Ijeoma Oluo, author of the bestselling book So You Want to Talk About Race, offers a historical and sociological view of the toxic white male identity in her new book, Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America. Oluo persuasively argues that American society is structured to preserve the power (and tastes) of white men and outlines how we got here.
Our now-ingrained power structure wasn't inevitable but was purposely designed to center white men. Looking back at centuries of American history, Oluo shows how white male entitlement took hold from the early beginnings of this country—from slavery to westward expansion to the genocide and displacement of Indigenous Americans; from cowboy mythology glamorizing the violence of “Buffalo Bill” Cody to the modern-day obsession with spoiled but dangerous white men like Ammon Bundy.
Americans are taught that the United States is a meritocracy and that anyone who tries to get ahead will be rewarded with opportunities. However, the evidence doesn’t bear this out. With example after example—the male feminists of the early 20th century, NFL owners, presidential candidates and even their supporters—Oluo deftly shows how the society that white men built now rewards mediocre white men, regardless of their skills or talent, while punishing women and people of color for anything less than perfection. Unfortunately, when ordinary white men do not receive the unmitigated success they feel is their right, they turn their disappointments and anger on these women and people of color instead of on the elite white men who hoard opportunities and power for themselves. Because of this, disaffected white men are now the biggest domestic terror threat in the United States.
Oluo expertly shows how inequality, toxic masculinity and an unequal power structure deeply hurt all Americans, including white men. Through careful research and scholarship, she breaks down the system that sustains the status quo while shedding light on the ways others can also dismantle this system to ensure a more equitable future for all. It’s an essential read during times of political upheaval and unsure futures.