Defining My Terms: White Mediocrity
In my latest piece I utilized the term “white mediocrity.” I noticed this term being taken out of context here and there, so I thought I would take a moment to more fully explore my usage of this terminology.
White Mediocrity. White mediocrity is not a blanket value judgement on all white people, in fact it is not a value judgement at all. White mediocrity is not a reference to all white people in character or personality, nor is it an indictment on the white soul. It is certainly not an assertion that white people are inherently less than. To utilize such a framework is antithetical to my work, advocating for equality in the education system.
White mediocrity, in the context of my writing, refers to the truth that the education system is skewed in favor of white Americans (read here to learn about the racist history of the SATs), and yet, white students underperform anyway. However, unlike Black and Brown folks who are taught to take our losses in stride, white people, particularly ultra-rich white people, are allotted a sense of entitlement that allows them to circumvent the pain of these losses. This is elucidated through legacy admissions, a system of admittance based on family name and pedigree, not merit, and it is also elucidated in the college admissions scandal. When white people are rejected by their own metric of excellence, there are societal fail-safes that insulate white people from having to contend with not being good enough. Black and Brown people do not have these cushions, when we fail, we know that in the eyes of the world we are found wanting and that there are no systems in place, save for our own fortitude, to aid in the cultivation of resiliency following these blows. This is why, when we do succeed, and our race is thrown back in our face as a result, it says a lot more about white people’s inability to navigate failure than it does our prowess in a particular area. Loss and failure are a part of becoming. Unfortunately, white Americans are not taught to contend with their shortcomings, certainly not in academia.
Therefore, when I ask white people to contend with their own averageness, it is not a call meant to evoke white guilt (which is super ineffective and often results in an exhaustion of PoC labor). Nor, is it a loophole for other white folks to say, “Wow, this author is utilizing generalizations, let me disengage as a result.”
When I ask white folks to excavate their own averageness, it is a moral and spiritual call. It is a call to self-evaluation. I learned as a young Black girl that I was going to take more losses than wins. Now as an adult woman, when I experience trauma, grief, and just plain old rejection, I know how to not bleed my feelings of inadequacy onto my friends, family, and acquaintances as a result. Our education system aids and abets in the maintenance of white mediocrity, a socioemotional disposition that enables white people to scapegoat others when found wanting.
I stand firm in the call in my initial article. I chose to expound upon my terminology here partly because my disposition is gentleness and grace I want that to come across my clearly in this explication. However, I also chose to examine this term more deeply because I will not have my writing be used as a tool to circumvent one doing the hard emotional work that is at the root of creating systemic change. Academia is deeply intertwined with white folks sense of self, and Black and Brown students are emotionally and spiritually trampled in the process of upholding white dignity. My call is one steeped in a vision of common humanity. White folks often say they want to be allies and that they want to dismantle the systems of supremacy upon which America is built. Dismantling systems means doing the hard work, the invisible work. Part of that invisible work is learning how to fail without pinning it on the only Black or Brown body in the room.