A world where domination is not required to survive

A world where domination is not required to survive

"Cultures of domination rely on the cultivation of fear as a way to ensure obedience." ― bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions

Domination is defined as the exercise of control or influence over someone or something, or the state of being so controlled. The United States was born from the domination of land, people, and animals. Through capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy, we are indoctrinated into the belief that our destinies are merit-based and governed by a zero-sum paradigm. In this worldview, survival hinges on hoarding resources for some, limiting access for others, and leaving only crumbs for those who fall through the cracks. We are all ultimately harmed (although unequally).

"When the arch in America bends from slavery in the 1860s and returns to convict leasing in the 1880s. When it bends from Jim Crow in the 1960s and returns to mass incarceration in the 1970s. When it bends from Indigenous genocide and an epidemic of Indigenous suicides. When it bends, but as a tree does in the wind, only to sway back. We have to admit that we have not touched the root. We have not touched the root because the laws we make are expressions of a root belief. And it is time to face our most deep-seated one. The great lie at the root of our nation's founding, was a belief in the hierarchy of human value. And we are still there."
— Heather Mcghee, The Sum of Us

We have been conditioned to see non-consensual domination as the status quo. Elites convince us that competing for a limited pool of resources is normal, whether it's jobs, homes, food, public services, or even abstract ideas like love and belonging. Across all aspects of our identities, race, gender, religion, class, and nationality —domination cuts through them all, shaping our world. Here are some examples:

  • Edward Blum of the American Alliance for Equal Rights, who led the charge against race-based college admissions, now sues the Fearless Fund for providing grants to Black women in business. (Source)
  • In 2024, President Biden used executive power to restrict border migration in a nation of occupiers. (Source)
  • The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Sudan and Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in occupied Palestine use sexual violence against men, women and children. (Source)

    "And here’s why this amnesia really matters: The obscuring of identity politics when we map power deters us from changing how power operates in the first place. If we don’t acknowledge that power works to the benefit of white, Christian, heterosexual, cisgender men, we will continue to blame those who are subjugated by that power for being subjugated, rather than working together to uproot the legacy of unevenly distributed power. The same forces that deny health insurance to people with preexisting conditions, the same forces that want to deny women the right to decide when and if they reproduce, the same forces that want to deny protections to transgender people, the same forces that want to roll back voting rights for Black people, the same forces that want to deny each of us the right to live dignified lives are the ones that have invested a lot in making sure you don’t understand that discrimination based on race and gender and sexuality and class are all strategies to keep the powerful in power and to deny those without power from accessing it. "
    — Alicia Garza, The Purpose of Power

    How does this relate to you? adrienne maree brown, author of Emergent Strategy, writes, "How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale." 

    As a Nigerian-born Black person, I was taught to see my separateness as "specialness," positionally superior to Black Americans. Other Nigerians never overtly said it, but the comparison stories made it clear. I held onto that implicit bias for a painfully long time and moved through the world with a belief that I had very little in common with my Black siblings in the US. The mental gymnastics required to justify shortcomings that are rooted in racism and patriarchy; to shift that blame onto victims rather than the root problem — white supremacy — was great.

    Notice the ways we dominate one another in everyday interactions. Our pedigree, job titles and roles, material possessions, spiritual beliefs, inflexible values, and perceived morality create a sense of worthiness and deservingness that simultaneously puffs us up while cutting someone else down.

    We roll up our windows at intersections where migrant families are asking for the basic resources to survive and breathe a sigh of relief or, at worst, blame them for their plight. We see hierarchies in the workplace where a manager unequally extends privilege to employees of more perceived value. We engage in a merit-based tipping culture, especially towards folks in the gig economy. We snicker at each other behind our backs. We bully community members in online spaces who have made missteps to the point of harassment. Even in abolition spaces, we decide who "deserves" mutual aid, in what context, and under what conditions.

    "I think that's why a lot of cis dudes get so angry at the fact that genderqueer people even exist because it's like within patriarchy, patriarchy tells us like, it is my cis maleness that gives me value and it is my man over womanness that gives me value. And if man isn't quite what I think it is and woman isn't quite what I think it is, and these categories don't really exist and therefore these positionalities don't really exist, then I guess I don't have no value. So now I'm gonna enact violence on you to reassert what I believe to be true and what I believe gives me value.

    The question I have is like, how do we make it so that our identities are less contingent on dominance or less contingent on getting constant reinforcement or affirmation from one another?"
    Becoming the People Podcast with Prentis Hemphill: [Revisit] Questioning Culture with Richie Reseda

    Empire dominates our imaginations such that envisioning ourselves outside of systems of control overwhelms us with the fear of a vengeful other. This fear undermines our imaginations and our capacities to help each other, thereby helping ourselves. 

    We must recognize that the same patterns of domination that operate on large scales—such as national policies and global conflicts—also manifest in our everyday lives. When we shift from perceiving ourselves as separate from these systems towards recognizing our active participation in them for our daily survival, it's easier to frame the question: "How do I courageously and purposefully arrange my actions not to dominate others?"

    How do we practice, as Grace Lee Boggs writes, "growing our souls" towards cooperation and away from domination? Imagine yourself as a tree in a forest. Your branches are the outward manifestations of your feelings, thoughts and actions; your roots are long-held beliefs you learned about yourself and the world. I invite you to explore the forest and sow seeds for more expansive connections.

    Scanning the forest

    Examine what comes up when you feel the urge to dominate another person, whether in language, jokes, behavior, creating exclusions, and/or physical barriers. Gently explore through inquiry when you feel safe to do so:

    • In what places do you see yourself passively or actively asserting dominance (physically, materially, interpersonally, internally, spiritually, etc.)
    • Where does that energy live in your body? Does it have a sound, texture, color, taste?
    • Can you approach that part of yourself with curiosity and openness?
    • What need does dominating others satisfy for you? 
    • What belief about yourself does it affirm?

    Seeding new possibilities

    • How do we practice building power through cooperation rather than division and domination? 
    • What does it feel like to meet our needs without dominating each other? 

    Dive deeper into study:

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