“Blockbusting” in the Stillness

In my midterm thinkING essay, I discussed the ways in which Jemisin has drawn upon other areas of my education, like topics from a class I’m currently taking about queer nineteenth-century literature. But, as I’m a sociology minor, the ways that her books drew upon sociological concepts really interested me. Last semester I took a course about race and ethnicity. Since Dr. McCoy told us very early in the semester that The Broken Earth is a giant allegory for racism and its consequences, I’ve been thinking about what I learned from sociology and how it applies. A concept that always seems to come to mind and that I didn’t give myself time enough to flesh out in my essay is “blockbusting.” Here is the definition from blackpast.org (I’ll try to sum up the idea, but the site has a nice outline of the concept and its consequences if you’re interested): “Blockbusting refers to the practice of introducing African American homeowners into previously all white neighborhoods in order to spark rapid white flight and housing price decline.”

Houses are bought up for cheap due to price decline, and then resold to people of color for a profit. This process not only perpetuates systematic racism and prejudice by weaving them into the housing market, but also widens the divide between white people and minorities by forcing people of color to pay more for their homes. So, how does this relate to Jemisin?

At first, I thought I might have been making connections that weren’t there. I mean, there really is no housing market in the Stillness as far as I can tell. Comms exist, and they accept people of use-castes that they need, and that’s that. Jija didn’t have to pay for the home he was given when he arrived to Jekity, except for perhaps with his skill. The underlying issues of racism that fuel blockbusting, however, are also present in Jemisin’s books. The orogenes in The Broken Earth are the representation of an oppressed minority. But their oppression and enslavement (for lack of a better word) are only made possible by the fear which has been embedded in the culture of the Stillness.

A pretty good example, if perhaps slightly abstract, is the fate of Tirimo at the beginning of The Fifth Season. A structural fear of orogenes leads a guard to attempt to murder Essun as she leaves. His actions, however, in a sort of domino effect, result in the destruction of the comm. Anyone who survives must find a new place to live and they will carry their fear and prejudice against orogenes with them, possibly making it even harder for orogenes to survive outside of the Fulcrum. To me, it seems like a very frustrating cycle, and the fact that it reflects a similar cycle that is present in reality makes it all the more frustrating and horrifying.

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