I really appreciate this article. I see that you are focused on education and that you’ve explored in this arena.
I would say that this mediocrity is apparent at all levels and in all arena, not just education. In all types of corporations, we see that even when there are an appreciable number of POC’s at lower levels, without exception, the higher levels — where power and money are negotiated, and ultimately where change happens — -are highly skewed towards whiteness. Of course, this is linked directly and indirectly (through networking, for example) to education, but persists lifelong. This is true for white men in most F500 Co and white women in, for example, publishing. I’ve witnessed white mediocrity in these settings regardless of gender.
Here is the problem I have, after 30+ years in various corporate settings, and which I discuss with 3–4 WOC on a regular basis: each individual white person does NOT take any sort of responsibility for this. In my experience, the term ‘racism without racists’ is highly applicable. Without even speaking about the conservative ones who make overt statements about white superiority and performance, I can state without question that the liberal ones — willing to admit there is a problem — BEHAVE in such a way as to MAINTAIN white supremacy. They just lack the honesty that the more overt conservatives have. This is negotiated primarily through a ‘all the racists are OVER THERE’ mentality which simply lets certain white people off the hook.
The reality is that, no matter how ‘liberal’ that individual is, if he/she/they does not consider his OWN PRIVILEGE and thus his OWN MEDIOCRITY, we (POC) will continue to walk through molasses. This means that the individual considers her own individual mediocrity, not merely social barriers ‘all over,’ or ‘real racists OVER THERE.’
White people get defensive re: discussions about mediocrity because they have to question THEIR OWN MEDIOCRITY; they are much less defensive when speaking about OTHER WHITE PEOPLE’S MEDIOCRITY. This is a dead end: at some point, when the rubber hits the road, each white person will 1. have to ask what has accrued to him/her/them on the basis of being white, and 2. how this can be returned. This is inclusive of the many promotions and awards that accrue to white people even when they don’t have the same education as others; this is inclusive of not only very wealthy white people but also ones who have taken advantage of POC’s during their careers by leveraging whiteness as a substitute for performance.
Whether or not white people feel guilty should be an aside, not only to POC but also to white people. It should be expected that benefiting by keeping a heavy foot on other people’s necks will cause guilt because it isn’t morally intact to take things from others by squashing them down and depriving the world of the contributions they could make: this deprives everyone. In these cases, the impact to the world of this loss is much greater than the loss any individual white person may have in feeling guilty; that is, privileging white guilt takes energy away from real action. Most people understand that intent is not as important as impact. The focus shouldn’t be on whether or not white people feel guilty, the focus should be on whether or not they use that guilt to do the right thing. In fact, I don’t think most POC care whether or not white people feel guilty; frankly, I would like to see the POC succeed where the POC has out-performed the white person REGARDLESS of what the white person feels. Let the white person feel guilty, or joyful enough to dance a merry jig around a pot of gold — as long as the appropriate action is taken. This means reviewing one’s own individual ‘merit,’ and asking if what was ‘earned’ was actually gifted at the expense of a POC.
The right thing involves not only paying attention to collective social behaviors but also to individual behaviors once that prize, etc is gifted: is the white person willing to ask if a POC around him/her/them did a better job and return that item (promotion, etc)? Or, is there a long-winded discussion about ‘those racists over there’?
I point to Adele and her acceptance of her Grammy in 2017: she broke it in half, gave half to Beyonce, and in an interview, stated she had to because when white people give rewards, they give them to other white people, which is privilege, not performance. She set her default setting on ‘privilege.’ This is what all white people should do; instead, they set their default at ‘merit.’ If all individual white people had the courage to set their default on ‘privilege,’ there would be much more return of stolen ‘items’ (promotions, awards, higher salaries, etc) to the POC that actually performed.
I would say that, in addition to admitting to the collective social barriers placed on POC by a vague white supremacy ‘out there somewhere’, each individual white person should assess his/her/their rewards and continually ask if a POC around them did a better job. In my experience, in the places I’ve worked, if the prizes and promotions had gone to the appropriate people in the last 30 years, there would not be a white majority in higher level positions, and much of these problems would have already been eliminated. White people as a group are inappropriately maintaining a majority because individual white people are employing defensiveness where they should employ humility.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful article!
This is reminiscent of Koritha Mitchell’s “Identifying White Mediocrity and ‘Know Your Place’ Aggression…”
In these cases, I believe it’s important to focus on the impact to POC — that is, the aggressive and hostile defensive maneuvers white people employ to defend their mediocrity in the face of their ‘success’ — rather than on whether or not white people feel guilty, which should be expected and put to the side in favor of (any: the bar is low right now) action.