Colorlines Favorites of 2020: Race Writer Ijeoma Oluo Knows the Danger of Mediocre White Men

By Angela Bronner Helm Dec 21, 2020

Ijeoma Oluo, author of the New York Times best-seller, “So You Want To Talk About Race?,” (Seal Press) interrogates white male identity, white male supremacy, white male violence, and whiteness itself in her second offering, “Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America,” (Seal) which dropped in early December, as “Talk About Race” buzzes up the charts a second time due to the country’s racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd. 

Because of race scholars and interrogators like Oluo, “systemic racism” is now more closely understood as a simple yet sophisticated system that reinforces white male dominance, and, as Oluo notes, “works according to design”—that is, exactly as it’s meant to, where white men are at the top, reaping the benefits.

White male supremacy in America is a deeply entrenched promise that any white man can grab onto, no matter his bank account, social station, or dental situation; it is essentially a literal get-out-of-jail-free card and what Oluo terms “America’s oldest pyramid scheme.”  

“A lot of times people will ask, why do poor white people vote against their interests?,” Oluo, queries, when speaking to Colorlines in November. “And I hate it when people assume that [that’s what they’re doing] because it depends on what interests. The ability to go home and look in the mirror and say, ‘At least I’m not Black,’ is an interest. And it’s a strong one.”

In the two years since she’s been talking about race around the country, Oluo is clear about what we are up against (“We should be more afraid of white male violence,” she says). “Mediocre” deftly excavates how white male fear manifests as a clear and present danger for the nation and harms us all except for the wealthiest, most powerful white men. The irony is that it also harms poor white men, who have a long tradition of defending the status quo with violence.

“I think that we are not afraid enough of what this violence looks like,” Oluo shares. “We’re not afraid enough of what’s happening in Washington, Montana, Utah, Oregon, even parts of California. Yes, we have more guns than people in this country. But there is a certain segment of the population who has a large portion of those guns, and they’re preparing for race war.”

The Seattle-based author, who herself has been personally threatened and targeted by violent white men, names the constant churn of the internet juicing this anger 24/7, spawning emboldened, impertinent, and yes, violent militias, along with college-educated tiki torchers, Trump fans in the tens of millions, and Proud Boys.

The good news is that Oluo sees a way out. But it certainly is going to take a sustained and courageous effort.

Oluo dedicated “Mediocre” to Black womxn (“You are more important than white supremacy”), telling Colorlines that in traveling the country and lecturing on race, that she can count on one hand the number of times a Black woman “hasn’t asked me with tears in her eyes, how she can keep going.”

 “I didn’t write this book to wake white people up. I wrote this primarily because I want the Black women who have been told time and time again that they’re unlucky, that they’re not doing enough, that they have to keep trying harder— that this is how the system works, that this is what’s been happening to them and it’s real.”

More of Angela’s favorites:

Movie: “The Forty-Year-Old Version
Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon” by Pop Smoke (Rest in peace)
rnTV Show: “Lovecraft Country” (HBO)
rnHashtag: #FreeGrace
rnArtist: Titus Kaphar

rnStar: Chadwick Boseman (Rest in peace)