Value in Degradation

Current culture attempts to reclaim detrimental terms and repurpose them into those with positive connotations. Today’s generations manage to find relevance in and even identify with the once constrictive labels. Throughout Jemisin’s work, we see the orogene race being categorized as a secondary race. They have continuously been bred as weapons, made instruments for the Fulcrum’s institutionalized agenda. The term ‘Rogga’ was imposed on them by the stills and guardians as a slur.

We’ve previously talked about the importance of names. In fact,  one of Sabrina’s earlier blog posts titled Heavy Names speaks upon the weight of identification.  While she was talking about the Sylanagistines, I feel as though her analysis hits close to the message I’m trying to portray. She stated that “this renaming was the first step of dehumanization which made it easier to take ownership of their advancements “. By degrading the orogene race to such a degree, those in power were able to institutionalize a sense of control over the population.  This is why Essun’s introduction to Castrima proved to be a shock to her as she saw fellow orogenes calling themselves roggas. Even in the earliest edition of the series, Essun questions why she or any of them try to find value in degradation.

Essun’s prior thought process could be described as pessimistic. Jemisin tends to highlight pivotal humanistic arguments within her work, touching upon issues concerning race, sexuality, classism, etc. Recently, the question of whether life imitates art or vice versa came into play. Michee’s post spoke to the terrible occurrences that have been publicized lately. She related it to the hatred and malice occurring within the stillness along with the desperate inability to fight back. This same sense of helplessness is what leads Essun to her original viewpoint of complacency. Throughout her growth, we see a dependency on the very institution that lessened her worth. During that point, she flinches at the very notion of ‘rogga’. Her mindset is programed to the initial reaction of degradation, a flush of shame and fear.

Castrima’s reclamation of the slur comes as a shock due to the humiliation linked to the term. The newfound community shows pride within the term, they identify as such despite the connotations. Similarly, slurs of all perspectives are being reclaimed and reappropriated to empower rather than demean. Terms such as ‘Queer’  and so on have been taken by the very populations they affected and repurposed to send their message. By doing so, they take the power away from the assailant which gives them less to fear. 

Orogenes have always been taught that they are less than yet Castrima’s inhabitants wear their title like a badge. In fact, the very quote that prompted this post stated “Not ‘rogga’. You don’t get to say ‘rogga’. You haven’t earned that” (Stone Sky, 220). The new connotation of a slur is positive when it is used by someone within the community who it was used against. For example, the most popularly debated term is the N-word. When used by people of color, it is seen as a reappropriation based on affection and sociability. Yet when said by a white person, it reverts back to the original malicious implication. The term now holds individualistic value and its use by those perceived as outside the community is an offense. These words have a sense of possession. The only difference is whether it is in the hands of the affected population or those who can abuse it.

It’s this shift in possession that truly gives Essun a sense of self. She begins to take possession of her life and abilities. We tend to bash labels and say they are unnecessary, yet we crave to belong to something.  Without the knowledge of who we are, without a sense of possession over our identity, we can not grow. Now, this sense of self does not have to stem from the use of words such as these but this tactic has allowed for some to see themselves differently. Instead of being linked to a certain category, we have created our own. We have redefined and given something purpose until it has worked in our favor.

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