Book Review: Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo

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. 

As someone who loves reading arcs, this was one book I decided not to request an advance copy of. I guess I knew even then that this would require some patient reading and preferably no deadlines. And it truly hits different in the current circumstances.

I think the impact of any political book that we read this year will be colored by our feelings about the violent insurrection of Jan 6th. And considering that this book is about white male mediocrity and it’s power over every sphere of influence in this country, it feels doubly relevant after the second failed impeachment trial of 45 in the senate. The author links specific events from history to contemporaneous happenings and her own personal experiences, to show us how every structure and system in this country is built to prop up white male supremacy by oppressing everyone else. And if you follow this thread from the days of slavery to today, you realize that the failure of the second impeachment trial was inevitable – these systems are working exactly the way they were designed to – powerful mediocre white men will come to the rescue of other powerful mediocre white men so that they can consolidate all the power within their own small group and marginalize everyone else.

Discussing topics ranging from various fields like higher education, feminism, politics, sports, employment, housing etc , the author shows how in every field, the white men who have historically been in power have spent considerable amount of effort and resources to maintain the racist, sexist status quo. The author’s writing is very engaging and accessible, piercing in the way it forces us all to acknowledge our own complicity in propping up the existing white supremacist systems, while also reminding us that concentrated power in the hands of a few mediocre white men doesn’t only cause harm to women and people of color and other marginalized groups – it also causes equal harm to a majority of white men who are poor or disadvantaged in other ways, but whose feeling of entitlement prevents them from seeing the truth and instead blame everyone except white men for their problems.

I am sure there are many who will have a knee jerk reaction to even the title of this book. But going into this with an open mind will let any reader understand what the author is talking about. Despite the very difficult read this was, especially the parts where she talks about the various ways she has been harassed and threatened by white men due to her writings, I was really struck by her ending it on an emotional and hopeful note; and a call for action – because the author believes that everyone in this country can find the strength and conviction within themselves to help create a healthier version of white male identity; one that doesn’t depend on oppressing others – all we lack is the imagination. This is a very impactful and thought provoking read and I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to understand why we are where we are in our country.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo

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  1. I love books that make an argument and end with a call to action. When I was teaching writing to college freshman, this was always my recommendation instead of the boring old “just summarize everything you said” method. Anyway, hi! I’m Melanie. I’m new to your blog. I read and review over at grathelapels.com

    Liked by 1 person

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