Uprooting Domination

“Cultures of domination attack self-esteem, replacing it with a notion that we derive our sense of being from dominion over another.” — bell hooks, Feminism is For Everybody


I think about domination a lot. This is part and parcel of being a feminist, you just tend to do your daily chores, like washing your dishes, and think about domination. And domination kind of exists everywhere, in plain sight for everyone to see.


But really, what’s up with that?


I was once having a conversation with a friend, an Indian friend (this is important for context) and we were talking about the Black Lives Matter protests that were occurring after the brutal murder of George Floyd by a police officer. The conversation then took a turn where my friend then said that Black people should not use the n-word because it was “giving power to the word that was used derogatorily against them” and that “if they get to use it, why can’t others?”


Now, here’s the thing. Other than the fact that a brown person should really not be trying to have a conversation on what Black folks should and should not do, this is essentially a form of victim blaming, where a Black person’s usage of a word that they use to refer to their kin is the reason why Black people are treated with shocking levels of violence and racism.


Black people are killed and incarcerated regardless of whether they adhere to the arbitrary notions of “good” defined by a racist system, so the point that Black peoples’ so-called usage of a “bad” term is already kind of bizarre and extremely racist. But what struck me as interesting is that this was still a roundabout legitimisation of the use of the n-word by people who are not Black — meaning, this was a roundabout way of trying to get me to agree that they could use the n-word (just so you know, if you are not Black, do not say the n-word — you’re being racist).


So, in order to convince my friend that Black people are allowed to use that word that we, and any non-Black person, must most certainly not is to show her a Ta-Nehisi Coates video. It’s a 5 minute video so watch this before you continue reading:



(Hopefully, you have watched that because I am not going to summarise what is said there); Coates brings up something fascinating to me — he says that he has no desire to join in with his wife as she calls her friends “bitches”. And yet, my friend, in their roundabout way of trying to legitimise the use of the n-word, felt some strange desire to say the word and it is because as Coates says, it’s that Black people are simply never afforded “the basic laws of how human beings interact”.


Meaning, they are simply never afforded humanity, and that they are always, in some form or another, treated as a class of people who must accept mistreatment in order for us to be comfortable.


And reader, I kind of do not accept this premise. This desire to use the n-word has no other purpose other than to assert dominance. It is a desire rooted in domination because it allows a sense of superiority, a “gotcha!” against those who have clearly stated their boundaries.


The overarching point I am trying to make is that there is a constant desire to exploit a person’s vulnerabilities — especially of those who already live in the margins — because their lives are already seen to be, by default, lesser than by those who hold power in their hands, whether it be social capital or economic capital. Capitalism creates the conditions and rewards those who are able to exploit their power as they tread on those whose livelihoods are at the mercy who continue to devalue them, overwork them and underpay them.


This is most prominent when you see how little women are paid, especially if they are Black/non-Black and/or queer. This applies to men, too, who come from already marginalised backgrounds and are treated with horrific labour conditions with abysmal pay. And there is no incentive for people to unlearn that desire to exploit, dominate and harm others because the rewards are superiority, social and economic capital.


In order to invite social change, it becomes important for us to unlearn a desire to dominate — even if it inconveniences us. This is not just about elevating the dignities of those who are constantly degraded in society but also about humbling ourselves (to do/say something which shows that one has behaved in a manner that was wrong) and learning about the systemic injustices that people experience on the daily — whether it be daily interactions with one another as human beings or with the world around.


A harmonious world is not possible with domination as the dominant manner of interaction because it serves as the very basis of the various ills of our world — and these ills must be weeded out and the desire to dominate is at the root of it all.



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