Gillian Schutte
Gillian Schutte

Unpacking the discourse of domination

Over this past year I have written a series of essays that attempt to deconstruct the “discourse of domination” and have provided the links to these articles in this piece. These essays were written in response to a series of racialised events that happened in South Africa in 2012 — occurrences, which I posit, are indicative of the possibility that the master narrative is showing signs of cracking up and being rendered irrelevant by an escalating alternative narrative that embraces diversity and provides the multilayered perspective, which the dominant discourse has, throughout modern history, sought to obliterate.

Perhaps this would explain the fear-based and vociferous racist and patriarchal defensiveness that appears in the commentary below the online blogs that advocate an alternate vision. It seems the more that this narrow worldview is called out as abnormal and challenged, the more hateful and ineffectual this commentary becomes.

Alternative and diverse language and free speech has a way of destabilising the discourse of domination.

This diverse alternative narrative is not new. It has always been there, struggling to breathe under the thumb of the dominant discourse. But I believe that it is fast gaining momentum and this is what has the haters running scared and reaching for their toxic arsenal of hate speech to try and defend their assumed “god-given” privilege to own the status quo.

I foresee a revolutionary language movement that deconstructs the lexis of domination, in which the paradigm of white “culture” claiming all the power to define the world, is finally undone.

But what is this discourse of domination?

Writer Richard Dyer, in his book White, contends that white culture possesses the power to “colonise” the definition of normal with respect to race, class, gender, heterosexuality and nationality. Ruth Frankenberg, in her writing on race matters, refers to whiteness as a “set of locations that are historically, politically, and culturally produced and intrinsically linked to unfolding relations of domination”. John Gabriel, posits in his book Whitewash, that a number of elements form the construction of “whiteness” through the systems of representation in the dominant culture. These include the print and electronic media, advertising, and education. He goes on to describe these elements as the capacity of “whiteness” not to be named and thus to remain invisible. He also speaks about the means by which phenomena, which are the product of social and cultural processes (such as high crime rates) come to be spoken of as an inherent trait in certain race groups. Lastly he points to the ways in which white Anglo-European beliefs, values, traditions and practices are assumed to be common to all people, a strategy that is used, often unconsciously, to defend and maintain white power and privilege as the master narrative.

Drawing from Frances Henry’s writings on racial profiling in Toronto and the discourses of domination, the gatekeepers of the master narrative include the judicial system, the media, the caretakers of knowledge and academia and the private sector.

The whitewashed lens that dominates these societal purveyors of discourse is still in place and it is this worldview that plays a critical role in shaping issues and in identifying the boundaries of “legitimate” discourse.

The dominant discourse is precisely that which uses its immense power to interpret and explicate major social, political, and economic issues and events according to its own construction. It is through this framework for example, that a black response to racism is often called “illegitimate and irrational”. By white folk calling it so, it ensures that only whiteness is seen as stable and legitimate.

When Marikana happens or the black president’s penis is exposed in “white political satire” the social conversation or debate is still largely framed within a white master narrative and presided over by the societal machinery that interprets it for the layman. The layman then reinterprets it through the common-sense everyday belief system into a less erudite but no less privileged white discourse. The manifestation of this common-sense discourse is largely seen in the narrow racially biased public commentary around these events.

While many will argue vehemently that the dominant discourse in South Africa is no longer one of white against black but one of the corporate and political elite against the citizen — I argue that this is not entirely the case in South Africa because, nearly 20 years into a democracy, the dominant discourse remains in the grip of a white and largely male elite. I draw on the current leftist argument that those with political power have merely adopted the discourse of domination to suit their own greedy agendas and have thus been coerced into protecting the whiteness construct. In this leftist framework it is argued that those individuals who make up our ruling elite are no more than the puppets of white capital and the managers of the white corporate privilege, paid off in minority shares to act as a buffer zone between the people and the elite.

This creation of a black elite was a cunning move on behalf of white capital, since it ensures that only a black face is demonised in social ruptures and provides protection and disguise for the white corporate elite who skulk in the black man’s shadow in order to remain invisible and blame-free.

The absurd spectacle of our black leadership posturing a discourse that is representative of independence and black pride while remaining obedient to the master narrative and using the master’s tools to brutalise a disenfranchised majority, thus plays itself out to effectively prove to whiteness that it alone is “just and rational” and, in this worldview, blackness remains a violent, irrational and laughable entity.

This is particularly seen in the “satire” of the likes of Murray and Zapiro, whose relentless use of imagery steeped in the colonial constructs of the inept buffoonish inefficient black minstrel and oversexed black male sexual deviant, speaks volumes about the inherent superiority white males feel over blackness.

The same discourse of domination was revealed around the heinous Marikana massacre when the media pushed the story of the strikers as armed and dangerous, in attack mode and smeared with muti that would protect them from the enemy. Thus they were depicted as irrational, savage and a danger to all. A demonised rendering of normal family working-class men served to justify the massacre and maintain white power and privilege.

But not without using the black man as the fall guy. After all, it was largely black policemen who did the shooting and the awful truth of Cyril Ramaphosa’s “baas” correspondence with his white business partners also provided a useful catalyst to pin the entire debacle onto a black face.

Not that Ramaphosa was innocent. He deserves to be exposed by the media for seemingly sanctioning the heinous act of the massacre. But surely then, the white masters who hand him the crumbs from their banquet table in the form of hefty minority shares, are indeed the monster controllers in this hierarchy of elitism that insists that a bought-off state uses draconian measures against the cheap, black labour force to protect their majority capital. Surely they should be equally crucified by the media. Both roles are repulsive, individualistic and ultimately anti the collective.

When we observe the power-based response to the One in Nine Campaign’s political stunt at the Gay Pride march we witnessed the unfolding of the common-sense element of white privilege. These perpetrators of violence towards the black lesbian and gender non-conforming protestors, were not mining magnates, political leaders or chief executives of multinationals. They were ordinary white, moderate, liberal citizens who happen to belong to the LGBTI community. But their white privilege became evident and exposed in their aggressive handling of the protestors and their unrepentant discourse in the media after the fact — in which they continued to admonish the protestors for not asking permission, as if this justified their racist and brutal physical handling of them. Again, the message was clear. White is right.

In a racialised society like ours “whiteness” pervades the reality of daily experience, and this construct is woven into the invisible fabric of the dominant culture. Hence it very often does not occur to the public that these acts of violence against black people or people of colour, or lesbians and transsexual individuals, or marginalised women, or any people that fall outside of the white patriarchal mainstream, are intrinsically wrong, often illegal and a gross breach of human rights — even when the violence is not perpetrated by themselves directly.

I contend again though, that we are moving into an epoch where this narrow discourse of domination will eventually be rendered irrelevant and powerless. It will be eventually be critiqued into nothingness. This will happen through the deconstruction of the discourse that upholds this belief system. It will happen through people’s movements, which will demand equality for all. It will happen through open and diverse voices taking over public podiums en masse and challenging a construct that seeks to dehumanise all those who do not fit into the narrow confines of a white phallocratic worldview.

It has already begun.

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