Mediocre The dangerous legacy of white male America

Ijeoma Oluo

Book - 2020

A history of American white male identity by the author of "So You Want to Talk About Race" imagines a merit-based, non-discriminating model while exposing the actual costs of successes defined by racial and sexual dominance. What happens to a country that tells generation after generation of white men that they deserve power? Oluo shows how, throughout the last 150 years of American history, white male supremacy has wrought devastating consequences for people of color, women and nonbinary people, and white men themselves. She shows that the erasure and oppression of everyone else in America causes racist and sexist behavior, and imagines the possibilities for a new white male identity, free from racism and sexism. -- Adapted from... jacket.

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New York : Seal Press 2020.
Main Author
Ijeoma Oluo (author)
First edition
Physical Description
vii, 318 pages ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 283-306) and index.
  • Introduction: Works According to Design
  • 1. Cowboys and Patriots:
  • How the West Was Won
  • 2. For Your Benefit, in Our Image:
  • The Centering of White Men in Social Justice Movements
  • 3. The Ivy League and the Tax Eaters:
  • White Men's Assault on Higher Education
  • 4. We Have Far Too Many Negroes:
  • White America's Bitter Dependency on People of Color
  • 5. Fire the Women:
  • The Convenient Use and Abuse of Women in the Workplace
  • 6. Socialists and Quota Queens:
  • When Women of Color Challenge the Political Status Quo
  • 7. Go Fucking Play:
  • Football and the Fear of Black Men
  • Conclusion:
  • Can White Manhood Be More Than This?
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

What price does the nation pay for white male supremacy? That is the question Oluo (So You Want to Talk about Race, 2018) endeavors to answer in her new book, which delves into manifestations of such supremacy from America's attempted eradication of Indigenous people to the present-day resurgence of white nationalism. Rather than striving on a level playing field, powerful white men throughout history have done their best to ensure that women and people of color start from a place of perpetual disadvantage. Oluo draws clear lines from the mythmaking of "Buffalo Bill" Cody--who recast himself as a hero after scalping a Cheyenne warrior in a fight--to George Preston Marshall's ardent and determined resistance to desegregating his NFL team, an act of racist defiance that endured until government pressure forced a change. Oluo persuasively argues that the result of leaving power in the hands of men like Cody and Preston is not equal, fair, or even advantageous. Mediocre is an eloquent and impassioned plea for the moral and practical value of pursuing a more just future.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Freelance writer Oluo (So You Want to Talk About Race) contends in this incisive treatise that American society revolves around "preserving white male power regardless of white male skill or talent." This privileging of white male mediocrity has brought the U.S. to "the brink of social and political disaster" in the Trump era, Oluo writes, and led to the devaluing of a college education, the promotion of leadership styles that hurt businesses, and the marginalization of policy issues that primarily affect communities of color, including police brutality and gerrymandering. Surveying American history through the lens of white male entitlement, Oluo reexamines the actions and legacies of Wild West performer Buffalo Bill Cody, early--20th century "socialist feminists" Floyd Dell and Max Eastman, and segregationist NFL team owner George P. Marshall, among others. Skewering political pundits who contend that white men's needs still must be catered to in an increasingly diverse country, Oluo asks, "If white men are finding that the overwhelmingly white-male-controlled system isn't meeting their needs, how did we end up being the problem?" Erudite yet accessible, grounded in careful research as well as Oluo's personal experiences of racism and misogyny, this is an essential reckoning with race, sex, and power in America. (Dec.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

In this follow-up to So You Want To Talk About Race, Oluo offers a wide-ranging study of white, male identity. From cowboy mythology acted out by Buffalo Bill to the idea of one man going alone against the world as exemplified by Cliven Bundy, the author asks: Whose America is it? She makes the case that whiteness and masculinity are powerful yet also dependent on the identities that they oppress. Oluo further maintains that white men who are experiencing desperation, disappointment, and despair will find an enemy either in themselves or others: "When you are denied the power, the success…that you think are your right, you either believe that you are broken or you believe that you have been stolen from." Outstanding chapters also scrutinize the anger and fervor of Bernie Bros, resentment toward women in politics, right-wing attacks on higher education, and even the origins of football as a sport designed to foster a white, male ideal. The work remains strong throughout, as Oluo grounds her research in interviews and primary sources, while also describing the harassment her family has faced because of her writing. VERDICT Oluo calls on us to do better because we deserve better, and her words will resonate with all ready to look inward and enact change.--Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

The author of So You Want To Talk About Race takes a close look at the perils and constraints of White male identity. In the U.S., a country built on slavery and exploitation, millions of Americans insist that our political, economic, legal, and educational systems are meritocracies when they clearly aren't. While everyone else has to excel in order to get by, writes Oluo, we reward mediocre White men's bad behavior: "We have, as a society, somehow convinced ourselves that we should be led by incompetent assholes." White male mediocrity sustains "a violent, sexist, racist status quo" and robs others of greatness and keeps them powerless and poor. When average White men fail to reap what they believe is their natural birthright, they turn their rage not on elite White men but rather on the women and people of color they blame for their loss of opportunity. Not surprisingly, White men are currently the "biggest domestic terror threats in this country." As the author clearly shows, "today's titans of white male mediocrity" are part of a long line of "arrogant, entitled, irresponsible, willfully ignorant bullies" in powerful positions. Understanding this history, Oluo believes, is a prerequisite for survival and for enacting the systemic change that is required to alter the situation. She traces mediocre White men across centuries to the present, including the bloody U.S. westward expansion and cowboy mythology that fueled Native American genocide; male feminists; the two-facedness of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and the often vicious Bernie Bros; the war on higher education; racism in the NFL; and mediocre White men in the workplace. A gifted storyteller and thorough researcher, Oluo analyzes these histories, many of them lesser known, with solid scholarship and useful pop-culture references. A bold, incisive book on heavy topics with a call to action for a more equitable future that doesn't center White men. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.