January 13, 2021

Review: Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 Well. This book is chillingly prescient, considering the horrifying display of mediocre white men we just witnessed at the US Capitol.

I've read a lot of this before, but here the concepts of white privilege, white male entitlement and toxic masculinity are presented in an easy to read and understand manner, with copious footnotes. What I found interesting is the way the author goes back into history to describe how the various white supremacist systems in this country were implemented, to show they are indeed "working as designed." She draws a direct line in the first chapter from the Native genocide of the 18oo's to Cliven Bundy's rebellion over grazing fees in 2015.

Present-day ranchers like the Bundys are living the Buffalo Bill fantasy of the West: white men, free to do what they please. Ravaging the environment, exploiting and erasing Native people, and pulling a gun on anyone who stands in their way. The idealized American cowboy has been woven through the fabric of American culture, and its impact is keenly felt. the Wild West stage shows morphed into Western movies that glorified the tough and noble white man against racist depictions of Native and Hispanic people. the story of the struggle and victory of white colonizers worked its way into school history books, both erasing the crimes committed against Native people and cementing an idea of American heroism that centered on white male power.

Chapter 4, "Fire the Women," documents how women were lured into the workplace to support the war effort in World War II, then promptly demoted and fired after the war to make room for the returning white soldiers. One of the more interesting chapters, chapter 7, "Go Fucking Play," discusses how "American football, a sport today known for the Black athletes who showcase their physical speed and strength every Sunday, was created to be played by wealthy white men." 

She also points out that the myth of white male supremacy is just as damaging to white men as everyone else:

But I think it's more than just the climb. It's the expectation 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 men who think that they have been stolen from often take that anger out on others. White men who think they are broken take that anger out on themselves. There were 47,173 suicides in 2017. Of those, 70 percent were white men, and the rate of white male suicides is rising. Across the country, people are mourning the losses of sons, fathers, husbands and friends who have chosen this particularly devastating way out.

There is a great deal of work and healing that needs to be done in this nation, but it can't start without the plain and truthful naming of the problem. Books like this are a necessary first step in doing so. 

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