty member and CITAP researcher to appear on The Ezra Klein Show this year. SILS Associate Professor Zeynep Tufekci was a guest on the Feb. 2 episode, “To Understand This Era, You Need to Think in Systems.”