The Connection Between Rocks and Social Justice

In an attempt to begin to answer the ominous question, “Why should people who care about rocks care about social justice?” and vice versa, “Why should people who care about social justice care about rocks?” I propose that we first examine the increase in natural disasters all over the world. We can see how studying tectonic plate movement and other areas of geology may help us to better “forecast” (rather than “predict,” as Dr. Giorgis from the SUNY Geneseo Geology department explained) at-risk areas for natural disasters. These areas are then marked as less desirable to live, and real estate prices plummet, leaving many people stuck in possibly dangerous residences with no way of leaving; anyone who does not have an upper-class socioeconomic status must sell their old house to be able to afford a new one, and who wants to purchase a house that is prone to the devastating effects of earthquakes?

N. K. Jemisin clearly sees a connection between rocks and social justice and explores this in The Broken Earth trilogy. I imagine the concept of environmental racism has a lot to do with this. Environmental racism is the inability of low-income and/or marginalized groups of people, generally racial and ethnic minorities, to leave a situation in which they are at risk of environmental hazards, often because of socioeconomic status. An apt example of environmental racism is what happened in Flint, Michigan beginning in April 2014, explained in this NY Times article by Parul Sehgal. The people of Flint did not have access to clean and safe water for a significant period of time, and the issue manifested itself in illness throughout the city. When Flint’s people tried to speak up, they were suppressed and ignored. And although there were many who were afflicted by the Flint water crisis, it was impoverished African Americans who dealt with the brunt of this injustice.

In Jemisin’s world, when people of The Stillness suffer a shake that is particularly damaging to their comm, its desirability plummets, and its people are left scrambling trying to figure out where they will be able to go to survive the next Season. Comms that survive multiple Seasons, on the other hand, are quite desirable, and this is sometimes dependent on the positioning of fault lines. A comm closer to a fault line may be more prone to the effects of a Season. In Jemisin’s world, various regions of The Stillness are predominantly home to certain races, just like our own world. From here, we can make the connection to environmental racism, seen when people of primarily one race are forced out of their comms due to the devastating effects of natural disasters.

This is arguably a direct illustration of how geology and social justice are intertwined – we need to know about geology to know about natural disasters to understand how natural disasters themselves marginalize certain groups of people based on factors out of their control.

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