The Moral Dilema of the Dominant



“From this position, then, I say you will of course not speak in the same way about the Third World material, but if you make it your task not only to learn what is going on there through language, through specific programmes of study, but also at the same time through a historical critique of your position as the investigating person, then you will see that you have earned the right to criticize, and you will be heard… In one way you take a risk to criticize, of criticizing something which is Other — something which you used to dominate. I say that you have to take a certain risk: to say “I won’t criticize” is salving your conscience, and allowing you not to do any homework.”

— Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

“Questions of Multi-culturalism”



I chose Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s section on the dilemmas of the dominant self because it addresses questions that I have been asking myself for a long time.  As a member of the dominant, how can one address problems of identity and belonging? Are there some issues that I can’t speak on because of the historical implications of my race?  As we were talking in our small groups, something about Spivak’s words tugged at my mind, and I realized the meaning in words that I had just skimmed. The dilemma of the right to speak relates to Spivak’s focus on the relations between the dominant self and the self of the Other.  Her counterpart, Sneja Gwnew, comments that the tokenized speakers for the Other face a similar dilemma. Both are being silenced but in different ways: the dominant by a horrifying history and the Other by a society that sees them as an item to check off a list. At the end of the dialogue, Spivak echoes this sentiment by stating, “Only the dominant self can be problematic; the self of the Other is authentic without a problem, naturally available to all kinds of complications. This is very frightening” (66).  Spivak’s points speak to the larger question of why humans feel the need to classify others so simplistically. It is easy to ignore someone’s opinions and experiences when you classify them as “dominant” or “Other,” to not speak on topics that make you uncomfortable, and to derive false inclusiveness from one voice of the Other when there are many more. The simplicity of categories makes it more comfortable for us to face issues that are neither simple nor comfortable.