Excellent Reading: Ijeoma Oluo's - MEDIOCRE: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America

MEDIOCRE: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, Ijeoma Oluo’s wonderful follow-up to So You Want to Talk About Race, is well worth reading, especially for us white men!

Some quotes from the book are a good place to start:

Biden got the message.   If he continued to defend busing, he ran the real risk of becoming a one-term senator.  In 1975, Joe Biden stunned his Senate colleagues by throwing his support behind known segregationist Jesse Helm’s proposed antibusing amendment to the Constitution. 

p.65 … In a later television interview, Biden told the Senate, “I have become convinced that if the US government didn’t come up with a different solution for school segregation than busing, “we are going to end up with the races at war.”  Biden explained that the good white people he represented weren’t racist, but busing might make them so: “You take people who aren’t racist, people who are good citizens, who believe in equal education and opportunity, and you stunt their children’s intellectual growth by busing them to an inferior school and you’re going to fill them (p.66) with hatred.

After busing was dismantled nationally, the “other methods” of desegregating schools that Biden insisted were more effective than busing never materialized.   Without federal mandate forcing integration, schools slowly segregated, and their funding followed.  A 2019 report showed that nonwhite school districts received $23 billion less per year than their white counterparts.   Even when controlling for income discrepancies, the funding was less, with poor white schools still receiving more funds than poor schools where the majority of the students were people of color. (p.65-6)

And because I have seen, in my own academic history and in the countless hours I’ve spent on campuses across the country, what higher education could be.

It could truly be the place that angry white men hate and fear if it put in the effort.  It could be a place that dares to believe that the world does not revolve around white men.  It could be a place that promotes the idea that people who aren’t white men have just as much right and ability to shape our future in their image as white men have.  It could be a place where we learn to respect consent and pronouns, where we learn about intersectionality, where we learn the truth about our corrupt systems and begin to demand change, where we learn to respect and appreciate people who are different from us, where we start demanding justice for the oppressed, where we investigate our histories of bias and bigotry. (p.120)

Though I live in a household, where I’m the sole white member, emotionally, I can “understand” what it means to be Black.  Intellectually, it makes perfect sense, but that isn’t pushing me in my gut.

When one speaks out, as Oluo does, one can easily be singled out for derision, in ways that are life threatening, something I’ve never experienced.

To my knowledge, 2017 was the first time I was doxed.  Doxing is when someone posts your home address, email, phone numbers, financial information – pretty much anything they can find on you – online for people to do with what they wish. (p.186-7)

In my case, a caller pretending to be my son phoned the police and said that he had shot his parents to death.  Six officers pulled my son out of our home at six a.m. and searched our house.

If I hadn’t become aware before the swatting that my personal information had been placed online, the situation could have been much worse.  But I had received notice that my address (and my mom’s address, and my sister’s and brother’s addresses) had been placed on a website that specifically encourages swatting, I had called my local police department and let them know that they might be called to my house on a swatting attempt. … It meant when my sleepy teenage son opened the door and saw police and then quickly shut the door so he could put his shoes on, they didn’t open fire. (p.187)

Women, people of color, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people – they are afforded no such grace.   Those of us who wish to hold office must have personal lives beyond reproach; we must be sure to moderate our political views.  We must hold degrees from traditionally white institutions, or be able to prove that our education at schools of color did not radicalize us.  We cannot appear to ever be angry.  We must always prove that we are willing to prioritize the concerns of white men in our work no matter how few are in our constituency. (p.189)

The system was set up to appear to serve the average white American man while simultaneously working against the best interests of the majority of Americans, regardless of race or gender. (p.190)

Pressley urged representatives from marginalized groups to truly represent their identities and culture in their work instead of sacrificing the needs to their community to the status quo: … Pressley was accused of being divisive, even racist. …  Republican representative Liz Cheney directly accused Pressley of racism, claiming that Pressley of racism, claiming that Pressley said that political voices were only legitimate if the person “espouses some preapproved set of beliefs.” (p. 217)

The constraints of white male identity in America have locked white men into cycles of fear and violence – where the only success they are allowed comes at the expense of others, and the only feelings they are allowed to express are triumph or rage.  When white men try to break free from these cycles, they are ostracized by society at large often find themselves victims of other white men who are willing to fulfill their expected roles of dominance. (p.274)

Oluo is most effective in talking about subjects most of us rarely look at such as Anti-Semitism at Harvard and elsewhere after World War One.   Her description of football and how it developed, and was racialized to support the interests of wealthy white men is fascinating.

I don’t want to imply that this book is perfect.  Occasionally Oluo “beats an idea to death”.   Most of the time though, she effectively documents her beliefs and gives clear examples to explain her beliefs.

I highly recommend reading this book!





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