Power Hierarchies and Oppression of Orogenes

Reading Sabrina Chan’s post “Fake News” got me thinking about the concept of power structures and the subjugation of orogenes in The Fifth Season. Sabrina notes that, “Stills maintain their social superiority by passing down ‘stonelore [that tells] them at every turn that [orogenes were] born evil – some kind of agents of Father Earth, monsters that barely qualify as human’ for generations; to the point where even orogenes are raised to believe so. If the stills allow themselves to see orogenes as more than supernatural tools, then they [orogenes] are also forced to acknowledge themselves as the weaker ‘species’.” I think this is a great point: the stills’ dehumanization of the orogenes into tools forces them towards the bottom of the power hierarchy, allowing a much less powerful species to subjugate them by labeling them as “tools” that exist purely for the stills’ benefit. I believe this parallels how black people were dehumanized and subjugated on Earth for centuries. They have been dehumanized by racists who compare them to monkeys, and subjugated through systems such as slavery in America and apartheid in South Africa, in which blacks were suppressed by a white minority for many years. The effects of these systems of subjugation are still felt all over the world today, through racism, poverty, and violence.

As I read The Fifth Season, I continuously wonder how the orogenes are so subjugated when in reality they have the power to kill their oppressors. The orogenes know of their immense power. Syenite narrates, “We are the gods in chains” (Jemisin 262). However, they are dehumanized into tools who are not even considered human beings by the rest of the Stillness. Damaya thinks, “officially speaking, you’re not human, either” (234). It is revealed that orogenes were designated as not human “Per the second Yumenescene Lore Council’s Declaration on the Rights of the Orogenically Afflicted, a thousand-ish years ago” (234). Through this declaration, the stills orchestrate a power structure that will subjugate orogenes for thousands of years.

The idea that a group of people with such “godlike” ability can be completely controlled by the less powerful makes me think about how power structures are created, leading me to a concept I learned about last spring in anthropology class. In this class, I learned that race is a social construct. Svante Pääbo’s Ted Talk “DNA clues to our inner Neanderthal” explains how genomes reveal that humans originated in Africa and always mixed with earlier forms of humans, meaning that from a genetic perspective, we are all Africans. In addition, black people are not more likely to have more similar DNA to each other than they are to white people, or people of a different race. People do not have more genetic similarities within their “race.” A black person’s DNA may be much more similar to a white person’s than to another black person’s. Race does not have biological meaning, yet white people have used skin color to suppress black people for centuries. If people have used race to dehumanize black people and oppress them, it would make sense to me that Jemisin is creating a parallel in which orogenes are categorized as “non-human” by other people of the Stillness in order to create a means to oppress them.



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