I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds the reviews the hardest part of the Cannonball Reads. I read 44 books last year but only managed to review 17 of them. I’m aiming for the full 52 again this year, but this is, I think, the fifth time [ETA it is the sixth] I’ve tried and failed a full Cannonball? It’s harder to create than it is to consume. It’s also easier to tear down than it is to build. It’s easy to write a rant about a book that rubbed me the wrong way, or to put on my editing hat and critique overlooked grammatical errors, plot holes, and missed opportunities. It is freaking hard to review great books you feel you must somehow do justice to. … That’s why I’m avoiding it by writing this intro.
Because honestly, this review could just be a giant gif of the word THIS and an arrow pointing to the cover.
I picked this up because I loved her last book, So You Want to Talk About Race, an incredibly tight, practical guide that won’t take you long to read, and but packs a lot in, with actual concrete steps given that one can take to help make real change. I highly recommend that one as well, but Mediocre is less instruction and more manifesto. The genius of Oluo is that, as well as gathering and presenting information to you in an entertaining and enlightening way, she also distills and clarifies things you know and things you felt and things that hovered in your subconscious so that you finally understand them, too. Of course attacks on higher education have largely come from people who have already benefitted from it (think about all those Harvard and Yale and Wharton-educated, bow-tie-wearing dipshits yelling about leftist elitists as though they aren’t currently sending their children to the same private schools). Of course I theoretically know that, I just never named it.
Oluo takes us through the history of the United States, how the systems we live within were set up, how they evolved, and how they’ve been used, updated, and protected to maintain a social order of white male dominance at the expense and exclusion of just about everyone else.
I can’t say I think this book is likely to convince a lot of people who don’t already agree with the thesis. But it is an excellent analysis of how the current state of being is damaging of everything up to and including the planet, in addition to the very white men whose desperate desire to accumulate ever more wealth and power belies a lack of any coherent identity or self-worth that isn’t based on the subjugation of others.
What a book to kick off the year with.
Also, here are some quotes.
“This is a book that can…be updated over and over… Treating every cycle like it is an anomaly won’t help us fight it.”
“It should be enough that these issues are impacting communities of color. We should care about what is harming our fellow human beings, even if it affects only their communities and not ours. It should be enough that this is hurting us. It is insulting that I have to point out the ways in which these issues also hurt white Americans in the hopes that I might get more people to care.”
“…we don’t magically get to a system that addresses issues affecting minority groups by ignoring issues affecting minority groups.”
“When I talk about mediocrity, I talk about how we somehow agreed that wealthy white men are the best group to bring the rest of us prosperity, when their wealth was stolen from our labour.”
“If white men are finding that the overwhelmingly white-male-controlled system isn’t meeting their needs, how did *we* end up being the problem?”
Ooh, ohh, I know this one! By not doing things for free for them anymore. By taking up space they assumed was theirs.