Lithosphere Essay – Hailey

Oppression, racism, and violence are vital issues that we struggle with today in our world, but are also vital issues found in the Stillness, a world built by N.K. Jemisin in her novel The Fifth Season. In her text, the stratified society living in a future dystopian world closely mirrors our own society in which oppression and racism exist at the institutional, structural, and individual levels. Jemisin strategically racializes characters and institutions in her world in order to create this parallel between reality and her book, and she does so inconspicuously. Our course epigraph defines race as “a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences,” and the epigraph connects it to “a repeating tendency, of the gravest import, to demarcate human beings through differences among humans that are selectively essentialized as absolute and fundamental, in order to distribute positions and powers differentially to human groups.” Essentially it means that race is a way of sorting humans based on their differences. The process of racializing can be complex, especially when you’re attempting to world-build and discard all preconceived notions of race that we think of in context to real life. My goal is to break down elements of the text and explain in-depth how Jemisin uses different methods to racialize people in The Fifth Season.

One major way that Jemisin utilizes racialization in her first book of the Broken Earth Trilogy is through showing racism at the structural level. An important element of the Stillness to note is the Sanzed Equatorial Affiliation. In the novel we find out that Sanze has been around long before the events in the first book, and only after taking over other comms in the Stillness through tactful violence did they acquire the significant power that is talked about in The Fifth Season. In fact, Erlsset, the emperor of the Equatorials during the second decade of the Season of Teeth, was quoted saying “Tell them they can be great someday, like us. Tell them they belong among us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default. Tell them there is a standard for acceptance; that standard is simply perfection. Kill those who scoff at these contradictions, and tell the rest that the dead deserved annihilation for their weakness and doubt. Then they’ll break themselves trying for what they’ll never achieve.” (Jemisin, 76) While this is quite clearly textbook racism, these are also the foundations of which the Fulcrum was created and is run in the text. Jemisin effectively establishes Orogenes as the oppressed peoples, and then foreshadows the way in which they are exploited systemically by the Equatorials on an institutional level in the Fulcrum, which was founded very soon after Erlsset said this at a party. The young Orogenes grow up being told those exact words, and the effects are lasting.

Another way that Orogenes are racialized to be structurally oppressed involves the Guardians. As soon as a young Orogene gets their Guardian, the Guardian breaks their hand and establishes the hierarchy of power between the two. However, the way they brainwash the poor Orogenes goes much deeper than that. We get an in-depth look at the interactions between Orogenes and Guardians during Damaya and Schaffa’s trip to the Fulcrum in chapter six. Immediately after Schaffa breaks Damaya’s hand, he tells her he loves her. “‘Never doubt that I do, little one. Poor creature locked in a barn, so afraid of herself that she hardly dares speak. And yet there is the fire of wit in you along with the fire of the earth, and I cannot help but admire both, however evil the latter might be.’ He shakes his head and sighs. ‘I hate doing this to you. I hate that it’s necessary. But please understand: I have hurt you so that you will hurt no one else.’” (Jemisin, 99) Schaffa is essentially rewiring Damaya’s brain to believe that is what love is, preying on the fact that she has never known what real love is like; not from her parents or anyone from her comm. 

Let’s fast forward to Syenite and Alabaster. When we see the older version of Damaya and Alabaster interact, we can see the effects that their upbringing in the Fulcrum has had on them. Alabaster has ten-rings, he’s older, he’s “wiser,” and yet he is always referring to Orogenes (specifically himself and Syenite…) as animals in multiple instances. “Ferals—the ones from outside—often don’t know, or care. But when an Orogene is born from parents who weren’t, from a family line that’s never shown the curse before, that’s how they think of you. A wild mutt to my domesticated purebred.” (Jemisin, 72) In addition, he says “‘Either the Fulcrum owns us, or we have to hide and be hunted down like dogs if we’re ever discovered.’” (Jemisin, 123) This process of dehumanization is crucial to re-establishing and supporting the oppressive society in which the Orogenes live. It is ingrained into their minds from such a young age that even well into adulthood they fully believe that they are inhuman, monstrous animals. Not only is this taught to them in the Fulcrum, but the stonelore that they read in school in the comms is also full of anti-Orogene text. For example, Alabaster tells Syenite in chapter eight, “They kill us because they’ve got stonelore telling them at every turn that we’re born evil—some kind of agents of Father Earth, monsters that barely qualify as human.” (Jemisin, 124.) 

While I could go on for days about racialization in this book, there is a unique relationship between racialization, science, and myth within this text. The science aspect is one that is quite obvious; Orogeny itself, the power to manipulate the earth and start shakes is described in-depth. Jemisin defines Orogeny as “The ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events.” (Jemisin, 462) Many of the characters in the novel are named after rocks or geological substances as well, such as Alabaster, Syenite, Antimony, Corundum, and Feldspar. I can admit that I am not sure what will come of this revelation, but hope to be able to come back and revise when I find out and (or) finish the Trilogy. Myths play a very powerful part in The Fifth Season. We know about stone eaters- the mysterious statue-like people that live forever and eat stone. However, that is about it. We don’t know their intentions or anything else about them other than their abilities and appearance. Well… we also know what their favorite meal is. This element of not knowing in relation to stone eaters is a crucial aspect of the book. Tied in together with the aspects of racism and oppression showcased in the first book of the trilogy, there is no other choice for a sane reader other than to keep going. In my opinion, Jemisin did an excellent job with revealing just enough information to keep me grounded in the plot, but leaving out just enough to leave me (and hopefully you, too) wanting more. 

Seed Shape Essay

Grace McMillan

In Beth McCoy’s African American Literature class, we watched a TedTalk performed by a man named Ron Eglash. Eglash gave a speech on African Fractals. Fractals are built from seed shapes. Seed shapes are a starting point that you keep building upon to make a fractal. You can add onto a fractal for an infinite amount of time, leading to more intricate designs. Fractals go from a line to shapes that look like snowflake edges. Fractals are a starting point. They grow and grow. The idea of fractals directly relates to Frederick Douglas and the piece he wrote: “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas.” Douglas was a victim of racism and oppression because he was African American. All his stories show this and were put into a narrative. 

Douglas was also enslaved. In our class, we talked as a group about how scary and depressing stories like this are, and how they were unfortunately very common.  What is even scarier is that these stories tend to have a peaceful beginning, but once people are enslaved and are practically being tortured, the narrative shifts drastically. This type of feeling is the worst someone can get to. In class, we described this as rock bottom. These types of stories, however, will have a shift in the narrative again. In these particular types of narratives, we can see a clear mood and narrative shift when the slaves are free. Douglas and many others were trapped in a basement for a very long time. These people were forced to work. These people were physically and verbally abused. 

Douglas was able to be taught how to read and write, done by a mistress, however, when her husband realized what was going on, he put an immediate stop on it. Her husband said that teaching a slave how to read is dangerous and unlawful. Douglas was not allowed to be taught how to read and write anymore. These people were not allowed to learn basic life skills because they were slaves. Douglas was passionate about learning to read and write, and he was willing to do what it took to learn. He would give bread to hungry white children for reading lessons. These people were tortured because they were all African American. These events all happened because of extreme racism. There is a shift in the narrative which I am directly correlating to the seed shape changing and growing, or better yet, building upon itself.

 Douglas was sent to live on a farm owned by Mr.Covey. Douglas was only 15 at this time. Mr.Covey was physically abusive to Douglas, and often whipped him. Mr.Covey would also whip other slaves: male and female. Douglas tries to repel all the abuse he is going through, and finally runs away. Sadly, Douglas was captured again and ended up fist-fighting Mr.Covey. After the fight. Douglas is sent to work as a field hand. Douglas says that being a slave brought out the man in him. The battle between him and Mr.Covey was from Douglas’s built up anger. Imagine being trapped somewhere? Him and so many others were physically and mentally abusive: no one with them that loves them, and having to survive. Douglas said he was “seized with a feeling of great insecurity and loneliness.” This shows the growth of a fractal: Douglas had many moments of growth, and many moments that the narrative shifted. The “shape” of his fractal has changed multiple times, and the story has built upon itself. The design of the fractal has become more intricate, and now the original shape has been repeated an infinite amount of times. Douglas decided to not write much about his escape from slavery because he thought that may provide too much information for people who are trying to enslave others. Douglas said he felt like escaping slavery was the equivalent of escaping a den of lions. 

Douglas’s story kept building and never stopped, and that is why I am comparing his life to seed shapes and fractals. Douglas ends his narrative by talking about where he settled down. He settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Douglas also changed his name to ensure no one found him to enslave him again. Douglas also got married to a woman named Anna Murray, a woman who Douglas became engaged to when she was still enslaved, but then she became a free black woman. Douglas was also introduced to William Lloyd Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society. Douglas went on to speak in front of groups of abolitionists many times. This was a new beginning for Douglas, which added more and more seeds onto his fractal: “From that time until now, I have been engaged in pleading the cause of my brethren.” Douglas has a hopeful future and a life that has been flipped upside down, and is now so much brighter and happier. Douglas does not just show his story, but also explains a life that many people had to go through. This shows the fight that African American people had and still do.

 Douglas had a drive that he didn’t lose. He was able to have enough strength to escape and rebel. Fractals are able to remind us of the determination these enslaved people had. Fractals tell stories, and show growth, and when someone’s story changes: whether it is for the better or worse. Ron Eglash also helps explain the connection between fractals, and what African American people had to go through while enslaved. Douglas is a great example because his life truly builds upon itself over time. He hit extreme lows and extreme highs in the same lifetime, and was able to end on a high. He overcame so many obstacles, and so many other enslaved people were also able to escape and retaliate. Douglas is a singular seed on the fractal of all enslaved people. Each enslaved person is their own seed, adding their own lives to the story of slavery, unfortunately. Everyone’s story of them going through slavery will be different, but all stem from the same place, and are all seeds on the same fractal. Every slave shows fight, determination, and extreme work ethics. They are all a part of history. In our English class, we prioritize paying attention to what the author is trying to tell the audience. You have to deeply read and be intellectual when reading the story of Frederick Douglas. It is important to not miss any parts of his life, because they all are part of his seeds, and all add up to where he is in the end. 

Because seeds are constantly added to different fractals, I don’t think this idea will ever be forgotten. People’s stories don’t end, and fractals are infinite. There are multiple fractals for multiple people and stories and lives. Everyone’s actions impact everyone else, and just think, your story leads to someone else which leads to someone else and so on. You are just the beginning; people are ahead of you and behind you. Douglas has added his seed to this fractal, and so have many others, and you have added onto many fractals too. We all have.

Works Cited:

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglas

Lithosphere Essay-Stella Boothby

“The Fifth Season” written by N.K. Jemison exemplifies several themes of violence, oppression and disaster. Though this is a science fantasy novel, the society it depicts surrounds real world problems such as racism, structural & systematic inequality, as well as social hierarchy. It expresses the idea that our identities are shaped by our personal attributes and relationships. In this essay, I will be discussing the acts of racialization consistently seen throughout the novel. According to Geridene Hang she describes racialization as “… a repeating tendency, of the gravist import, to demarcate human beings through differences among humans that are selectively essentialized as absolute and fundamental, in order to distribute positions and powers differentially to human groups” (Jemison 27). This was taken from our course epigraph as it holds very true to the trilogy we are reading. Race is the idea of separating humans into different categories in society based on different characteristics we have. Although, “The Fifth Season” is fictional, N.K. Jemison forms parallels to real world social constructs that her characters experience within the novel.

To start, “The Fifth Season” takes place on a supercontinent referred to as the “Stillness”. Here, seismic activity constantly rocks the Earth causing devastation and danger to its citizens. Additionally, the novel mainly follows the protagonist of the story who is presented as three main characters: Essun, Demaya, and Seyenite who each have their own plot throughout different time periods. The Stillness society is shaped by the perception of its history of the Sanzed empire. In this society, there is a use-caste system which severely limits the freedom of certain individuals. In the Stillness, its citizens are categorized into either Orogenes who were born with incredible powers to manipulate Earth’s energy which can impact seismic activity. Or on the contrary, the rest of the population who were not born with this orogeny power are known as “stills” or in this case, normal humans which make up for most of the citizens living here. Unlike the society that we live in, those who hold the most power in the novel are dehumanized and denied humanity. N.K Jemison writes “For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question” at the beginning of the novel to introduce the readers to this notion of systematic inequality exhibited in “The Fifth Season”.

Racialization is a significant theme that heavily lies within the lives of Orogenes, similar to what many individuals in our society experience in their lives as well. The Orogenes are hated and oppressed due to their powers that they possess and the dangers that can come with them. They are seen as a threat to the Stills and are forced to withhold their powers for the safety of the rest of the population. In addition, there is another group of people called the “Guardians” who are members with supernatural powers whose sole purpose is to find, train, and watch over the Orogenes. Yumenes, which is the main city in the novel, holds the Fulcrum which is a government- run facility overseen by these deadly Guardians. Orogens are brought to this institution to learn how to control and contain their powers for the pure benefit of the guardians to then exploit them in horribly unjust ways. Orogene children given the name “grits” are also sent to the Fulcrum to be “polished” and trained before they have earned their first rings. The Guardians make the Orogenes feel unworthy and inhumane by calling them a derogatory slur “roggas”. Some Orgenes claim this term for themselves as another use-case name, while others believe that this is an appropriate name for them to be called considering the way they are treated as non-human. For example, Syenite says to Alabaster “Even two roggas-its hard to say the word, but harder to say Orogene, because the more polite term now feels like a lie” (Jemison 111 PDF). This displays how the Guardians take advantage of the Orogenes and make them believe that they don’t even deserve to be recognized by their “race”. Seyenite says the upside of being at the Fulcrum was that “I could at least be myself there. I didn’t have to hide what I am” (Jemison 259 PDF) As angry as she was answering Alabaster’s question about whether she liked being at the Fulcrum, she did admit to that which shows the intensity of racialization in their society. The one place where they didn’t have to hide being an Orogene was also the place where they were most exploited. 

Due to the perception of Orogenes being non-human, other people feel no remorse for hurting or killing them. In the text, Alabaster says to Syenite “that we’re not human is just the lie they tell to themselves so that they don’t have to feel bad about the way they treat us” (Jemison 264 PDF). Orogenes are feared for their abilities and strength throughout the Stillness which leads to such hatred that others will go to the depths of killing them. Orogenes’ power against seismic events is instinctual since birth, yet this quality of theirs is what puts them in a lower position in society compared to the rest. Asael says to Syenite as she scorns her upon their arrival to the community “I’m sorry you’re so abnormal that I can’t manage to treat you like a human being” (Jemison 162 PDF). The deliberate racialization against Orogenes special traits highlights how cruel and unfair their world is as Orogenes are constantly being degraded and punished.

This concept of social hierarchy is seen in both past and present societies today where some individuals are seen as inferior based on their skin color, religion, economic standing, education, and several other classifications or identities. The novel presents this when saying “One cannot reasonably expect sameness out of so much difference… but Damaya understands now that the world is not fair. They are Orogenes, the Misalems of the world, born cursed and terrible” (Jemison 145 PDF). This emphasizes both the structural and systematic inequality towards these individuals because not only is it built into their societal structure and use-caste system, but to the point where Orogenes start to question their own worth and identity throughout the novel. They realize that nothing they can do will change the way others see them, and their “gift” is only seen as a curse and it gets abused by the Guardians. Orogenes are never allowed to resist their Guardian, so when Damaya says no to Scaffa, he tells her “I will break every bone in your body if it deems necessary to keep the world safe from you” (Jemison 77). After he hurts her, he proceeds to tell her he loves her and that he has to hurt her so that she doesn’t harm anyone else. This reveals the horrible mistreatment because in the process of “saving others” they are intentionally harming Orogenes. They are negatively targeted by their race consistently throughout the novel and have no human rights. The world of Stillness is fictionary, but N.K. Jemison delivers several parallels to reality when Orogenes experience discrimination, which unfortunately individuals today still struggle to gain their freedom in our unjust society.

Lithosphere Essay

Racializing is a common issue in today’s real world but it has also been shown in the book The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. By having this in the book, it shows the problems that people have to go through in the world and the author may have done this because she has gone through it. N.K. Jemisin is a black woman and by putting these issues into her book, she may want to bring more awareness to the unfair treatment by people when they racialize. There are many examples of racializing in The Fifth Season to the people called “orogenes”. This is because of what they can do which is seen as supernatural but people use bad faith and certain myths to believe that their powers hurt them more than save them. 

There have been a lot of examples of racializing in the book with the character Damaya. Damaya is considered an orogene which her parents and the people in her town know which has caused a lot of unfair treatment to her. When Damaya is first introduced into the book, we learn she has been locked away in a barn by her parents. On page 26, it states “When Damaya doesn’t respond, Mother says ‘She can’t have gotten out. My husband checked all the barn locks himself.” This quote shows that she is treated like an animal for who she is even though she has absolutely no control over it. When Jemisin wrote “She can’t have gotten out” it sounds like Damaya is just some barn animal but she is a human being just like her parents. During this chapter in the book, we learn that Damaya’s parents took away her coat during winter and gave it away to her cousin. This shows that they think she is less than other people and doesn’t even deserve a coat in the cold season. On page 31, it states “Mother draws up in surprise. ‘We gave away her coat.’ ‘Gave it away? In winter?’ He speaks mildly but mother looks abruptly uncomfortable. ‘She’s got a cousin who needed it.” Damaya’s mother also talks about how she gave the coat away because she believed a myth that orogene’s don’t feel the cold the same way others do. This myth can be harmful to believe because Damaya had to suffer in the cold just because her mother believed it. On page 31, it states “And you’ve heard that orogenes don’t feel cold the way others do.’ says the man, with a weary sigh. ‘That’s a myth. I assume you’ve seen your daughter take cold before.” This quote also shows that Damaya’s mother is never with her and has no idea how Damaya is when it is cold. Towards the end of the book, the readers learned that Damaya was never taught how to read. This seems like such a basic need but since Damaya is looked down upon, her parents didn’t believe she deserved it. It also shows that her parents never cared or spent time with Damaya, all because of who she is. On page 297, it says “The instructors have taught her to read as her parents did not.” Damaya’s storyline shows the huge problem of racializing and the harm it has done to her.

In the real world, there are terms and slurs that are used to dehumanize and degrade people. This is also a problem in The Fifth Season where the term “rogga” is known as a slur to orogene’s. The term “rogga” has been talked about many times in the book when either a character calls themselves it or is called it by another person. Characters have spoken about how the term is a slur and how dehumanizing it is to them. On page 89, it says “Damaya inhales, horrified. It has never occurred to her that roggas-she stops herself. She. She is a rogga. All at once she does not like this word, which she has heard most of her life. It’s a bad word she’s not supposed to say, even though the grownups toss it around freely, and suddenly it seems uglier than it already did.” This quote also demonstrates that when Damaya was first thinking, she didn’t even consider herself to be one because she knows that it is a slur. This is a huge part of racializing because all the orogenes are grouped together when they are called this term. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they have done, they are “roggas” which is the same issue that people have in the real world with the slurs that people call them. This issue has come up in the book again, when the readers learn that rogga is a slur to orogene’s and not just some word. On page 140, it says “Sometimes a rogga can’t learn to control.’ Now she understands that his use of the slur is deliberate. A dehumanizing word for someone who has been made into a thing.” This quote also shows that the term is used when people believe that orogenes are not human beings, they are below them. This is exactly how it is in the real world when people use slurs to degrade people, believing that they themselves are higher up than the people they are degrading.

A character in the book is called Essun and she has dealt with people seeing her and just knowing that she is an orogene. When someone saw her, they immediately raised their weapon even though Essun was no threat to them. This can also be related to the real world, when police would treat black people as criminals when they did nothing wrong which became a huge problem. On page 55, it says “Perhaps he does not see the latter woman quickly shoulder her weapon and orient it on you.” In this scene in the book, Essun was walking with another man but he was not an orogene which shows that Essun was seen as the issue. This part of the book was quickly escalated when the woman with the weapon shot at Essun. When Essun felt threatened by the woman and knew she was most likely to shoot at her while she was unarmed, she started to use her “supernatural” powers to protect herself. Essun stated in the book that she deals with these types of situations a lot which is why she decided to protect herself. It is unknown to the readers if the woman was going to shoot at Essun even if she didn’t protect herself but it still shows that Essun has dealt with weapons being pointed at her a lot. It can also be shown that Essun could have died many times just because of what people think of her but she has protected herself to stop her death. On page 55 and 56, it says, “And because once upon a time and in another life you learned to respond to sudden threats in a very particular way, you reach for the air around you and pull and brace your feet against the earth beneath you and anchor and narrow and when the woman fires the crossbow, the bolt blurs toward you.” This scene shows that Essun was just using a weapon to defend herself just as that woman did to her, but Essun is much more powerful than her. This shows the powers that caused people to racialize the orogene’s.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin has shown many examples of racializing in her book. There are numerous ways that the book connects to the issue of racializing in the real world. Scenes in the book can relate to problems that people have to deal with in our world and having it in a book can show these issues to a broader audience. The grouping of people is dangerous and extremely dehumanizing which the book shows how orogene’s are affected by this issue.

Freedom & Liberty: The Seed Shape of Engaging an American Audience Through Ideals

An important seed shape within the African American works and slave narratives discussed thus far is the authors’ ways of recruiting their audience, specifically, by appealing to core American ideals. The term seed shape is conveyed by Ron Eglash in African Fractals as the “starting shape” that will eventually create a fractal. It can be any shape, and then each part of the seed shape is replaced, “with a reduced version of the original seed shape;” this process continues infinitely, creating a fractal—a visual representation of infinity. Applying the idea of a seed shape within literature would/could refer to an element—theme, arc, symbol, event, purpose, structure, etc.—that appears within a piece or genre and continues to appear at different scales. Douglass and Jacobs recruit the attention and sympathy of their audiences on many scales, sometimes explicitly as Jacobs directly addresses the “reader,” and often implicitly through emotional connection. A common throughline is how these authors implicitly utilize American values, and the American (or patriotic) identity to appeal to readers. The ideals of ‘liberty,’ and ‘freedom,’ are a core of American goals and the American identity. Each of the authors expresses that slavery denies the rights of liberty and freedom. So as long as slavery exists within America, the country has not and cannot actualize these ideals. This argument, and the narrative form it takes, is likely to pull at the heartstrings of many devout Americans and abolitionists, thereby recruiting their sympathy and support.

In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Douglass defines the contradiction between freedom and slavery. While he was sent out to live with Mr. Covey, to break his spirit, Douglass could see the sailing ships on the Chesapeake Bay. In his narrative, he writes an apostrophe to ships, which expresses the freedom belonging to the ships, but also the freedom that he is denied, as well as the torments of slavery. Douglass states, “‘You are loosed from your moorings, and are free; I am fast in my chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip! You are freedom’s swift-winged angels, that fly round the world; I am confined in bands of iron! O that I were free!'” Douglass’ apostrophe demonstrates his longing for freedom, but also the depths of this disparity for all slaves. The ships have more freedom than Douglass; they are free to sail and travel, but Douglass is held down by the chains of slavery. He is not free to go where he pleases, he is stuck at Mr. Covey’s property. The ships are objects and yet, these objects have greater freedom than any slave. The personification of the ships furthers this idea. Douglass’ yearning and longing to be free of the chains and torment of slavery is evident. The use of the word freedom harkens back to the American ideal. Its continuous use within this section draws greater attention to that linkage. In engaging audiences, the notion of freedom is a long-held American value. Thereby, it may be a linkage audiences can easily grasp. Meanwhile, the ship having greater freedom than a slave may be revelatory to readers. Douglass’ apostrophe shows that this freedom is no small desire. Even if readers were not abolitionists, they may be able to connect this idea of freedom and understand that slavery deprives and denies the freedom on which the nation was founded.

While Douglass’ apostrophe centers on his yearning for freedom, Jacobs focuses on the system that denies her (and other slaves) this freedom, in The Fugitive Slave Narrative. Jacobs utilizes notions of ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom,’ similar to Douglass, but she also calls out America’s false perception of itself as civilized. She criticizes the hypocrisy inherent in America/Americans asserting themself as a civilized society while practicing and/or enabling slavery. In her piece, Jacobs writes about the moments before she boards the boat that will take her to New York. She mentions her friend Peter, a slave who helped ensure her safety, but wouldn’t be leaving with her. He would still be subject to the torments and injustices of slavery. She expresses her indignation, stating, “that intelligent, enterprising, noble-hearted man was chattel! liable, by the laws of a country that calls itself civilized to be sold with horses and pigs!” While Jacobs is undoubtedly thankful for her coming escape, she is aware the torture of slavery will continue for her friends and all other slaves like Peter. And no matter the goodness in their heart, they will still be seen and treated as nothing more than livestock. Her narrative, like many, humanizes and shows the true experiences of those who were enslaved. In this section, Jacobs engages readers by utilizing an implicit violation of American ideals. This violation is exemplified by Peter not having freedom or liberty. It is a reminder that true freedom does not exist for everyone in America. Her condemnation of calling America ‘civilized’ while these heinous violations of liberty occur is a wake-up call. Even though Jacobs is leaving for the north she reminds readers that while she may have escaped, many did not. Simply because she eventually obtained freedom did not mean the battle was over, the institution of slavery still stood strong. And her outrage at the system is not quieted after she arrives in New York, and neither is her struggle.

After heading north, Jacobs is still not safe. Following her arrival in New York, Jacobs is hunted down by Mr. and Mrs. Dodge, who are seeking to bring her back South and enslave her. Jacobs is physically and mentally fatigued. Throughout her life, she has been subject to the system of slavery and witnessed the hypocrisy inherent in American society. As the church bells in the city ring, she monologues, “‘Will the preachers take for their text, ‘Proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of prison doors to them that are bound’? Or will they preach from the text, ‘Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you’?'” She contrasts this against the open discussions of slavery, as “John Mitchell was free to proclaim in City Hall his desire for ‘a plantation well stocked with slaves;’ but there I sat an oppressed American.” Jacobs condemns the faulty assertion that liberty and slavery can occur simultaneously. They cannot coexist: inherently, slavery denies liberty and true liberty would not allow slavery. Jacobs’ words might’ve been motivating, if not to abolitionists, then to others who prided themselves on holding fast to American ideals but remained impartial to slavery. Another aspect that may have engaged readers is Jacobs’ self-reference as an “oppressed American.” There is a unity in the American ideals, America as a nation and as a people. This may be a branch-off (or recursion) of engaging the audience through core American ideals. The larger identity seems to rest upon these ideals. Thinking in common speech, the statement “fellow Americans” is a uniting sentiment. Jacobs’ statement might’ve evoked this common identity in her audience. The idea follows that if Jacobs’ was oppressed, already having fled the South, slaves were still Americans suffering oppression. This could’ve been a greater rallying cry for her readers, connecting with the American identity.

The slave narratives presented by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs exemplify the recruitment of readers by appealing to deep-rooted American ideals. Developing from these ideals is a uniting American identity. Simply because these elements recruit readers may not mean they are entirely intentional acts by the writers. Both these authors crafted their lives on the page and took into account what information may be important to exclude or include, but they also wrote of personal, emotional, and physical experiences. Not everything may be a purposeful move to engage audiences in support of the abolition of slavery, which is important to keep in mind. The ways in which Douglass and Jacobs engaged audiences through the utilization of American beliefs is a seed shape within itself, which presents on smaller scales such as the activation of an American identity. As with mathematical fractals, seed shapes exist recursively, possibly appearing on smaller scales within these works as well as others. The significance of this seed shape—engagement of the audience—is how it leads the writer, reader, and text to interact. These interactions affect readers’ understanding of the world in which they live and have the power to change minds, attitudes, and actions. The recruitment of readers, especially the northern, abolitionist, American audience could have helped manifest change in the real world.

The Parallels of Racialization in Science Fiction and the Real World

Before this class, I had heard of racialization before, it was brought up and defined but not until Geraldine Heng’s definition did I truly understand its meaning. He states that race is not something within us, it is not set by our genetics or our biology, race is something created by culture and the humans within it. The process of racialization works for and against humans. Race gives some power, while taking away rights and freedoms of others. Heng explains this by saying “in order to distribute positions and powers differentially to human groups.” Heng says how race is strategic and it truly is. This can be seen not only through human history but also in the world you see outside your window today. 

Millions of people experience the effects of racialization every single day, one of these people being N.K Jemisin. N.K Jemisin is an African American author (Britannica) who grew up witnessing the evils of racialization, and being a target of them. She now develops and creates powerful stories that include vivid aspects of racialization and the horrors that come with it. In our mini collaboration groups we discussed how N.K Jemisin manipulates her own experiences and the experiences of other minorities whose race has been used to work against them, and embeds them in her novels. 

The Broken Earth Trilogy is a powerful example of Jemisin using science and fantasy fiction to bring to light the injustices of racialization and the consequences of it. In the first book of the trilogy, The Fifth Season, there are many notable aspects of racialization and how it works to keep specific people in power while others suffer. In the Fifth Season there are humans (referred to as Stills), Orogenes and Stone Eaters. For this interpretation I will be focusing on the relationship between the humans and Orogenes. Orogenes are humans (however they are not truly viewed as humans by others) who have control and power to manipulate seismic events and the earth. For example, they can stop earthquakes or create them. Although the Orogenes are immensely powerful, humans use racialization tactics to maintain their political and social powers and keep the Orogenes powerless and vulnerable. The Stills fear the Orogenes and therefore hunt them, discriminate against them and view them inhumanely. 

In our mini collaboration groups we discussed many examples of racialization and systemic inequality that can be seen throughout The Fifth Season. We focused a lot on the school featured in the book, which is called the Fulcrum. The Fulcrum is similar to a military facility, where Orogene children (who are referred to as Grits) are ripped from their homes and sent to learn how to control their powers. They are constantly taught how dangerous they are and that the pain and suffering they receive is important to protect others. The school’s entire purpose is for the Stills to be able to control the Orogenes from a very young age and make them “useful” for the Stills and their political interests. The school supports and encourages racialization as it makes sure that the Orogenes are instilled with the idea that they are less than the Stills and that the only thing Orogenes are useful for is being weapons. I believe the entire existence of the school is an example of racialization as it makes sure that Orogenes are controlled through a structural institution, it takes away their freedom and ability to choose, and most importantly ensures that the Stills maintain their power. This is especially shown through the character Damaya, who is a young Orogene and is a “student” at the Fulcrum. When we were discussing Damaya in our mini collaboration groups, Connor brought up a quote that I believe perfectly describes how racialization impacted Damaya. She says “Friends do not exist. The Fulcrum is not a school. Grits are not children. Orogenes are not people. Weapons have no need of friends.” (The Fifth Season, 297) The way Damaya is maybe 14 years old and considers herself a weapon, non-human and non deserving of a regular childhood and friends shows how influential the racialization is. Going back to Heng’s definition of racialization we see how the Fulcrum is an institution that “constructs a hierarchy of peoples for differential treatment.” The Fulcrum is able to move people into specific categories due to their differences, Grits being treated as weapons who need to become useful for the Stills rather than the children that they are. On the other hand, through the Fulcrum Stills are put in positions of power.

 Emily, from my mini collaboration group, highly connected the Fulcrum to her school in NYC which was predominantly people of color. She explained how her school did not have much time for leisure or offered any help for higher education such as AP or IB classes, similar to the Fulcrum where the Grits’ only option is to learn. Grits are not given leisure and their choices and future are taken away from them. In her school in NYC you had one expectation which was to learn, there were no other choices or further opportunities except the set curriculum. Racialization exists in our real world just as it exists in N.K Jemisin’s creations. Why did Emily’s majority POC school not have further opportunities like AP classes or clubs, but predominantly white private schools have theater programs, AP classes and dual credit options? 

Another important parallel and aspect of racialization that really stood out to me was the slur used for Orogenes which is “rogga.” (The Fifth Season) This is a word that can be connected to a specific slur that is used against African Americans in today’s culture. Syenite is also one of our characters in the book, she is a powerful Orogene who is traveling with another Orogene called Alabaster. I really enjoyed the development of the relationship between Syenite and the term “rogga”  throughout the book as it relates to the reclamation of the slur in real life. Alabaster uses this word comfortably to describe himself and other Orogenes, however Syenite does not understand why he uses it so comfortably as she views it as a dirty word/ She views “rogga” as a word that is used by Stills to make the Orogenes less than human and to remind Orogenes what Stills think about them. At the beginning Syenite explains her view on the word. She states “It’s such an ugly word, harsh and guttural” and that “Alabaster uses it the way other people use Orogene.” (The Fifth Season, 120) However, after she witnesses the node maintainers, orogenic children who are kept in a catatonic, painful state in order to serve the Stills and calm minor seismic activity, she begins to understand why Alabaster uses the word as he does. “‘Sometimes a rogga can’t learn control.’ Now she understands that his use of the slur is deliberate. A dehumanizing word for someone who has been made into a thing.” (The Fifth Season, 140) This shows how Syenite begins to understand Alabaster’s reclamation of this horrible slur as it reminds him and Syenite of the evils of the Fulcrum. The existence of the slur shows how racialization exists within the book. The use of the term “rogga” is to dehumanize and place Orogenes in a subordinate position, keep them powerless and put the Stills in a place of upper class. Heng’s definition of racialization describes exactly this, as the word is meant to encourage differences and sort people into those with and without power. N.K Jemisin shows the power that the slur used in today’s world has through the parallel of the slur in her science fiction novel. Alabaster’s reclamation of the word relates to real life as African Americans reclaim the slur and use it in powerful music, language and other cultural aspects. 

I believe N.K Jemisin’s writing is extremely influential and addresses many real life problems that involve racialization, racism and systemic inequality in her fiction writing. Geraldine Heng’s definition of racialization is clearly shown through the way Jemisin describes racial injustices throughout the novel. She allows readers to create connections on racial inequality between her novels and real life, which gives readers a new understanding of issues we see today. Not only does she educate readers on social injustices but also geographical sciences. Her reading is interesting yet educational. I believe that she is extremely passionate and her storytelling is incredible. I am interested to see what happens in the next novels and how these racialization parallels strengthen. 

Racialization Running Parallel to Separation from our History

As we move forward, we are beginning to find out that race is just as subjective as it is real. When Irish immigrants began to come over to the United States in mass during their ‘famines’ suffered at the hands of the British, they were not considered of the pure race of upstanding American whites. When Adolf Hitler was putting together his propaganda machine about an Aryan race, Werner Goldberg, a man of half Jewish ancestry, appeared on the front page of a Berlin newspaper as, “The Ideal German Soldier” (kansaspress.ku.edu). These kinds of contradictions highlight the trend of humans constantly trying to attribute more to race than is logical, or for that matter even remotely reasonable. Sentiments on race often fly around back and forth without any regard to reality or human decency. This shows to me that the idea of race is a powerful tool in drawing out the deepest emotions from people.

This is not to say that there is no actual substance to race. Once in the Fulcrum, orogenes in N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season are subject to a life of uniformity and isolation, creating the conditions for a race of Fulcrum orogenes. Under the oppression of the guardians, they are made to repress aspects of their individuality and expressions of free will, moving them closer in sync with what we consider race.

When we follow the lives of orogenes Essun and Alabaster, we see them struggle to escape the painful chains of race that have been placed upon them. Some stills control them with selectively bred, technologically enhanced guardians, whom are able to negate the orogenes natural ability to harness the power of the Earth and all living things. This is not enough though, as they are often held down with painful stereotypes, demeaning their humanity. Fulcrum orogenes often try to escape this feeling by identifying themselves with what the guardians have trapped them into. Alabaster sees through this though, and realizes the way the world really perceives them. He often uses the violent slur rogga’ to remind himself and Essun of this. When they visit a node maintainer who has snapped due to sexual abuse, the way orogenes are perceived by the world connects with the reality of how the guardians are using them. Alabaster’s showing Essun of this gruesome truth, and his description, prompt an epiphany from her. “But each of us is just another weapon, to them. Just a useful monster, just a bit of new blood to add to the breeding lines. Just another fucking rogga.” She has never heard so much hate put into one word before. But standing here, with the ultimate proof of the world’s hatred dead and cold and stinking between them, she can’t even flinch this time. Because. If the Fulcrum can do this, or the Guardians or the Yumenescene Leadership or the geomests or whoever came up with this nightmare, then there’s no point in dressing up what people like Syenite and Alabaster really are. Not people at all. Not orogenes. Politeness is an insult in the face of what she’s seen. Rogga: This is all they are.” The node maintainer is the ultimate slave to the Sanze Empire/Yumenescene Elite, the political structure that rules most all of Earth as our characters know it. They are made unable to move or express thought, but are not braindead. This node maintainer was the son of Alabaster, assigned to this station only because of his powerful ability to quell the violent action of the Earth. He has been betrayed by his ‘caretakers’ at the station, likely by people who would refer to orogenes as ‘roggas’, without a hint of irony.

            In this Broken Earth, our characters live with a misunderstanding of their history. Pieces are left out, which Binof finds out as a young girl, and other pieces are misinterpreted, which Essun finds out about with the story of Misalem, long after she is told it incorrectly. From the beginning of our story we see that the obelisks are forgotten artifacts to most people, yet they end up having the power to change the state of the entire Earth. If we take the story from the eyes of Binof/Tonkee, we see the importance of uncovering history. It provides a great opportunity to reveal wisdom that had accrued over thousands of years, only to be forgotten for thousands more. Tonkee dedicates her entire life to studying obelisks, the usefulness of this to playing her part in dismantling the status quo of the Broken Earth, which is one of systematic racism and oppression, is not yet to be seen. But it is clear that it is all coming together, as it has brought her to Essun and Hoa. Alabasters channeling of the obelisks power, and his passing this on to Essun, has already shown a profound impact. He has challenged the notion of stonelore being fact on his own journey, believing it to be altered. It seems to me that the more these characters are able to uncover truths of the past, the closer they will come to restoring a peaceful Earth.

            Sinead O’Connor sang in her song Famine about British oppression of Irish history. She sang, “And so we lost our history
And this is what I think is still hurting me

See we’re like a child that’s been battered
Has to drive itself out of it’s head because it’s frightened
Still feels all the painful feelings
But they lose contact with the memory

And this leads to massive self-destruction…

And if there ever is gonna be healing
There has to be remembering
And then grieving
So that there then can be forgiving
There has to be knowledge and understanding”

She is using the instance of British misinformation being taught to the Irish in regard to Black 47’, a mass starving of Irish people in 1847. She explains that when the Irish were taught about this tragedy, it was left out that Ireland was a key crop producer for Britain, and that they were forced to ship out their crops to the British mainland while people starved in mass on the island of Ireland. She also says that the British took this difficult time for Ireland as an opportunity for them to impress British ideal onto the Irish, phasing out the Irish language and other cultural values.

This example illustrates the power that can come from history. An incorrect understanding of it can allow an abuser to break their subject, and subjugate them to their rule. The people of the Broken Earth, whether it be stills or orogenes, are gaslit by a fake history that ignores the power of great devices that surround them, as well as the great powers within themselves. If the commsfolk had an understanding of the true history of their world, I have no doubt that they would live in respect of each other. They wouldn’t discriminate against orogenes, and they would know how to survive a season much more effectively. This can be equated to our world as well. With a clear understanding of our history, we would be much less likely to give substance to race. But when generations of people are told the British side of the story, and don’t realize that battered people are like that due to racialization, they may be inclined to repeat the pattern.

References

Jemisin, N. K. The Fifth Season. Orbit, 2015.

 “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers.” Web.archive.org, 26 Aug. 2014, web.archive.org/web/20140826084054/www.kansaspress.ku.edu/righit.html. Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

O’Connor, Sinead. Famine. John Reynolds, Tim Simenon, 13 Sept. 1994.

Lithosphere Essay- Lily Conroy

⁤In “The Fifth Season,” N.K. ⁤⁤Jemisin carefully integrates racial, scientific, and mythological elements to create a story that speaks about present-day concerns. ⁤⁤There are numerous powerful instances of structural and systemic injustices throughout the book. ⁤⁤”The Fifth Season” provides many instances that highlight systemic inequality.  “The Fifth Season” provides many instances that highlight systemic inequality. This type of inequality is created by a combination of rules, norms, and attitudes within institutions like workplaces, schools, and politics, leading to entrenched patterns of discrimination(Africa, 2021).  The manipulation of myth and science via characters within the book serves as a aid for racializing orogenes, individuals with the ability to manipulate geological forces. 

The myth surrounding orogeny in “The Fifth Season” serves as a foundation for the racialization of orogenes, especially in the context of the Fulcrum’s control over them. The quote by The Fifth Season, “This ability that gets more Orogene children killed than anything else”(Jemisin page 106). This relates to the impact that orogenes’ power has on the society, which can be very difficult for the people with no power who live there. This contains the brutal truth or reality that supports the story’s orogeny myth. Due to the Fulcrum’s control over the orogenes, they are racialized based on the myth.  The Fulcrum claims that they are trying to protect the people or the  society from the dangers of orogeny by presenting it as a heavenly benefit for the selected. Representing the orogeny as a “gift” from gods makes sure that the Fulcrum’s as the only “guardian” of orogene power and knowledge.  The myth of orogeny not only gives orogenes a false sense that they could be considered superior, but it also promotes a myth that an orogene’s value is based solely on their skill and powers they may have. The Fulcrum defends its authoritarian rule over orogenes as necessary for the better welfare of society by portraying orogeny as divinely prescribed. One of the main characters in the book, Damaya is was indoctrinated into the Fulcrum. After that happens she shortly learns the importance of controlling her orogeny and repressing her emotions in order to assist society. The novel uses the Fulcrum to maintain the myth of orogeny in order to support the oppression of orogenes. This myth is also promoting the unequal distribution of power in society. While readers dive into the book they can relate and compare the story’s evidence to oppression and racialization into the real world we live in.

In “The Fifth Season,” scientific explanation is falsely skewed to keep orogenes suppressed. The Fulcrum justifies the subjection of orogenes by reinforcing the idea that they are basically different from the general population by characterizing orogene powers as unnatural. In the book the ability to regulate geological forces, sometimes known as orogeny, is portrayed to be harmful and regulated by rigid limitations. The Fulcrum tries to uphold the idea that orogenes are fundamentally unstable due to their powers and need be closely watched at all times for the safety of society. This false narrative is used to defend orogenes’ exploitation and abuse, portraying their abilities as a threat rather than a natural part of existence. Orogenes are subjected to a variety of experiments and exploitation in the interest of scientific advancement. Often without the orogenes consent, the Fulcrum studies orogene skills in an attempt to better understand and apply their abilities to benefit the Fulcrums benefit. The use of orogenes as tools by powerful individuals and groups to achieve what they want goes beyond the Fulcrum. Science turns into an oppressive tool that enables the powerful to take advantage of orogenes’ skills for their own advantage.

Racialization is a major issue in the book since it looks at the exclusion and discrimination experienced by some groups such as the Orogenes due to their differences. The Orogenes are portrayed as an unique and face discrimination and violence since the society views their abilities as odd and dangerous. The slang used to define orogenes shows how racially discriminated they are. ““You’re a rogga,” Asael snaps, and then has the gall to look surprised at herself.”(Jemisin, page 216). The character speaking, Asael, calls Syenite “rogga” to belittle her.  The slang word “rogga” is a derogatory nick-name for orogenes.  It’s used, like a racial slur, to make fun of and treat those who have powers over others. Asael’s use of this word demonstrates prejudice and hatred against Syenite due to her orogene status. In respond to, Syenite says, “At least that’s out in the open.” (Jemisin, page 216). Syenite’s reaction shows how determined she is in the face of discrimination. Despite being offended, she responds sarcastically and maintains her composure. Her statement implies that, as an orogene, she is used to coping with such discrimination and prejudice.  Syenite acknowledges the hatred directed at her by her reaction, and she advises that it is best to confront such prejudices directly on rather than allowing them to go silent and keep happening. This exchange demonstrates how common discrimination and prejudice against orogenes are in the world of “The Fifth Season.” Syenite’s response reveals her strength and resilience in the face of such adversity.

In “The Fifth Season,” N.K. Jemisin shows myth, science, and racialization to create a narrative that realistically exposes real-world injustices. By examining racialization, diving into systemic inequalities and playing with myth and science, Jemisin effectively conveys the impact of discrimination on society. The mythos surrounding orogeny promotes the racialization of orogenes by spreading the idea that orogenes are naturally harmful by the Fulcrum. Also, incorrect scientific explanations reinforce the misleading narrative of orogene instability, leaving people vulnerable to manipulation by the powerful elite. The key theme, racialization which emphasises the hostility that orogenes face as a result of perceived inequities.  One example such as the interactions like the one between Syenite and Asael, the verbal mistreatment and hatred directed against orogenes indicate how common discrimination is in their society. despite this interaction, characters such as Syenite exhibit resilience and resolve in strongly opposing the prejudice. “The Fifth Season” provides an insightful remark on the complicated concerns of power, inequality, and resilience in society through its delicate analysis of these topics. By encouraging readers to think about and look at similar systems of oppression, Jemisin’s narrative develops compassion and understanding for underprivileged groups in the world we live in. 

Works Cited 

Africa, A. for. (2021, October 15). What are systemic inequalities? – alliances for Africa. AFA. https://alliancesforafrica.org/what-are-systemic-inequalities/

Jemisin, N. K. (2015a). The fifth season: The broken earth, book one. Orbit.

The Existential Paradox of Race

Race is imagined. Race is real. These two statements are not, as many believe, contradictory. In fact, they are both true and inextricably causally linked. This is an ostensible paradox that Jemisin seeks to unravel in the world and narrative of The Fifth Season. To understand the basis of this stance, one must first understand the social construction of race and its systemic salience in the world of The Fifth Season. In brief, the inhabitants of the text live on a single, tectonically hyperactive continent wherein there lies a single primary political power concentrated at the very center. The peoples of this land deemed “The Stillness” are analogous to humans in all but one sense – their sensitivity to seismic activity. Few of these peoples are born with the ability to manipulate this seismic activity, and are deemed “orogenes” politely and “roggas” crudely but generally. These orogenes are feared due to their powers, which can be unwieldy and dangerous in the wrong or untrained hands. Orogenes are the central racial focus of the book, as their race is the root of the narrative in this story. Historically, orogenes have been subjugated, robbed of autonomy, lynched, and the lucky ones shunted off to be raised and trained to be a profitable tool for the powers that be. Understanding these key elements to the narrative is essential to follow Jemisin’s creative address of the aforementioned existential paradox of race. For the purposes of this analysis, I will be delving into the unreality and artificial creation of race within The Fifth Season, the ways in which race is salient, systemic, and real to the inhabitants of the world, and the effects of these points within the text as well as its implications for our world. I will also draw on real-world examples and analogues to highlight certain points of the text in order to demonstrate and corroborate these points when necessary.  

Orogeneity is seemingly quite different from race in our world. For one, there is only a loose genetic correlation to orogeny. Two orogenic parents can sire offspring without any orogenic qualities while two stills – a term for non-orogenic people – can have orogenic children. These occurrences are rare, and orogeny is inherited more often than not, but this nonetheless acts as a very different form of race classification than is traditionally considered in reality, as the orogenic race is not reducible to any one nation, culture, or phenotype. This, however, is not actually a departure from reality, but a reflection of it. Consider the ways in which our world has classified and determined race, and how these definitions have evolved over time due to shifting values and opinions. Take the hypodescent framework of racial classification adopted by the Jim Crow-era U.S. where one’s race was simply and elegantly defined as Black if any modicum of Black ancestry was present. This, of course, was a flawed plan, as stories of white-skinned people who had gone their whole lives believing themselves white suddenly were forced to use colored facilities and identify as such due to an estranged Black great-great-great-great-grandparent (Ray, p. 13). The “one drop rule” fell apart quite quickly and revealed that race was about more than just genetics. So much more, in fact, that it revealed a fundamental lack of reasoning for any meaningful form of classification. In Jemisin’s world, this could be seen as distinct from the orogenes, as classification is as simple as the presence of orogeny. This stance is a result of conflation of classification with racialization. Classification of orogenes is easy and natural, much like blonds or blue-eyed people. A race, however, requires a shared culture, nationality, or lineage – none of which orogenes have. Orogeny is a quality imparted to a person, but it does not denote a people. 

Once the unreality of race is confronted, one must contend with the reality of its presence. Orogenes are persecuted, subjugated, and othered by virtue of their orogeny. These systemic injustices are real and have meaningful effects on orogenes. Orogenes must live in a world that has racialized them and oppressed them as a group without discretion. This is the only culture all orogenes have in common. In this sense, race is very real and salient to the characters within The Fifth Season. An example of this reality being acknowledged by orogenes themselves takes the form of the orogene community, Castrima, led in part by Ykka Rogga Castrima. Ykka’s community contains a great many orogenes from all over the continent, in which “all the buildings are in wildly varied styles… Uniformity sends a message… This [community’s] visual message is… confused.” (Jemisin, p. 265). This conflict of culture in a community that largely harbors outcasted orogenes is a great example of both the lack of a true unified race of orogenes and that the racialization of orogenic people is an ever-present reality for all orogenes. In our world, this has, perhaps most vividly, manifested in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Black people across Africa, a gargantuan continent with incredibly diverse communities, cultures, and peoples, were bought and sold like cattle in huge quantities. Slave traders and buyers paid no mind to the culture and origin of these people, as they were now no longer a member of a tribe or community or a people but were now just Black. People born across the Sahara from an enslaved peer were now seen as one and the same, forced into unity and a shared community as a result of their racialization by a foreign power that deemed it so. 

The effects of this absurd state of simultaneous race reality and unreality have a profound effect on the characters within the text. Some are more aware of the dichotomy while others possess a lingering sense of confusion surrounding racial affairs within the world. Essun, an older orogenic woman and a main character of the text, falls under the latter category. She is the one who ventured into Castrima and expressed a confusion as to the state of unity present, not realizing it is a product of the inherent nonexistence of cultural unity among orogenes. Throughout her story, she is shown to be grappling with the idea of orogenes as a race, not a classification. Once claiming orogenes “aren’t human” then internally acknowledging this as a falsehood “all roggas know” (Jemisin, p. 354). This confusion is related to her turbulent history with her own identity, being able to identify as an orogene as dictated by larger society, identifying with her orogeny independently from this society, and being forced to hide her orogeny to avoid being racialized. A character more confident in their outlook on race in the world is Alabaster, an exceedingly powerful orogene trained and owned by the central governance of Yumenes. His actions in the book come from an understanding of the paradoxical nature of orogene racialization, most clearly is his destruction of the continent that threatens the lives of all the world’s inhabitants. The justification for this action comes from a belief that the racialization of orogenes has crossed a Rubicon, and that to dismantle the oppression and racialization orogenes face in this world, the world must be dismantled (Jemisin, p. 6-7).  

The existential paradox of race is a conflict between the fundamental nonexistence of race in form but the salient effects of race in function. Jemisin encourages readers to think about racialization in novel ways by detaching the orogenes from any genetic or physical characteristics that are traditionally used to classify race. This is a powerful method of subverting the traditional definition of race for a group that is very clearly suffering from systemic racism in her works, and show the reader that race is an artifice of society, made real only by the consequences it has for those deemed to be members of that race. The unifying struggle of oppression all orogenes must face in their cultural, genetic, and physical dissonance is a reminder of how the manufacturing of a Black race has had lasting consequences for black-skinned people in society centuries after its conception. Many people believe race has been an issue all throughout human history, but Jemisin takes us very close to the beginning of the creation of a race to show that this is not the case. Race can mean whatever we choose for it to mean, as long as it is enforced and believed by larger society. Race is only as real as we allow it to be.  

Bibliography

Jemisin, N. K. The Fifth Season. Orbit, 2015. 

Ray, Victor. On Critical Race Theory: Why It Matters & Why You Should Care. Random House, 2018 

Lithosphere Essay

In our reading of “The Fifth Season,” the first in a trilogy known as “The Broken Earth” trilogy, written by N.K. Jemisin, we are quickly reminded of our course epigraph written by Geraldine Heng. In this epigraph, Heng states that racialization is not this substantive idea that we all have in our minds. Race is not a way of describing the appearance or looks of another, but rather a categorization, nearly a caste system of responsibilities and levels of power. This system has been and still is looked upon as both fundamental and essential to our society, thus creating an injustice within the society, not currently established by law but by human activities and tendencies themselves. This corruption has been found all throughout history as part of power dynamics. In “The Fifth Season,” we are introduced to Orogenes, specific members of society who have the innate ability to sense and control seismic activity such as earthquakes and volcanoes, among other geological forces. At an early age, Orogenes are trained by the Fulcrum, a group that seeks to control their abilities and “gifts” for the overall benefit of society. Orogenes are both feared and persecuted because their powers are deemed unpredictable and dangerous. Non-orogenes are protected by Guardians, a group that has a power that nullifies that of the Orogenes. This directly connects to the course epigraph, highlighting the idea that race is not just a way to differentiate individuals based on their appearance, but also a way to categorize people based on their abilities, tendencies and capacities.

Orogenes are at the bottom of the totem pole in “The Fifth Season” and are treated with the worst of the worst treatment. They are often ostracized from their own families and those closest to them, if not beaten or killed. In the beginning of the book, we meet Damaya. Damaya is one of the main characters in the novel and is found to be an Orogene by her parents. Upon this discovery, they quickly force her to sleep in a barn separate from their house. As strange as it may sound, that outcome is nothing short of extremely fortunate. Many orogenes are killed by their own parents and family the moment it is found out that they possess such powers. The life of an orogene is not an easy one, as it is filled with copious cruelty, grief, and frustration.

“I’m not a monster, Syenite. I’m just a – a girl. It’s not my fault I was born this way. It’s not your fault, either, and yet you all treat me like I’m some kind of demon. And then you wonder why I’m angry all the time! Maybe if you’d stop – maybe if you all just tried to be kind to me, I wouldn’t have to be so angry.”

Damaya

After some time, Damaya changed her name to Syenite, as a way of leaving her past behind her. At her core, though, she was still an orogene, whether she liked it or not. The treatment would follow her despite the name change, and she would continue to be chastised by others. The neglect and abuse she faced at the hands of her parents were not the only instances of her experiencing racialization. As an orogene, she also faces hatred from all non-orogenes, exploitation by the Fulcrum, who enforce strict rules to ensure obedience and conformity. This exploitation and abuse from the Fulcrum makes the orogenes more like tools or objects than human beings. Additionally, orogenes are dehumanized. They are referred to by numbers rather than their names, further reinforcing the idea that they are disposable commodities that can be scrapped at a moment’s notice by anyone with power. Even the more important and stronger orogenes, who hold the more important tasks and jobs, are treated poorly. Regardless of your contributions to society or “The Stillness,” you are looked at as vermin and trash as an orogene. As mentioned before, they also experience physical abuse and violence at the hands of everyone.

There are many parallels between “The Fifth Season” and real life, especially relating to the course epigraph. In “The Fifth Season,” there are systems of oppression that specifically target certain groups based on their inherent characteristics. Similarly, in American society, groups like racial minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and women have all faced systemic oppression in their lifetimes. The fear that non-orogenes face toward orogenes can be compared to the xenophobia and prejudice that have historically tormented minority groups in American society, leading to segregation, discrimination, and violence. The dehumanization we see in “The Fifth Season” can be compared to historical and contemporary examples of exploitation and dehumanization of minority groups in American society, more specifically the slave trade until 1865 when the 13th amendment was signed. The marginalization that the orogenes face mirrors that of minorities in America. They experience redlining and unequal access to employment and education. Lastly, the resistance and liberation in “The Fifth Season” echoes events like the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and so much more.

Overall, “The Fifth Season” provides a powerful and moving critique of the oppressive and unjust systems in America. It also serves as a reflection of social and political dynamics in American society, underscoring the long-lasting struggles for equality, justice, and human rights.