The United States has a long history of white dominance. Since the country’s founding, white people have had access to more resources, while people of color have been at a disadvantage. For a long time these disadvantages were overt: segregation, housing and workplace discrimination, voter suppression, and so on. Many of these issues persist today, however, following the civil rights movement there has been a shift toward making these disadvantages indirect. As a result, white dominance and the privilege it carries have been pushed to the background, where they can be more easily ignored and denied. Nonetheless, white dominance has a profound impact on the lives of all Americans. It establishes unrealistic and unjust expectations for people of color, and threatens to punish them if they deviate. Because of white dominance, people of color in the US are simultaneously made hyper-visible (representative of their entire race) and invisible (nothing more than white expectations of their race).
Despite the great influence of white dominance on American society, it is seldom talked about directly. Instead it is shrouded by codes of silence and denial that make it very difficult to confront. For people of color, confronting white dominance means challenging a tradition over two hundred years strong that permeates every element of society. This can be overwhelming as well as potentially dangerous. Meanwhile, for white people, acknowledging white dominance means accepting complicity in American racism, as it provides them with greater resources. It also means that they may lose those resources, which makes the ignoring the concept that much more compelling.
Claudia Rankine’s Citizen features poems that center on the uncertainty and frustration faced by African Americans as a result of white dominance. By exploring microaggressions and other racial interactions, Rankine illustrates the impact and prevalence of white dominance in American life. Drawing from Citizen as inspiration, this essay explores the ways in which white dominance is perpetuated in racial interactions with all people of color. Alongside microaggressions and unjust expectations for people of color, white dominance is perpetuated by white fragility, or the idea that white do not develop tolerance for racial stress, and cannot respond constructively to challenging racial ideology. In addition, noninvolvement and silence also ensure that norms of white dominance go unchallenged.
Chris Bunting is a first-year biology student at Boston University from Atlanta, GA. His work has never been published, but you’re likely to hear him playing saxophone around Boston.