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Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America

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From the author of the New York Times bestseller So You Want to Talk About Race, a history of white male America and a scathing indictment of what it has cost us socially, economically, and politically

After the election of Donald Trump, and the escalation of white male rage and increased hostility toward immigrants that came with him, New York Times-bestselling author Ijeoma Oluo found herself in conversation with Americans around the country, pondering one central question: How did we get here?

In this ambitious survey of the last century of American history, Oluo answers that question by pinpointing white men's deliberate efforts to subvert women, people of color, and the disenfranchised. Through research, interviews, and the powerful, personal writing for which she is celebrated, Oluo investigates the backstory of America's growth, from immigrant migration to our national ethos around ingenuity, from the shaping of economic policy to the protection of sociopolitical movements that fortify male power. In the end, she shows how white men have long maintained a stranglehold on leadership and sorely undermined the pursuit of happiness for all.

278 pages, Hardcover

First published December 1, 2020

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About the author

Ijeoma Oluo

16 books2,370 followers
Ijeoma Oluo is a Seattle-based writer, speaker, and Internet Yeller. She’s the author of the New York Times Best-Seller So You Want to Talk about Race, published in January by Seal Press. Named one of the The Root’s 100 Most Influential African Americans in 2017, one of the Most Influential People in Seattle by Seattle Magazine, one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Seattle by Seattle Met, and winner of the of the 2018 Feminist Humanist Award by the American Humanist Society, Oluo’s work focuses primarily on issues of race and identity, feminism, social and mental health, social justice, the arts, and personal essay. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, NBC News, Elle Magazine, TIME, The Stranger, and the Guardian, among other outlets.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,088 reviews
Profile Image for Mari.
701 reviews4,653 followers
December 19, 2020

Why you may not like this book: You don't think white supremacy is an issue in this country and confronting the reality of white, male mediocrity will hurt your feelings.

Why I loved this book: Oluo has such a way of broaching subjects clearly. Her writing is effective and accessible, and I just find that it exudes a kind of care and patience. The basis of her argument and exploration is that white supremacy hurts everyone, including those white men who have been sold the lie that if they don't achieve what very few achieve, it is because someone non-white and non-male has taken it from them.

This is also fascinating. It's pieces of history and arguments I'd heard before, assembled in a way that really brings home the idea of "works according to design." How many things in this country have a history and basis in keeping out people of color? How many things that harm us are indeed working exactly as they were designed?

I appreciated that Oluo, after breaking down this history for us, also ends with hope and with her belief that we have to be able to divest from the systems and lies of white supremacy.
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews45.7k followers
March 30, 2022
Sometimes I have an unpopular opinion so heinous I expect to wake up to find my Goodreads account deactivated.

This is one of those times.

Please, at this point, navigate away from this. Maybe start trying to guess my password, I don’t know. All I’m sure of is we all should get out of here as soon as possible.

I wish I were normal, with a functioning brain, so I could skip writing this review entirely.

But I am not, so here goes.

It seems like this book was written with the conclusion in mind before any of the research (which is affirmed by backstory in the introduction).

A group of women at a writing retreat got together, had one of those conversations that all women are familiar with, when they find themselves in a room without men, or with a couple of neutral parties, and start talking sh*t. The conclusion was foregone: White men have historically been able to do more with less.

I’m left wondering, though - is this a convincing argument, knowing that it was decided upon before it was researched?

This was a hard issue for me to determine, for the most part. On the one hand, I agree already with the background logic, and fall in line with Oluo’s points and politics by and large, but on the other, I wouldn’t have so much as written a thesis for an English 101 paper without having seen first if the points fell in my favor.

A lot of this comes down to lived experience, and I am by no means saying that lived experience is not valid evidence. It is. Most of this book is well argued.

But sometimes it seems that Oluo wedges more large-scale examples into her thesis without determining if they fit there in truth.

For most of the book, as mentioned, this was fine, as I agreed with the points made for the most part. But then the Bernie Sanders chapter came around.

This is the only section in which I wasn’t already on Oluo’s side, so I will be reviewing it critically and in detail to reflect how this book might feel to someone who disagrees with other sections. (The question of who this book is for - whether it's to convince people who don't agree or as the kind of newly popular soothing-justified-anger fodder for people who do - is interesting to me, but a whole other topic.)

For context, I voted for Bernie Sanders twice - the first time at 18, during my first presidential election, very enthusiastically, and the second time at 22, less enthused but still feeling he was the best candidate. I promise, even knowing this, I came into this section with an open mind - I do think there are valid criticisms of Bernie, especially when it comes to his ability to talk about race in the 2016 election.

My first sense that something was off came in the first pages of this chapter, when the author introduced her reticent feelings about the senator as having come from a day on Twitter when, following a tweet she made about a dream Bernie appeared in, some of his supporters harassed her. This is obviously unacceptable, but the obfuscation of a politician’s goals or integrity or actual views via their teenage supporters’ always rubs me the wrong way.

The next came in this quote:
"When [Sanders] was asked about how to keep voters focused on the issues in the midst of Trump scandals, he replied, 'I mean, I think we've got to work in two ways. Number one, we have got to take on Trump's attacks against the environment, against women, against Latinos and blacks and people in the gay community, we've got to fight back every day on those issues. But equally important, or more important: We have got to focus on bread-and-butter issues that matter so much to ordinary Americans.'

"Oh man, fuck this. Seriously? Who exactly are these 'ordinary Americans' whose issues are more important than the destruction of our environment and the systemic racism and sexism that are literally crushing women and people of color in this country? Hint: They don't look like me."

This is so frustrating to me. The author introduces this quote as Bernie responding to a question about how to keep us focused on issues, SEPARATE FROM TRUMP COMMENTS, and then immediately, using brush-off language, ignores that context.

Many people forgot that in 2020, a large debate in the Democratic party was just how much to focus on Trump. But that was the context there. Taking Bernie’s argument that we have to focus on the real issues, not Trump’s comments about them, and saying that is evidence that he doesn’t care about those issues…to me, bizarre!

The same explanation gap occurs later on: “When in 2016 Trump said that women who have abortions should be punished, Sanders replied that his remarks were a ‘distraction’ from the ‘real issues facing America.’ To many women (and anyone with a uterus, regardless of gender), especially on the left, the assault on reproductive rights was a serious issue facing America.”

It’s his remarks that are the distraction, not the issue itself. The issue is a part of the very same lineup of “real issues” referenced before.

Later, the author argues the following: “In the end, 12 percent of Sanders supporters ended up supporting Trump in the general election. When surveyed, almost half of those Sanders supporters turned Trump voters said they disagreed that white people have disadvantages in the United States, whereas only about 5 percent of Clinton voters disagreed that white people have advantages.”

Ignoring that that would make about 5 percent of Sanders voters, and ignoring that this is not how elections work, and ignoring that the same article the author cites notes that 12 percent of Republican primary voters voted for Hillary in the general, and ignoring that it also says 25 percent of Hillary 2008 voters voted for McCain, and ignoring that there is so much bias here, and ignoring that that last 5 percent number has no cited source, I found another one that said 22% of Hillary voters said that white people don’t benefit even a fair amount from advantages Black people don’t have.

I am white, but I am a pro-choice woman, and being dismissed from my Bernie support is so frustrating. In the wake of so many POC Bernie supporters in 2019 discussing the pain of being left out of the movement via this rhetoric, I don’t understand how you in good faith ignore them to keep making this argument.

This essay will obliquely reference the young women, Black people, Latinx people, and others who supported Bernie in huge majorities, and then act as though that doesn’t matter. Bad-faith writing like this makes me question the believability of the rest of the book.

For goodness’ sake, the author quotes ROBIN DIANGELO in this essay, a white woman infamous for taking over movements, on the idea of white men taking over the movement. And even DiAngelo says, “Well, we need them,” an excerpt of her response that is unsurprisingly not the focus Oluo takes on.

This chapter tears down Bernie and his supporters, sometimes fairly and sometimes not, but it fails to note the actual work done by the senator and this same group in the wake of 2016.

There is a chapter that lauds Rashida Tlaib, AOC, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley, but fails to note the role of Bernie supporters in electing them and working to elect other working class people, people of color, women, and underrepresented populations, through Justice Democrats, the organization that elected these four and three other people of color to national leadership in 2018 alone.

It was founded by and is made up of former Bernie campaign leadership.

I know it seems crazy to focus this much on one chapter, and in many ways it is. But when you’re reading nonfiction and you stumble across a misquoted fact, or a simple error, it creates a sense of doubt that is hard to shake for the rest of the book.

I’m no expert on most of the topics in this, and I learned from some of them, but I’m a politics obsessive who cut her teeth on Bernie. And the places where this section didn’t match up with facts made it hard for me to trust the rest of the book did.

Bottom line: I hope no one read this. If they did, I’m sorry!

tbr review

what book could sound better than this


reading books by Black authors for Black History Month!

book 1: caste
book 2: business not as usual
book 3: the color purple
book 4: the parking lot attendant
book 5: kindred
book 6: wrapped up in you
book 7: the boyfriend project
book 8: a song below water
book 9: filthy animals
book 10: passing
book 11: seven days in june
book 12: ayiti
book 13: notes of a native son
book 14: mediocre
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,112 reviews1,384 followers
September 27, 2020
It's as if when we continuously pass up the opportunity to listen to those most affected by the shortcomings of our systems, and instead continue to reward those who benefit most from those systems, we end up making no progress at all.

Mediocre is that rare book that overdelivers on what it promises. In our current moment, it's easy to be frustrated by struggling working-class white men who blame people of color for their problems rather than the generations of (mostly white, male, and privileged) politicians who were actually in a position to solve those problems and didn't; by the supposedly progressive white straight men who reveal racism and sexism the moment a movement threatens not to center their own wants and needs; and by the white people who would vote for an incompetent bigot like Trump rather than accept a candidate who recognizes diversity and the need for social justice. All of these groups are discussed in Mediocre, but the book also dives into the history of the United States and makes clear that the profound inequities of our society, which seem to get worse instead of better, are all by design.

From the violent founding of this country to Great Depression recovery plans that prioritized white men over everyone else to housing covenants that prevented Black people from being able to participate in homeownership to the constant assault on voting rights—all of this has been geared toward maintaining a white supremacist patriarchy, and all of it has taken a monumental amount of effort. Oluo makes a convincing and inspiring case that change is possible if we can all (all of us!) look at our own complicity and redirect our efforts. We don't lack the "strength or endurance" to make such change happen, as Oluo puts it. "We just seem to lack the imagination."

I was a fan of Oluo's earlier book So You Want to Talk About Race, but I think this one is even better—more comprehensive, more profound, and more compelling. Her first book has gained some attention this year as Black Lives Matter protests have continued; I hope this new book gets similar attention because it is similarly worthy.

I received this ARC via NetGalley. Thank you to the publisher.
Profile Image for soda.
453 reviews50 followers
October 16, 2020
So it's perfectly fine to be racist, just so long as it's against white people. Trump won b/c of racist bullshit like this. God forbid someone write a book just like this, but about anyone brown...
Profile Image for MÉYO.
381 reviews16 followers
April 6, 2022
I want my brain cells back. 😒
Oluo is just another “woke grifter” to emerge and profit from the delusion that the rot of American politics started January 20th, 2017 despite ALL the evidence to the contrary. Instead of taking a macro view and criticizing the corruption that plagues BOTH major parties, the mediocrity that plagues American politicians of ALL races and the propaganda that is promulgated by the hyper-partisan “fake news” outlets, Oluo and her kind are only interested in amplifying “micro aggressions” and unintelligible conspiracy theories to a comical level.

Sadly, a lot of adults can’t handle the truth and are unable to deal with fact that Trump IS NOT THE PROBLEM; he is the predictable outcome of a systemic problem!! For a book that was published in December 2020, there is no excuse for the absurdities scribbled about in this idiotic thesis, and it’s alarming to see how desperate “woke grifters” are in pretending the EIGHT YEAR Obama/Biden administration was just a figment of one’s imagination, (their names and the consequences of their policies are NEVER mentioned for some strange reason).

For someone who complains bitterly about mediocre white men distorting history, Oluo and her editors go to extreme lengths to distort history/reality in the most hypocritical ways:

1. She laments about Anita Hill being marginalized by mediocre white men while failing to point out mediocre Biden was at the helm of slut shaming Anita Hill into irrelevance. He also did this same shit to Tara Reid in 2020 and effectively killed the #believeallwoman movement, (which was started by a black woman ironically).

2. She laments about poor black people in Michigan suffering at the hands of mediocre white men who poisoned them with lead water, but fails to mention the black president who flew into town, pretended to drink the water, claimed there was nothing wrong with the water and then fucked off with no relief in sight.

3. She laments the ill treatment of black people by corrupt police departments, but fails to mention the black president and his black attorney general who did NOTHING to reform the police and decriminalize cannabis, (like he promised), but instead, militarized the police so they could hunt down black people with deadlier weapons and tactics.

4. She laments how black people comprise 12% of the population and are disproportionately/unfairly incarcerated at the hands of mediocre white men, but fails to mention that mediocre black woman in California who argued in court to keep innocent black people in jail as to not diminish her pool of cheap prison labour. After dropping out of the presidential race in disgrace without garnering a single delegate vote, she was rewarded for her failure and installed as the Vice President of the USA; and I bet she’s exempt from Oluo’s thesis of mediocre sellouts “corrupting” their way to the top.

Also, didn’t mediocre Biden write the overtly racist 1994 crime bill that made it possible to stuff for-profit prisons with millions of black people except for his corrupt crack-head son? The result is millions of “super predators” who are stripped of their right to vote because of their “criminal convictions” and yet “woke grifters” like Oluo love to lay the blame on Russia, Fox News and the voters themselves for not falling in line and supporting the “other” Republican Party which also has an undeniable track record of screwing over their constituents; this is beyond egregious!

5. She laments how Trump shits on black NFL athletes who protest mediocre white people, but fails to mention the black president who also demanded both black NFL and NBA athletes to shut the fuck up with their protests and to play ball! To this day he still travels around the world admonishing people to “get real” with their purity nonsense and to embrace the mediocrity and corruption of his political allies!

6. She laments how Trump runs cover for white “domestic terrorists,” but fails to mention the black president who refused to label ANY of the multitudinous WHITE MALE MASS SHOOTERS as “domestic terrorists” during his EIGHT year presidency, thereby allowing Trump to continue the White House proclamation, “If the shooter is white, it’s alright!” If Trump could shed crocodile tears like Obama while tap dancing around the “terrorist” moniker, (i.e. Dylan Roof), would Oluo give Trump a pass too?

7. She expresses faux outrage towards Trump’s “supposed” disdain for Muslims, Mexicans and African-Americans, but fails to mention how the black president and his mediocre white male sidekick dropped more bombs, killed more Muslims, started more wars, killed more black Africans, repealed more civil liberties, invaded/destroyed more countries, tortured/persecuted more whistle blowers and caged/deported more Mexicans than all their predecessors! Trump can’t even come close to their crimes against humanity and the environment, and if you’re blissfully unaware of these facts; shame on you!

I could go on and on, but sadly there isn’t an audience who is interested in the facts and the nature of correlations. Mediocre Bush rigged his way into the White House, who made it possible for mediocre Obama to walk into the White House, who made it possible for mediocre Trump to waltz into the White House, who now made it possible for mediocre Biden, (with his dementia), to stumble and mumble his way into the White House! You don’t have to be a genius to see this degradation of meritocracy and how this “lesser of two evils” voting will always result in an even more despicable president in the future; you just have to be honest with yourself! Oluo could speak truth to power just like Dr. Cornell West, but I guess there’s more money in talking down to morons instead of enlightening people with honesty and context.

If it makes hypocrites like Oluo happy to vote for and pretend that “Jim Crow” Joe ISN’T the epitome of a mediocre/sexist/racist/perverted/insensitive/cruel/hypocritical/lying/war-mongering/unapologetic and demented white man who finally corrupted his way to the top after failing over and over and over again, then who am I to shit on this delusion? Just remember; reality doesn’t pity the hypocrite. If you didn’t learn your lesson with the inauguration of Trump, (remember when the “fake news” outlets claimed a 99.9% improbability?), then prepare yourself for a bigger dose of reality when Biden’s mediocrity allows for the next mediocre white man to crawl into the White House wearing a KKK gown; “woke grifters” like Oluo won’t be able to exploit your ignorance then!
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,283 reviews21.5k followers
April 29, 2021
I needed to read this book, and I suspect you do too. Naturally, you know the Carly Simon song, ‘You’re So Vain’ – well, it is pretty well near impossible to be middle class, white male (and even a wee bit progressive) and not feel like you’d walked onto a yacht, with or without your apricot scarf, in the middle of a hurricane. This book is uncomfortable for progressive white boys to read – and that has to be a good thing.

Years ago I read a book that definitely influenced how I see the world. It is called ‘Understanding Everyday Racism: An Interdisciplinary Theory’. The bit that got me about the book was how those on the receiving end of racism, unless it is the sort of caricature racism associated with dickheads in pointy white sheets and tattooed swastikas, can’t necessarily be sure they are actually on the receiving end of racism. You see, everyday racism doesn’t see itself as racist. It is just that some people (bizarrely, always the same sorts of people, conveniently colour coded) never get ‘cut any slack’, never get the benefit of the doubt – instead, they get the full measure of the law (any law) in a kind of ‘work-to-rule’ version of whatever rule applies.

There were no boys in this book who came out of it particularly well. That includes the ‘feminist’ boys – and I still count myself among their number – who were mostly shown to be much more interested in liberating feminist girls of their knickers than of their chains, and when that didn’t work out as well as they had hoped, they suddenly found that their notions of women as equals faded in the same form of disappointed anticlimax as their erections.

And these boys aren’t just any boys – we are talking mediocre white men from right back in the early days of first wave feminism right up to the likes of Bill Clinton and Joe Biden. You know, when you feel yourself saying to yourself ‘not all men’ while you are reading this book, just remember that it is by far enough men for those on the receiving end to struggle to recognise which men to leave out of the equation.

This is pretty much a book of betrayal – and those doing the betraying are far too often mediocre white men. You know the joke, of course, that has given this book its title, it’s at least as famous as the song, ‘You’re So Vain’ – god give me the confidence of a mediocre white man… That this joke has become a kind of catch-phrase, one where you only need name a book ‘mediocre’ and everyone knows what you are talking about, tells us all we need to know about how our world works.

When I finished high school a lifetime ago, I started an Applied Physics degree. But I wasn’t quite the normal applied physics student and so ended up in the Socialist club on campus. Anyway, one of the other people who had been in the club recently became my friend on Facebook. Back in the early 1980s he had been a Maoist. Now, he seems particularly annoyed with ‘identity politics’ – you know, bloody women, bloody blacks, bloody gays distracting the progressive movement from the true path to revolution. I’ve never quite understood why people get so pissed off about this. And it is not just ex-Maoists, Luhmann says somewhere that capitalism can survive any advance of freedom (gay liberation, women’s liberation, and so on) except working class liberation, since that is a literal existential threat to capitalism. Except, I’m not convinced women’s liberation wouldn’t be an existential threat to capitalism – a good book to read on this is ‘Caliban and the Witch’. I’m not at all convinced that ending racism wouldn’t also end capitalism – the same book is as good a place to start on why that might be the case as any other, too, by the way. Identity politics just looks a hell of a lot like liberation to me.

As someone who works in higher education, the chapter in this discussing higher ed had me thinking ‘yeah, too right’. All the same, the problems with higher ed are broader than this book discusses – and Reawyn Connell’s book ‘The Good University’ is a better place to start – but we really do need to become much more outraged about what is being done to higher education and any criticism is worth reading. It is becoming a bit urgent, in fact.

Perhaps the most terrifying thing about this book is that although it is written with a mostly US focus – the themes are depressingly familiar here in Australia. I mean, Australia is also a frontier, coloniser society – and so, it is hardly surprising we would have similar issues – but we are also ‘British’ enough to say with conviction, ‘Thank God we’re not American’. This book makes it all too clear that the mirror is large enough for all of us to get to look into it and experience the ice-bucket recognition of our own reflection.

This is a hard book for white males to read – and so, it would make an excellent birthday present for the one in your life you know and love.
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
1,839 reviews4,676 followers
February 16, 2021
Whew child. This was a heck of read. And in my personal opinion it definitely hits a little harder considering what has been happening in America with the election. It really changes the perspectives of the legacies that White men have left behind and how they continue to impact our country.

I'm not familiar with all of the work by Ijeoma Oluo. It has been my intention to read So You Want to Talk About Race; however, when I saw that this was available at my library for checkout I decided to read it first. My perspective of those involved in the insurrection aligns with a great portion of the country; however, I find it even more fascinating that White people were protesting the power exchange from one White man to another. The irony of it never leaves my mind. Enter the idea that White men are willing to work against racism and sexism as long as it fits their narrative and places them at the center of the story. This isn't a statement or "theory" that Oluo makes lightly. In fact, she thoroughly outlines so many examples in history (actually history not the history that has been fabricated to appease the White men of America) in which White men have seemingly stood up against sexism and racism only to neglect those fights when it no longer became about their needs and wants. Interestingly enough, Oluo even captures some interesting points related to Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden that are worth thinking over and understanding.

If anything, Oluo reminded me how so many different aspects of America have been structured to allow White men to do the bare minimum while people of color are kept at a disadvantage. People are going to see the title of this book and get pissed. Well, I challenge those individuals to ask why they're so upset. The fact that people are so comfortable maintaining a society based on White patriarchy never ceases to amaze me. As referenced by Oluo, the amount of talent left out due to the need to continuously feed into the egos of those who maintain the need to uphold the tenants of White supremacy is baffling. This book isn't about complaining and asking for handouts as some would think, it's about dismantling systems that permit people to refrain from including those that are not White males. It also isn't out to say that ALL White men are "bad." There are those who fight every day to change that landscape of this country. However, the more we continue to ignore the elephant in the room, the longer it's going to take for real change to occur. This also isn't a book that simply "supports the left," because we all know there are people on both sides who need to do some serious work in becoming anti-racists.

Overall, this is an accessible work. It's easy to approach and really challenges readers to reconsider some things that have been a part of "history." The delivery in some sections didn't work for me at all times stylistically; however, it is a great read and I definitely will be working my way through anything else that Oluo decides to release.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68k followers
September 20, 2021
Looking For Guidance

I am aware of the pain, frustration, and often terror that black people feel in the racist environment of America. I know that black voters are persistently taken for granted, casually betrayed, and almost always mis-represented by white American politicians. I see in news reports and in statistics, the systematic unfairness of the American judicial system and the calculated use of the system to weaken the political strength of the black community. I have read about the success of politicians like Nixon and Reagan who have explicitly used the bait of the ‘Southern Strategy’ and the ‘War on Drugs’ to degrade people of colour and to exploit the pervasive racism in the country.

In short, I am that mediocre white dude who is clearly the target (as well as the caricature) of this book. I have indeed implicitly presumed opportunities are available simply because of my race. I have been oblivious to the myriad signs and signals that have become part of my stereotypical reaction to racial difference. Despite my liberal talk, I have not demonstrated the real political priority of race by my actions. If this book is intended to remind me of these things and to increase my sensitivity to race and confirmed commitment to the issue of race, it has done its job.

But if I am the target market, what’s the point of the book? It does not present a nuanced argument or offer previously undisclosed facts about how racism works in America. It does not suggest new legislation or propose social norms. So aside from feeling chastised, what am I to do with this book? Talk it up among friends? Write reviews to help it sell? Pass it on perhaps? I need guidance. A polemic is just a rant when there isn’t a political objective.

The committed racist won’t even open it. The lover of cowboy films will deny that the persistent cinematic theme of white supremacy has any effect at all on his perception or attitudes about race. Joe Biden supporters are likely to dismiss his dodgy record on things like bussing in light of the rather more pressing problem of a Trump second term. The fact that some of Bernie Sanders constituency appear to be racist thugs, ditto. And what Republican, even if he or she does read, is going to take seriously an issue about either misogyny or racism in their party when their national cohesion depends upon just that issue.

In her introduction, Oluo says she decided to write the book during a retreat for women writers. They ended up, she says, talking about the horrible white males they have encountered in their lives, most of them not even reaching the level of mediocre. I have had a similar experience and come to a similar conclusion as these women in the woods. They (we) do everything they’re (we’re) accused of - contradicting, talking over, acting pompous, pretending to knowledge they don’t have, aspiring to reputation and position for which that are incompetent, and very often presuming that they are superior because of their race and sex. They (we) are mostly awful.

“Nobody is more pessimistic about white men than white men,” Oluo says. And of course she’s right as I just confirmed in that last paragraph. As a man one is either a moron, or trying not to be a moron, which is even more depressing. I believe testosterone and its cultural glorification is abhorrent. I think that in the Age of the Smart Machine traditional masculine virtues are bunk and hope that women can quickly overcome techno-misogyny for all our sakes. And I know it’s necessary to shout about the persistent vileness that is racial hatred, in all its forms.

But shouting at me has diminishing marginal returns. So what does a mediocre white dude with his XY deficiency and his inferior gene pool do?
Profile Image for Monica.
583 reviews611 followers
April 28, 2021
“Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

And thus begins the high concept opinion piece about the white male patriarchy we in the United States have been mindlessly and inaccurately calling a democracy. Oluo is saying that the system is built and operating as designed.
"…white male mediocrity is a baseline, the dominant narrative, and that everything in our society is centered around preserving white male power regardless of white male skill or talent."
Needless to say if we build a system like this, its inherent weakness is the poor development of actual ability.
"But the expectation of accomplishment is not an accomplishment in and of itself. By making whiteness and maleness their own reward, we disincentivize white men from working to earn their privileged status."
What!?! There is no meritocracy you say!?! The impacts of this system are known and experienced by most of us including white males. Oluo breaks down her analysis in 7 chapters. The most affecting for me were the chapters on Higher Education and Women in the Workplace. Oluo seems to have her finger on the pulse of what's happening and some of the historical elements that were laid to support where we are today and why.

My sense is that the premise got a little muddled in the execution. Don't get me wrong, I basically agree with everything in the book. Oluo admits early on that a thorough examination of the subject would be thousands of pages long. Her observations are a very small subset of the subject. The book was not intended to be a definitive reference or history. But… it didn't read like a book about white male supremacy. It read like a book about white supremacy. While the concepts are similar, in my view Oluo concentrates on the white and on the male but not enough on the white male. Her examples were of white males, but anecdotally I see evidence of those behaviors in male people of color too. There are also some examples that are about white people and have very little to do with gender. Her commentary was far more focused on white male supremacy than the examples provided in the chapters. For example, her section on Bernie Sanders showcased that white males have tribal bonds beyond political party lines. By saying that 18% of Democrats voted from Trump in the 2016 election doesn't just point to white males. In my view it does point to males, and it does point towards white but is not exclusive to white male supremacy, so it dilutes the point. The same thing goes for the football chapter when Oluo points out that it's more about control of the players (specifically black players since they make up 75% of the NFL) rather than admiration of the players or the game. Again, I saw examples of attempted control and intended subjugation and I saw examples of white supremacy, but I didn't any delineation towards white male supremacy. Yes, the vast majority of professional sports team owners are white males, but I'm sure Marge Schott (baseball) was as racist as any of the examples given. This is to say that it was an overwhelming example of white supremacy where the pool of examples are all white males. Fallacy of composition. It doesn't make it indicative of white males. That brings me to my other issue with the book which is that it is written in the binary. It is written in mostly "black and white" terms. Even her examples of women were people of color. For me the most blatant/strident example of white male supremacy in the past few years was when Mitch McConnell censured Elizabeth Warren when she was trying to enter Coretta Scott King's words into the Congressional record during the Attorney General hearings for Jeff Sessions. The words "Nevertheless she persisted" became iconic from that incident. A white male senator was able to enter those words into the record later that same day. I think that would have made a pretty powerful example of white male supremacy. A missed opportunity. Another powerful, recent example that was blatant in my mind was the first Women's March on Washington in 2017 when Michael Moore kept trying to insinuate himself into a leadership position and didn't understand why he was not chosen to speak. The are several similar examples that I think support a stronger argument for white male supremacy than many of the examples Oluo provides, but I get the impression they might have been overlooked because they were not necessarily about race.

The timeliness of the book is so apparent considering the last few years. So much has happened since this book was written that her commentary really does resonate loudly. The most obvious display of white male supremacy was the siege of the Capitol January 6, 2021. Propelled by the "big lie" that the mainstream media wants to believe is about alleged voter fraud and election security. My view is that it's anger about a much bigger lie that I believe Oluo captures is spot one:
" [white males] The love, admiration, belonging, and fulfilment they have been promised will never come—it cannot exist for you when your success is tied to the subjugation of those around you. These white men are filled with anger, sadness, and fear over what they do not have, what they believe has been stolen from them. And they look at where they are now, and they cannot imagine anything different. As miserable as they are, they are convinced that no other option exists for them."
This lie is showcased when one examines the George Floyd murder where Officer Chauvin seemed to be pursuing submissiveness and subjugation rather than subduing a man who was resisting arrest. I don't think I have to remind anyone of what the initial police report said regarding Floyd's death. The murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia by a former police detective and his son who basically went out hunting for black men. They were arrested after their friend released the video (a video that law enforcement held quietly for 2 months and did not intend to charge anyone) that he supposedly thought would help. An excuse that defies credulity, he was bragging (in my view). The paraphrase "they didn't [arrest those men] because they saw the tape, they did it because we saw the tape" became popular. They do however seem poised to allow a white female officer who shot a man to death because she confused her gun with a taser to go down without a fight. I'm guessing the 26-year veteran female officer's fitness and capability for the job will come into play during the trial. The wagons only circle around white males. Another recent example is the mass shooting of Asians in Florida and the Sheriff in a news conference seeming to comprehend the motive and ascribing that the white male murderer apprehended alive (amid the relentless spate of police killings of unarmed people of color around the country) was just "having a really bad day". There are so many more, all happening since this book was written.

Overall, I think Oluo does a reasonable a job of defining the issue, but her supporting examples could have been better. Oluo also doesn't present many solutions. And of course, as James Baldwin reminds us "Nothing can be changed until it is faced." Oluo made an observation quite early in the book that I think is quite poignant about Wild Bill Cody who came to regret his enrichment on the backs of Indians. She said
"Perhaps one of the most brutal of white male privileges is the opportunity to live long enough to regret the carnage you have brought upon others."
We can hope. The book is inevitably among the first of many to come about the white patriarchy and its foundations and continued dominance in American society. It was enjoyable and I did learn a few things along the way.

4-ish Stars

Read on kindle
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,922 reviews35.4k followers
December 29, 2020
It’s a very appropriate time to read Ijeoma Oluo’s new book, ‘Mediocre’, Nigerian-American author of the outstanding-‘must read’
book called “So You Want To Talk About Race”...
“What happens to a country that tells generation after generation of white men that they deserve power? What happens when success is defined by status over women and people of colour, instead of actual accomplishments?”....
Well.....let’s look at today: Twelve million Americans are unemployed...
‘Some’ relief is finally on its way....which is BIG NEWS?....
It shouldn’t be BIG NEWS. A Covid-19 stimulus relief bill should have been signed months ago. .....at the very least Trump should have signed the bill days ago. He avoided any talk of scheduling a vote on pumping up the current stimulus checks from $600 per individual to $2,000.
Mitch McConnell never promised Trump a vote on the $2000 checks.
The question remains now, is how hard will Trump push for the $2000 check vote —-and how hard will McConnell fight it?

While many Americans are seriously hurting, are hungry, can’t pay their bills, their mortgage, buy diapers, etc. due to Covid-19.....the white men in power — are looking after themselves.
Trump doesn’t care about sending more money to the American people—he cares because he undoubtedly believes it’s a good thing for him politically if and when he wants to run for president again in 2024.....(“remember that time I gave you that money and all that”)....
....if McConnell winds up getting to the vote— either on cloture ( to end the debate), or a final floor vote— it would be very bad news for Senate Republicans— and could cost the majority.
Ijeoma Oluo couldn’t have published this book at a better time.....
Sixty-five percent of rich white men hold the power of all elected offices.
Ijeoma Oluo has written a call to action book - and she does this in less than 300 page....
In every chapter in this book Oluo goes nose-to-nose ....IN OUR FACE....showing us how mediocrity —the toxic consequences of the white privileged male — has oppressed people of color, and especially women of color.

“Are you going to run for office one day?”.....people asked Ijeoma — when she was asked what her major was in college: [Political Science].
No....Ijeoma didn’t want to be on political ‘display’ ....( she saw how humiliating it was for Anita Hill.
Instead of becoming a political figure or analysis, she became a writer.

I’m thankful that Ijeoma writes about politics, and racial issues....
She ( once again)....has directly inspired and energized me to continue on the path I opened to this year —2020....
OUR CHILDREN DESERVE OUR LEADERSHIP — teaching justice and justice for all.

Outstanding KICK-IN-THE-GUT....important book.
....a little history....
....and a lot of modern day correlation congruity

Kudos to Ijeoma Oluo.....
She dedicated this book to black women. Hallelujah!
9 reviews
December 29, 2020
Mediocrijeoma's latest book is a part fiction and part temper tantrum work of ... profound woke scholarship and semi-insights. It is a book so good that everyone who has not read it will praise it in public forums :)

Readers (those who are used to reading more than Twits and are also capable of comprehending more than Teen Vogue editorials) will easily recognize the ideas in the book as well as the polemic writing style as typical of a fresh kindergarten graduate.

What is the target audience for this book, you might ask?

Well, if you dream of having privileges worthy of kings and responsibilities worthy of babies, this book is for you.

If whenever something does not work for you, you love to blame those around you, or karma, or "systems" or white guys (be they Albert Einstein, Norman Borlaug, Abraham Lincoln, or the guys who invented /discovered electricity, cars, airplanes, modern medicine, the internet) this book should be a must read for you ... and you should probably buy multiple copies (you won't regret it)

If you've never had any noteworthy accomplishments, but you are proud of your mediocrity and you think that the ONLY reason you're not the center of the universe (yet) is that you are being held back by global conspiracies ... this book is definitely for you.

Fundamentally, Mediocrijeoma's book is a synthesis of cherry-picked anecdotes, tired clichés, righteous insinuations and catchy woke-slogans, often copy-pasted from modern academic primary sources, like: random twits (including some of hers), the opinions of obscure bloggers (chqdaily.wordpress.com, notorc.blogspot.com), and various media rags (the root, Slate, Salon, HuffPost, CNN and, of course, the peer-reviewed Teen Vogue).

This book deserves a Nobel Prize and should be required reading throughout the Galaxy.
Profile Image for Alexa.
Author 5 books3,164 followers
August 5, 2020
An intense and satisfying read--I love nonfiction like this. Sociopolitical analysis and examining societal issues through a specific lens is like food for my brain. Now, I went in agreeing with the thesis, so this went down easy for me. This will be a frustrating, uncomfortable read for those who don't like the central idea: that white supremacy, specifically the mediocrity of white men, has lead to a legacy of oppressive and pervasive systems as well as many of our societal failures.

But I liked this lens for exploring aspects of American history, current politics, the feminism movement, higher education, football (yes!) and more. I learned a lot reading this book--specific stories from history that I didn't know in the specifics, even if their implications were something I knew down in my gut. The book is intersectional--yes, white male mediocrity is the central thesis, but Oluo is very inclusive and covers a ton of ground, re: Black and POC women vs. whiteness but also how all women are harmed by male supremacy, etc. and so forth. There's a lot of nuance, including the ways white male supremacy is a lie for and in turn hurts white men.

Recommended as brain food if the thesis interests you. I would have happily read more, honestly!
Profile Image for Krisette Spangler.
1,179 reviews19 followers
January 12, 2021
I really wanted to have an open mind while I read this book. There are some definite injustices that white settlers have inflicted on people of color in this nation. However, as a wife, mother, daughter and sister of great men; I cannot agree with the stance the author has taken.

We have a long way to go as a society, but I do not agree that every bad thing that happens to people of color is because the arrogance of white men. People of color have been responsible for slavery, war, and oppressing women as well. I'm grateful for the strides we have made and will continue to make, and I don't think a book like this is helping anything.
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
527 reviews9,510 followers
November 23, 2020
I mostly liked this book a lot. Really loved Oluo’s writing and voice. Incredibly well done mixing the history with the modern day examples with her authors personal experiences. A good crash course in systemic racism in The US. The first few chapters were stellar. White men have created a toxic country in many respects and this book drives that point home. The ending isn’t as strong as I would’ve liked. The thesis got lost toward the end.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,426 reviews8,336 followers
May 3, 2022
I liked Ijeoma Oluo’s willingness to name white maleness as a driving force of social injustice in the United States. Her writing feels both thoughtful and easy to follow. She addresses a range of topics, from racism and the unjust power of white men in politics to the anti-Blackness of American football.

Despite these positive aspects of the book, I found her first book So You Want to Talk About Race more precise. In Mediocre, I felt that she sometimes stretched certain ideas to fit her argument while ignoring deeper nuances within them. I largely agree with her central thesis about white men’s mediocrity, though that doesn’t excuse selective reporting of the facts (this review does an excellent job of driving home this point with how Oluo wrote about Bernie Sanders). I also thought that Oluo ignored critical evidence about how people of color can also perpetuate actions that foster anti-Blackness and social inequity (such as Kamala Harris’s track record as a prosecutor). Oluo mentions this point about people of color conforming to white male norms and behaviors, though doesn’t elaborate much on it.

Overall an alright read. Oluo’s sincerity and passion in relation to social justice feels clear to me when I read her writing, and it sucks that she and many others have been the target of hate and vitriol for tackling these issues. At the same time I’m not sure folks will walk away with too many new insights from this book unless you’re pretty new to discussions of race, racism, and whiteness.
Profile Image for Raymond.
330 reviews238 followers
April 13, 2021
In her new book Mediocre, Ijeoma Oluo writes about the problem of white male supremacy, which is the source of "our oppressive systems" in America. Within the ideology of white male supremacy is the idea of the mediocre white man, it is "the baseline, the dominant narrative" that we see throughout history and experience in everyday life. In her book, Oluo covers various topics to show how mediocre white men have created institutions to maintain white supremacy while at the same time castigate people of color and women who try to change the system. 

Oluo begins her survey by writing on "how the West was won", telling the stories of Buffalo Bill, a hero of the West who killed and scalped Native Americans and brings it to the present day fight between the Bundy family and the federal government over "public" lands which belonged previously to the Native Americans. She writes on the history of white men in social movements, how they come in with good intentions but still do not want their status superseded by POCs and women. She also covers the history of women of color in the political sphere who have suffered racism and misogyny from White men. Oluo closes her book with a chapter on Black men and football, specifically how the NFL was segregated because of one man and fast forwards to the current debates on players protesting police brutality through the symbolic act of kneeling during the National anthem. 

Three chapters in her book resonated with me the most, they covered higher education, Whites dependency on POCs, and women in the workforce. In her education chapter she shows how segregation was instituted in the early 20th Century by figures such as Woodrow Wilson, A. Lawrence Lowell, and Carl Brigham. This ultimately leads to white men without college degrees feeling threatened when more POCs attain college degrees. The dependency chapter covered how white men have no use for POCs until they need an outlet for their rage, this is most commonly seen on social media and political cable news stations. Lastly, the women in the workforce chapter shows throughout the 20th Century how White men did not want women to work. This sentiment has led to our current work environment where women and POCs are set up for failure when they are made managers of big companies that are failing. When the ship is not steered fast enough in the right direction then the woman or POC is replaced with, you guessed it, a mediocre White man. 

Ultimately this book comes to two conclusions: 1. White men who think they are broken take it out on themselves, usually through suicide. 2. White men who think they have been stolen from take it out on others. The recent anti-Asian shooting in Atlanta, Georgia and the Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrection come to mind. White men need to address their personal and historical issues with race and gender; this book helps in this endeavor.
Profile Image for Skip.
3,249 reviews393 followers
January 24, 2021
Interesting premise, poor execution. Author Ijeoma Oluo takes on a monster topic and fails in my opinion to make a coherent case that while males have systemically damaged America. The first 2-3 chapters are dreadful. Wild Bill Cody scalping native Americans and slaughtering almost the entire population of American Buffaloes? Not a good basis for condemning all. The following few chapters are thoughtful criticism in my view, with substantiation, including the chapter on education. It seems to me that her conclusions were how she started her work, not the logical summary of her arguments. Too much stream of consciousness for me on a serious topic. It made me want to read Shirley Chisholm's book so thanks for that.
Profile Image for Mara.
1,508 reviews3,670 followers
January 30, 2022
Woof, this is one of those books that just leaves you feeling mad! Not because it's bad, but because it does such a good job of describing cultural forces that are simmering and have been peeving you off. I think this would have been taken to the next level if it had more prognosticating with diagnosing, but still, certainly a worthwhile read
Profile Image for David.
652 reviews303 followers
July 6, 2021
“Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

White male mediocrity is the baseline of Western culture and everything in our society is centred around preserving white male power regardless of relative skill or talent. This isn't about neo-Nazis or Klan members but the systemic prioritization of whiteness in classrooms, politics, popular culture, boardrooms and more. And beyond the marginalization of cultures of color, this harms white men all the same.

White men see themselves as the fiercely independent conqueror, absolutely certain that they are the hero of a continuing violent American mythology and are deserving of all the greatness that comes with that. And when that doesn't pan out it creates anger, desperation, disappointment and despair. Suddenly women, people of colour or someone "other" become the scapegoats for all the ways they have been cheated out of what they believe they are due. The born leaders, the muscular crusaders, the innately talented white men are at the same time the fragile, petulant crybabies when things don't go their way and they lash out with terrifying frequency.

"Works according to design." That's the realization Ijeoma Oluo comes to early in the book and the subsequent 300 pages are how we inevitably got here and how we continue to uphold these damaging structures. From Buffalo Bill to Bernie bros. white men continue to fashion themselves the hero of the ongoing American narrative.

Sure this is SJW catnip and a rousing articulation of what many of us intrinsically understand, but I doubt it gets in the hands of the many it needs to convince. Enjoyed it immensely nonetheless.
Profile Image for Caroline .
411 reviews559 followers
June 12, 2022

Mediocre is magnificent. Much has been written about toxic masculinity and patriarchal oppression, so it may seem that this book is just more of the same, but Ijeoma Oluo approached this hot topic from a fresh perspective. With compelling examples and thought-provoking observations, she highlighted how in a patriarchy, specifically a white patriarchy, men can afford to be mediocre, but all others cannot. Mediocre is about how we--as citizens of a patriarchal society--unwittingly reward this mediocrity while upholding a standard of oppressive white supremacy.

In societies that have it, white patriarchy touches everything to some extent. To illustrate that extent, Oluo wrote about disparate people and concepts–from Buffalo Bill to Ivy League colleges to American football to the Great Migration. To give readers a multi-dimensional understanding, she drilled down to the essence, to the history (or background) of each, and this is one of the strengths of the book. Mediocre is a jaw-dropping read, with content that the author researched extensively but wrote with the everyday reader in mind.

A fiery passion powers Oluo's writing--but her tone is also tinged with an understandable world-weariness and frustration. Where relevant, she wove in personal stories as an outspoken author who's also a black woman. She’s courageous, refusing to be silenced, and for that, she pays a steep price. Oluo faces endless online abuse, doxxing, and threats to her family. What she endures would break most people. She feels the effects of white patriarchy full force.

However, this isn't to say that she’s combative and cruel--on the contrary. The fact of the matter is that Mediocre overflows with uncomfortable truths. White readers, especially white male readers, will need to swallow their pride before beginning. To really hear all that Oluo is saying, a humble spirit, open mind, and genuine desire to understand is required.

Mediocre is not anti-man. It's anti–white patriarchy. It's anti–toxic masculinity. It's anti-oppression. And because it’s all these things, it’s pro-man. In case that's not clear, Oluo says toward the end:
We also have to imagine a white manhood that is not based in the oppression of others. We have to value the empathy, kindness, and cooperation that white men, as human beings, are capable of. We have to define strength and leadership in ways that don't reinforce abusive patriarchy and white supremacy. We have to be honest about what white male supremacy has cost not only women, nonbinary people, and people of color--but also white men.
Her book shines a spotlight on a problem that hurts everyone.

Oluo concludes Mediocre expressing optimism for the future. She believes that with continued education and sincere efforts to improve, eventually everyone will stand on equal footing. What’s missing right now is a strong enough sense of urgency. Mediocre pulses with the urgency needed to encourage change. Readers just need to hold on to it.
May 3, 2021
3.5 ☆ rounded up

I had agreed to a NFBC buddy read of Mediocre on limited information. Oluo was a new-to-me author, as I have not read her well-regarded So You Want to Talk About Race. My expectations had thus been shaped by the title and the GR summary. I had expected more academic-like rigor as in Wilkerson's Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. This book though is similar to a collection of highly readable magazine essays.
I am not arguing that every white man is mediocre. I do not believe that any race or gender is predisposed to mediocrity.

Despite the provocative title, Oluo's thesis did not entail bashing white males. Nor did she sound like "an angry black woman" (which is a cheap excuse to dismiss truth). Her analyses were inclusive as she considered people who are marginalized, which was most commonly for their race.
What I'm saying is that white male mediocrity is a baseline, the dominant narrative, and that everything in our society is centered around preserving white male power regardless of white male skill or talent.

In the US, we have our rags-to-riches myths which are predicated on the biggest falsehood of all - that our society is a meritocracy.
Even the most virulent American racist has to wrestle with the fact that the United States would not exist were it not for people of color.

Most women and people of color have to claw their way to any chance at success or power, have to work twice as hard as white men and prove themselves to be exceptional talents before we begin to entertain discussions of truly equal representation in our workplace or government

To advance her argument, Oluo touched on American masculinity, women's changing roles, politics, employment, higher education, and professional football. There were more pages on individual politicians than I had initially expected (political junkie, I am not). I liked chapters 4,5, and 7 the most, which was surprising since this included the NFL and I avoid watching our national sport.
What exactly do people who aren’t white men have that could be more inclusive of white men? We do not have control of our local governments, our national governments, our school boards, our universities, our police forces, our militaries, our workplaces. All we have is our struggle. And yet we are told that our struggle for inclusion and equity—and our celebration of even symbolic steps toward them—is divisive and threatening to those who have far greater access to everything else than we can dream of. 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?

In her conclusion, Oluo described some of the emails that she has received. She is a brave person for addressing the hot-button and much needed topics of social justice and race relations.
Nobody is more pessimistic about white men than white men.

It's the expectations that many white men have that they shouldn't have to climb, shouldn't have to struggle, as others do. It's the idea not only that they think they have less than others, but that they were supposed to have so much more. When you are denied the power, the success, or even the relationships that you think are your right, you either believe that you are broken or you believe that you have been stolen from.

White male identity is in a very dark place. White men have been told that they should be fulfilled, happy, successful, and powerful, and they are not. They are missing something vital - an intrinsic sense of self that is not tied to how much power or success they can hold over others - and that hole is eating away at them.

The research for these essays was cited in the Notes section. Oluo had adopted a qualitative rather than quantitative approach as statistics had been included on a sporadic basis. This strategy weakened the thrust of her reasoning with me because the numbers are stark -- from the lifetime income gaps between the sexes arising from different education levels to the mean and median household wealth as delineated by race. I harbor no doubt that being a white male confers automatic bonus points in the game of life.
Profile Image for Margaret Kelly.
19 reviews2 followers
December 25, 2020
I want to clarify that this rating is in response to the rando that was clearly triggered by the title and gave it 3 stars, and not because I've read this book yet. Can't wait to read it when it's published, however, and I'm sure the 5 stars will stay that way!

EDIT 12/25/20: Alright I have now had the privilege of reading Ijeoma Oluo’s new book. She does a fantastic job of weaving together the seemingly disparate institutions in America and showing how ultimately entwined they are due to their upholding of white male supremacy with a conversational writing style backed up by facts and research. I hate that American politics now and historically have given Ijeoma Oluo cause to write this book, but she wrote it well. If you claim to care about issues of race and gender, this book should be a must read.
Profile Image for Elizabeth George.
Author 109 books4,776 followers
January 19, 2023
This is a book that everyone should read but most people won't, which is sad but symbolic of the difficult times in which we live, fraught with racism, racial tension, well-meaning blunders, and unacceptable line-crossing. It should especially be read by mothers of young boys and fathers of young boys. The author addresses the topic of toxic white male privilege and equally toxic white male dominance what that toxicity is doing to undermine the possibility of progress, creative problem- solving, gender equality, and racial equality. Beginning with that supposed model of masculinity--the cowboy--and concluding with athletes who dare to protest murderous police brutality, the writer unpeels layer after layer of white male mediocrity and toxicity to explain to the reader how one set of individuals--white males in positions of power (from the home to the workplace to the seat of government--have created a playing field that is not and can never be level. On this unlevel field of play, women suffer, Black Americans suffer, people of color suffer, LGBTQ+ people suffer...all in the cause of keeping white male America from gazing into the mirror in order to study what it sees. This is not an uplifting book. But it is an eye-opening and necessary book. I encourage you to read it.
Profile Image for Tomes And Textiles.
242 reviews398 followers
February 11, 2021
I have a lot to say about this book that I will get to soon, but, for now, just know that this is the book of the moment. EVERYONE needs to read it and get it into their friends and families hands.

Full review now up on TOMES AND TEXTILES.

Do you ever read a book and think it’s a think piece article written in the past few weeks? @ijeomaoluo’s MEDIOCRE: THE DANGEROUS LEGACY OF WHITE MALE AMERICA felt like it had been written as the storming of the capital was taking place on January 6, 2021 and not in the 4 years preceding it. Full of timely history and facts and at merely 7 chapters, Mediocre packs a tremendous, explosive throat punch to white male mediocrity.
From Black cowboys to "Fire the Women," Oluo details how white men have been prioritized over and over throughout US history. Her research was clear. Her conclusions precise. I highlighted like 200 passages? I lost count. This book needs to be given to everyone and they be made to read it followed by Stamped from the Beginning. It's THAT powerful.
My reactions to this book went from borderline rage to full-on wanting to commit violence. I had to take lots of breaks. When you encapsulate a society into how it prioritizes its citizens and see it for what it is in such a concentrated way, it's A LOT to deal with. I would recommend being in the right head space to pick this one up.
But for how many problems she presented, she still made a case for hope, which I really appreciate.

Buy my a k0-fi!
Profile Image for David Wineberg.
Author 2 books683 followers
September 14, 2020
Ijeoma Oluo has put together a seemingly endless string of situations where women and people of color have their lives battered and twisted out of shape by white male supremacy. By the end of Mediocre, the feelings of oppression, suppression and anarchic violence become overwhelming. This is life for minorities in America. Generation after generation. It’s essentially an impossible life. The abuse is stunningly widespread, omnipresent and intractable. It is ingrained and seemingly innate. The sole reason? To keep white males in control. It is so pathetic, it can often seem like minorities are just roadkill in the continual battle for and by white men to keep power. And yet, it is clearly wearing on white men, too. It’s complicated. And worth exploring:

Oluo bounces from tale to tale, from Buffalo Bill Cody to Colin Kaepernick, from women in the workplace to Elizabeth Chisholm running for president, from FDR’s programs to higher education’s blackballing. They all fit the premise that white male supremacy is a construct that is so twisted, so fragile and so demanding of its own, it’s a wonder it has managed to survive, let alone thrive. Even Bernie Sanders is faulted for his views; it is that ingrained in someone many see as a solution. It is artificial, bizarre, and damages white males as well as the minorities they feel entitled to rule.

She demonstrates how numerous programs and institutions foist discrimination on minorities. “Works according to design” applies to all kinds of programs such as the GI Bill, by which black soldiers were offered the lowest paying, most dangerous or menial jobs after WWII, and if they didn’t accept them, they would lose all their benefits under the law. Meanwhile, half of white GIs used their benefits to start their own businesses.

Works according to design also applies in finance, mortgages, and scholarships. Despite the highminded announcements, they all had the intention and the effect of keeping out minorities. Works like a charm, and Oluo details the finer points of how they pull it off. For those living in a fluffy cloud of white privilege, it can be a revelation.

Still in WWII mode, women were called upon to fill factory positions while the men went off to war. But government and various institutions spent those months plotting how to get them out of there and back in the home (“where they belong”). Polls asking what should be done with women workers after the war showed results like 48% saying “Fire them.” Women’s magazines told of divorce, infertility and death for those who persisted in factory jobs. Meanwhile 75-80% of the women themselves wanted to keep their jobs after the war. White supremacist men used lower pay, harassment and discrimination to force them out. Only white males should be the family breadwinner. Today, women CEOs face fatal criticism for words and actions that Wall Street praises in white men. Even FDR’s Depression programs forced women to stay home, by allowing only one government salary per family. Naturally, it went to the (white) male.

This kind of constant pressure on minorities is not isolated; Oluo has an endless supply of examples. It makes for unbearable negative forces, and of course, a much tinier rate of progress for the nation, because the white male supremacists demonstrate nothing if not mediocrity.

From Bernie Sanders on down, mediocrity disappoints Oluo. White male supremacists are far from the able geniuses who earn their positions in society by merit in her telling. But they are the only choice on offer. From the boardroom to the backroom, it remains a white supremacist country, where a Congressman like Steve King can wonder out loud when white supremacy suddenly became a bad thing in public life.

Oluo is a powerful writer, direct and to the point, making Mediocre a fast, easy read that penetrates. She likes short, declarative sentences, mostly in the active voice. And she minces no words: “The man who never listens, who doesn’t prepare, who insists on getting his way-this is a man that most of us would not like to work with, live with, or be friends with. And yet, we have, as a society, somehow convinced ourselves that we should be led by incompetent assholes.”

Or: “(Bullying and entitlement) are traits that we tell our children are bad, but when we look at who our society actually rewards, we see that these are the traits we have actively cultivated.“

These internal contradictions are what is holding back the entire nation. From peace, from co-operation and from forward movement.

Collectively, it might not be quite so bad if white male supremacists demonstrated keen judgment, able decision-making, and inspired leadership. But instead, Americans get jerks in power, from the front office to the highest office.

These traits take their toll on the mediocre themselves too. Oluo points out that of the nearly 42,000 suicides in the USA in 2017, 70% were white males. They were (and continue to be) disappointed they haven’t risen faster or further. They are under pressure from their peers, with whom they are in endless competition. Their families are a further source of pressure and depression, leaving essentially nothing for them to appreciate, enjoy or take pride in.

They blame minorities for their lack of success and esteem. As white males, they grew up assuming the corridors of power were open uniquely to them. There wasn’t supposed to be this added competition. It was all supposed to be automatic. Working under a woman or a person of color is the ultimate humiliation in a life of abject failure for a white male supremacist.

And if it isn’t suicide, it is mass murder. White males are the biggest single threat to innocent life in the country. White males are the biggest terrorists in the USA, from the AR-15 mass murderers to police with handguns. From Oluo’s perspective, the bitter disappointment factor is ruining an entire society.

She even has a chapter on American football, burdened with the demands of players for money, recognition, respect, and authority. While two thirds of players are men of color, only white men own teams, black quarterbacks were unknown until recently, and of course the uproar over the national anthem has turned the whole sport into, shall we say, a political football. Or, as Oluo puts it: “When we look at how the sport has embraced violence, undermined workers and exploited people of color – what could be more American than that?”

She portrays the verbal beatings taken by Mmes. Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar and Pressly as typical of the abuse heaped on competent women. Rather than debate them into submission, white supremacist males call them names, denigrate them, make absurd claims about their work and their lives, and of course, encourage them to go home. But then, they have a great inspiration behind them in the examples set by the president.

This is Oluo’s America, a tight knot of contradictions, violence and gridlock. Viewed from her perspective, it is a wonder the whole thing doesn’t collapse and implode. It’s is certainly not somewhere you would want to raise a family.

Incredibly perhaps, Oluo is not pessimistic. She believes it is possible for all to work and live together, given just a tiny change in attitudes. She does not call for protests, revolution or even legal challenges. Through it all, she has clung to her humanity.

David Wineberg
Profile Image for Iulia.
203 reviews91 followers
January 9, 2021
I was drawn to this book because of the title, and even though I enjoyed it, it wasn't exactly what I thought it would be. For some reason, I assumed it would focus more on what white male mediocrity is, how it came to be, and how it impacts different social spaces, all of which to be presented in the manner of academic research. To be fair, that's on me, as I should have read the description more carefully, as it literally states that the book features the 'personal writing for which she is celebrated' and draws on the author's conversations with Americans across the country.

Nevertheless, once I got oriented and adjusted my lens, so to speak, I found this book to be interesting, well-written, and a shrewd take on current American realities. I am not from the US myself, nor do I live there, so most of the knowledge I can get on its racial issues is second-hand. I found this book to offer a fascinating perspective on this very important topic, especially through Ijeoma Oluo's moving own experiences.

I will be honest, however, and admit that a large part of my appreciation for this book is because of its alignment with my worldview and because I resonated with the author's voice. From an objective perspective, I have noticed a few instances where personal opinions and conclusions were stated as fact, an approach which I would have immediately criticized in a book supporting opposite values. In any case, while I was initially looking for a more data-driven approach to this topic, I was, in the end, glad to experience a more subjective take, and I feel like I've learned a lot from it.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,213 reviews17 followers
February 24, 2021
Here’s my likely unpopular viewpoint: I didn’t like this book. Here’s the caveat: I was part of a bookclub that engendered weeks of excellent discussion based on it. I think both can be true.

The good: Oluo excels at engaging discourse on a wide variety of historical and current events that take on race and racism, white supremacy, structural racism, and gender in the United States throughout its existence. She does this in a conversational tone that makes for easy reading. She broaches wide varieties of topics (my book club took on two chapters every two weeks, and easily had enough to talk about to fill 60-90 minutes every time). She makes a reader think.

I struggle with how much of her writing is written without citations or documentation. Yes, to those who will tell me about the endnotes, I see them. There are absolutely sections that are well cited. But Oluo also starts most chapters without them and makes wide and sweeping statements based on large premises that are *not* backed by cited information. She frames this book *as if it is historical, rather than editorial,* and then does not back up a good deal of what she says (or the premises from which she draws conclusions). To cite one example, in a section called “The Other Migration” (p. 130-134) about Whites moving north during the Great Migration, Oluo gives six citations: three quotes, one source of a term, and two statistics. What she does not cite is anything that backs up her general *and powerful* thesis: that Southern Whites went north for economic opportunity and became bitter and angry when they were treated similarly to the Black people they used to be potential-owners of. I’ve never encountered this idea, and it explains SO much. But there is nothing visible backing it up, which leaves it much less strong than it could be. In the chapter “Fire the Women,” from pages 152-154 Oluo talks about the difficult labor women have done, the excellence women have shown, and the way men have shaped workplaces to exclude women. On page 154 she has a paragraph with four different “quotes” about how women don’t belong in the workplace… and doesn’t cite anything, anywhere, in the entire three-page section. Donald Trump used to invent quotes, too. (He’d tweet, “They say quote unattributed thing endquote”) and we all knew that the only one saying it was him.

If a right-wing author wrote an identical book from the other side of the spectrum, I would be deeply critical of the way in which it appeared to be preaching to its choir, and working to stir emotional responses without backing up its claims. One book club member who listened to the audiobook was astounded by statements that sounded factual but were not footnoted.

It’s not that Oluo can’t write this book… it’s that I want it to be better. I want her editor to have said, “Show me where you got this.” I want to be able to point to things she wrote and be able to say, “Because it says so here” and have that be believable and referenced. In the end, she wrote a 300-page editorial that *looks* largely like a history book, and I don’t think that serves nearly as well as it ought to, or as it could. _Mediocre_ sparked a lot of great discussion, but in the end it irritated me more than enlightened me, and there are enough other books on the shelves that I don’t need that.
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