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  • Hallie Moberg Brauer

What We Are Reading:Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America

By: Ijeoma Oluo

Oct 12, 2022

If you aren’t mad, then you haven’t been paying attention. A bumper sticker, or a quippy slogan suggesting that if you are ok with the status quo, you don’t know half of what must be going on around you. Or, as Ijeoma Oluo argues in chapter after chapter of her well written and thoughtful book, Mediocre- perhaps you are simply a white man who highly benefits from the status quo as it stands. 

First, if this is your introduction to Ijeoma Oluo, we recommend that you take one step back, and check out her first book, So You Want to Talk About Race. It is a bit more general read, focusing on many issues of race and issues of race and race relations in the United States. 

Ijeoma Oluo describes Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, as the product of a conversation with a cab driver in the wake of the 2016 election, and as her response to the white male terrorism that is exacted on people of color in the United States as a result of endless mass shootings. She has crafted a book which is interesting, deeply thought provoking, heartbreaking, and a powerful call to action to anyone who will read it. The overwhelming damage that the white dominated patriarchy has done, and continues to do everyday can feel daunting at times as you make your way through each chapter, but Oluo leaves readers ultimately with a quiet, but firm mandate to continue fighting against oppression in every form.

This book reads a bit like a personal memoir at times, and also like a well constructed history book- like none of the history books you have ever encountered in a public classroom before.  Oluo takes writes about issues and narratives that have been most deeply affected by the myth of white male supremacy, and thoughtfully, and occasionally with humor and levity, systematically deconstructs the myths that what society tells itself about topics including the ‘Wild, Wild West,” they history of the inequities in the American education system, sports and politics, how women have long been mistreated, minimized and dismissed in workplaces, and the truth of Joe Biden’s record on bussing in the 1970’s. 

From discussions around Bernie Bros to the NFL’s reaction to Colin Kapernick, Mediocre will not let any reader finish, believing that the systems in power and at play today, are not carefully maintained to keep whiteness, and maleness at the center of society’s dominant narrative. And yet, throughout the book, Oluo brings into focus, over and over again, the fact that while this illusion of the benefits of white male power is carefully maintained, it in fact is harmful to everyone, even those it is designed to center and promote. When the characteristics of violence and control are glorified, everyone loses. 

In her concluding chapter, Oluo highlights, “White male identity is in a very dark place. White men have been told that they should feel happy, successful, and powerful, and they are not.” After thoughtfully breaking down over the course of her book the ways in which the promotion of white male mediocrity, thinly veiled as supremacy has harmed almost every other group of people with a marginalized identity, from children being bussed to school to Native Americans as westward expansion took hold, and our grandmothers as they tried to pull the country back together after World War II, Oluo has compassion and empathy for the people who benefit most from this system of oppression. Even those who are supposed to prosper, suffer and fail under the current system. It simply is untenable, and after centuries of continuing to push against its confines, we must continue to push and fight, as so many lives depend on it. 

Thought provoking and enraging, frustrating and depressing- Mediocre will leave you desperately wanting and hoping for the world and this country to be a different place. We must all commit to doing this challenging work together, to dismantle systems of oppression, and raise up those people and stories who have long been overshadowed by the glorification of white male mediocrity.

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