What if the world were a utopian society? One where we did not have to worry about race, gender, ethnicity, color, wealth level, education status, or accessibility to resources? Ah, yes! A world like that may sound weird, and maybe even unrealistic, but it would solve a variety of societal issues– systematic inequality included.
Throughout the Broken Earth Trilogy, one of the major themes N.K. Jemisin includes in her text is literary oppression. The definition provided by Morton Deutsch, author of “The Nature and Origins of Oppression” describes oppression as the experience of repeated, widespread, and systematic injustice. In doing a little more research, I explored the subject in depth and also discovered that oppression could also be defined as a dominant group subjugating a minority group.
I initially thought that a minority group referred to those who are disadvantaged, but as Martin N. Marger, author of Race and Ethnic Relations (1985), explains, there are two types: mathematical and sociological minority groups. He states, “mathematically, a group can be the majority and yet still be victims of an oppression imposed by a more powerful yet numerically smaller dominant group.” He further explains that, “minority groups are socially denied, have differential power, and are treated categorically” and “dominant groups can be distinguished culturally, economically, and politically.” This speaks to the difference between mathematical and dominant minority groups and to the overarching subgroups that come with oppression. To my suprise, as a member of a politically/economically/socially oppressed group (coming from a Latinx background), I had little to no knowledge about the complexities that come along with the classification of marginalized groups in America.
Throughout The Fifth Season, we are first introduced to the concept of oppression when we learn that orogenes are those that are able to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events (page 462). Due to this power, they are thought of as “unrelated to the human kind” and are named roggas, their unfortunate derogatory term. On page 120, it states, “It’s such an ugly word, harsh, and guttural; the sound of it is like a slap to the ear.” This term reminds me of other derogatory statements and words used to hurt people on an individual level in today’s society. Many are used to target those coming from different ethnic groups, or having a belief in a “non-standardized” sexual preference. In addition, many oppressed groups such as African Americans are generally stigmatized as being very “violent” and Latinos as “speaking only Spanish.” Growing up, I was asked various times if I was from Mexico, and if I was in fact, an “immigrant.” With my chin held high, I said, “no, but my parents can attest to that struggle.” I have learned that despite being in this oppressed group, I have a right to educate myself and success in life. I also believe that I do not need to victimize myself and provide excuses for not succeeding and initiating a change just because I live near a “low-income” neighborhood and am statistically “disadvantaged.”
Now, back to the text. In The Stone Sky, we learn about the Thniess, an oppressed group in society before orogenes and stone eaters were created. On page 209, it states, “The Sylanagistines took their land. The Niess fought, but then responded like any living thing under threat–with diaspora, sending whatever was left of themselves flying forth to take root and perhaps survive where it could.” As I was reading this, I was instantly reminded to the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which was a law passed by congress to remove Native Americans (a very socially and politically oppressed group) from their eastern homelands and forced them to move west. Like these individuals who had to migrate west, Niess too were managing to “keep hold of who they were, though, [and] continuing to speak their language even as they grew fluent in other tongues.” Later on in the text, it is revealed that Sylanagists were committing genocide against the Thniess since they couldn’t understand their magic and realize that they did not have to conform to treating magic as only a commodity. And so, they took control of their power in the system, and removed that oppressed group from their society. The “scornful dismissal of Niess efficiency as a fluke of physiology–was superior and infallible” as mentioned on page 211.
After reading about all of this, I realized that this world is just as “messed up” as our real world today. And, in thinking this, I asked myself, “why did N.K. Jemisin aim to include and explore the idea of oppression?” Well, upon re-reading N.K. Jemisin and the Politics of Prose, an article about an interview conducted by Vann R. Newkirk II, Jemisin states, “the people who were writing these stories were people who didn’t have a good understanding of their own power: their own privilege within a system, and a kyriarchical system, and not understanding that as mostly straight white men with a smattering of other groups who are writing this genre for years.” Throughout this interview, Jemisin states that she not only based the trilogy on her own experiences and research on oppression, but also to educate those who do not see it as an issue. As an African American woman, Jemisin wanted to execute her message and demonstrate the ways in which “oppression perpetuates itself, [and how] one group of people teaches every other group of people how to do truly horrible things” throughout the text.
Props to you, Jemisin! Thank you for your work.