White Mediocrity. What is it? Well it’s the thing that allows you to be you. It has allowed you to feel content with yourself. Be comfortable doing exactly what you do and the level you do it because society has told you you’re more than enough. Today we check whether that’s true.
White mediocrity is a phenomenon that says that due to your race, society holds you to a lower standard. It is easily impressed by you; you get three golden stars because you’re you and you get a trophy for participation. It also means that even when you fall below that low standard, its arms are open ready to forgive you and eyes closed ready to ignore your inadequacies. Before we dive into the topic, please do not confuse this message. White mediocrity does not mean all white people are mediocre just that you’re more likely to be awarded for mediocrity.
One of the main pillars of white mediocrity is forgiveness. Society is quick to exonerate you of past “mistakes”. Excuses are made for your behaviour and everyone is expected to look past these “lapses in judgement”.
A high-profile example came relatively recently in Liam Neeson. The actor, during an interview to promote his movie Cold Pursuit, admitted to a dark incident in his past. After a loved one of his was allegedly raped by a black person, Liam Neeson decided to take to the streets with a cosh in hand looking around for a “black bastard” to kill. This admission obviously brought on a huge online reaction. Just as Neesontook to the streets with a weapon, millions took to their phones to tweet their opinion on the matter. Scrolling through twitter, I saw diverse takes regarding his admission. People were infuriated by it, it was racist, malicious and frightening. Disappointingly but not surprisingly, he also received a lot of defence online.
You could condense a lot of tweets, comments and posts on the matter into one simple question: “So what?”. In an attempt to instantly absolve him of all guilt, many reduced the situation to a lapse in judgement. ‘He was young and angry, it was a long time ago, get over it. After all, we’ve all been there.’ Now I don’t know about you but I haven’t ever been there.
At no point in my life have I thought it was okay to kill innocent people of a certain race because a member of that race did something bad to me or my loved ones. Misplaced anger is shouting at your brother because your angry about a football match or being snapping at your friend because your mum annoyed you earlier. Misplaced anger isn’t planning an unjustified lynching. It isn’t a lapse in judgement if it’s a well thought out murder.
An unlikely ally in the person of Piers Morgan said it best: “it wasn’t a moment of madness; it was a week armed with a cosh looking for any black person to kill”. He had thought enough about it to want to make it look like self-defence as he had hoped the black person would anger him first then he could carry out the deed and get away with it.
I am not calling for Liam Neeson to be cancelled or for some retroactive punishment. I don’t have a problem with Neeson, I have a problem with what he represents. Yet another white celebrity who is protected from justified backlash.
I am simply criticizing the response to the black people that found this offensive and horrible. You’re not allowed to be unhappy about situations that have real life implications for you unless you will be labelled too sensitive. You’re not allowed to criticize white people who have done bad things unless your notifications will be full of white people making you out as the problem.
These second chances and defences are not available to people of colour. After a black celebrity or person of authority makes a mistake of their own which can actually be classed as a lapse of judgement, they get demonized by the same media who are ever willing to forgive their white counterparts.
Beyond celebrities, young black children also don’t enjoy the leniency that white children enjoy. Studies have shown that black students are disproportionately disciplined compared to their white schoolmates. A report by the US Government Accountability Office (GOA) showed that a black student is far more likely to be expelled or suspended than a white student.
White mediocrity and bias against black people are also, expectedly, evident in policing. In 2013, a British report by Niamh Eastwood revealed that despite black people havinglower rates of drug use they are more likely to be charged with drugs possession than white people. White drug users are more likely to get off with a warning compared to black drug users. This bias has caused the courts to deliver glaringly different sentences on largely similar crimes.
This evidences how bad behaviour from white people isn’t punished as harshly as bad behaviour from ethnic minorities. You’re allowed to be bad, make mistakes, perhaps even commit a crime. You’ll probably be forgiven, don’t worry.
In addition to society being quicker to forgive white mistakes and crime, it also is quick to hold ethnic minorities to a higher standard. With white mediocrity, society has on numerous occasions treated black people as older than they are and white people as younger than they are. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology proves this. The research shows that black children “are seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white children still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.”
“He’s young. He’s just a kid” isn’t an excuse that is available to everyone. It wasn’t available to Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old African-American boy who was fatally shot by police officer Timothy Loehmann because he was carrying an airsoft replica gun. A 12-year-old mistaken for an adult, how?
The opinion of Phillip Atiba Goff, a social psychologist, is a relevant one in this area as he has dedicated his life to studying the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. For example, during the Brett Kavanaugh scandal, Goff noted how many people argued that he should not be judged as an adult for something he allegedly did when he was 17-years-old. This argument came from sides who wanted his nomination and those who objected his nomination.
“It’s almost like childhood was invented to protect white boys only” noted Goff. The innocence of childhood is taken away from black children way earlier than white children. This removes accountability from white teenagers and dehumanizes and endangers black children. Brett Kavanaugh was 17, he was just a kid. Trayvon Martin was also 17. He was unarmed when he was shot dead by an adult, who instigated the confrontation between him and and Trayvon.
Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, claimed he thought Trayvon was just “a little bit younger” than him at the time. This means he thought Trayvon was just under 28. A trained police officer “feared for his life” because of a child.
Robin Bernstein in her opinion piece for the New York Times emphasized the importance of holding black and white children to the same standard. She said, “the idea of childhood innocence carries so much political force, we can’t allow it to be a whites only club”.
You’re young, you’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re allowed to be mediocre.
White mediocrity extends from huge areas like the criminal justice system, and the education sector to miniscule day to day details. I refer to it as the dirty Nike AF1 theory. Because of the lower pressure put on white students to dress nice and look “presentable”, they feel more comfortable wearing dirtier shoes. An ethnic minority student is less likely to wear a dirty pair of AF1s than a white student. For a POC, every time you step out it can feel like a performance. You’re trying to reach a standard set by a society that has deemed you different. You need to look your best unless you might be treated like less. You’re not allowed to be mediocre. Next time you’re on your way to a lecture, look down and notice the shoes. See if you see the difference.
Society unfairly holds different races to different standards. There is more pressure on POCs to have impeccable judgement, to grow up fast and to look good. This disparity in pressure has allowed for white mediocrity and has affected us all in some way, shape or form. Everyone must be treated the same.