Cooling Down


You’ll begin to question whether my telling of this journey is one that merely repeats the tale of every other passionate, black scholar’s revelations when seeing that the wall at the end (beginning?) of the dark tunnel goes further back than they’ve been taught. I ask that you keep reading nonetheless. My story is one that questions whether the tunnel is, in fact, dark, if that wall exists, if it’s creators—in whatever shape, color or form that they existed—wanted it to be used as a ‘tunnel’ at all. You might be confused and quite frankly I am too…well just a little but I promise to explain as much as I have come to know myself.  

This structure of writing and the motivation for sharing myself with you in the way that I am was inspired by N.K. Jemisin and her Broken Earth Trilogy. She made me question how my interactions with you were reflective of my own internalized perceptions of my ancestry—an ancestry that society taught me. An incomplete one. One that (supposedly) started playing in the grass…just before the ships docked on the coasts.  


Revised history has become more instrumental in our society than we might realize. The partiality of some truths has been taken to represent a false entirety where victors are renamed and everyone is painted a different color. These revisions become institutionalized and soon everyone stops digging for the missing pieces while trying to deal with the consequences of the oppression and subjugation of a group of people, until we forget that we don’t know the whole truth. This is the main problem aligned with this type of history, it is taken as a whole truth for all people involved. America was ‘founded’ and civilization was ‘established’ when The Mayflower docked, despite the presence of thousands of Native Americans with established cultures and beliefs. The history of African people is reduced to enslavement, chains, and a slave ship despite the immeasurable languages, cultures, belief systems, thoughts and lives that existed before the intrusion of colonization. (I’m getting a bit riled up here, but understand that this frustration is founded in something more, something I will try to reveal later).  Arguably, one of the greatest wrongs that result from the establishment of incomplete histories reveals itself is shown when generations later build their identities on these understandings of their ancestors, as I did.

For it to have taken 21 years, and a (rusting good) Sci-fi trilogy for me as an Afro-Caribbean immigrant woman to realize that the foundations of my identity have been based on an intentionally oppressive, racist, historical account is earth-shattering. After reading Hoa’s journey in Syl Anagist, however, I not only forgave myself but understood that my anger and shock were warranted so I realigned my focus and tried to learn more about myself through Hoa.


I don’t know if you have yet sensed my anger (no, actually… it’s rage rusting rage) but understand that acknowledging this ugly truth still consumes me daily.  With this in mind, I wanted you to know that choosing the enslavement of African people was pivotal to my self-discovery.  It is not an idealization (if such a thing can exist within something so blatantly horrid ) but rather the means by which I was able to engage in questioning myself. Also, understanding that Africa is constantly remade into becoming a continent of suffering and starvation (Most of the continent at least. Well except Egypt.  But that is for later. ) is something that exhausts me to my core.

But Hoa makes that easier. Guiding me through his experience stilled my nerves and allowed me to recognize Jemisin as—in some variation—my Kelenli.

I’m still learning about us both though, you and I, I mean.

I’m trying to see how we got here.  Not sure if there’s an answer.

But I know not to apologize for not knowing.  


In The Stone Sky Hoa’s retelling of his life in Syl Anagist, as Houwha, replicates a reaction from someone who was unaware of their history learning the truth. Initially, I was intrigued by Houwha’s certainty in who he was or rather what he thought he was: “the deficient ones, after fall, stripped of much that would’ve made us human…I don’t mind what I am” (44). Hoa’s willingness to accept this perception of himself is worrying but makes sense for an individual who—since he (and his ancestors) existed— has been deprived of the right to be treated as a human being. But how’d that happen? 

It becomes easier to instill this institutionalized dehumanization of tuners when they are designed and instructed to behave like statues, “We…learned not to show pain or fear or sorrow…The conductors tell us we are built to be like statues—cold, immovable, silent” (101).  Kelenli states that she is present, “to show you who you really are” (49), and through reflection Hoa later states that, “what Kelenli has come to give us is a sense of peoplehood. We do not understand why we have been forbidden that self-concept before now…but we will” (50). (Let me rephrase that for those in the back) Kelenli’s role is to teach tuners that they are humans who have been robbed of the chance to learn about their history. For tuners, the node was their home, where they began. They knew nothing of the Niess of how they were people whose difference evoked fear in the Sylanagistine, a fear that was peaked at the realization that these different people were capable of doing more than could’ve been imagined. Kelenli explained how society through “cultural bullying” convinced itself that the Niess were biologically,—and therefore fundamentally—“more sensitive, more active, less controlled, less civilized” (210). This happened until they became (socially speaking of course because they were always human) “not the same kind of human as everyone else. Eventually: not as human as everyone else. Finally: not human at all” (210).


“Oh. I’m angrier than I should be. Fascinating.” (6)

Take a breath. Send an email (really a rant) to Beth McCoy. So what if I am Alabaster? Drink some tea.

I am constantly amazed by Jemisin’s (intentional) ability to constantly add to /reintroduce/ re-explain different histories in The Broken Earth trilogy and recognize that it is hauntingly replicative of the human tendency of retelling history. Hoa is the narrator of the trilogy yet we learn of his truth at the end. The same goes for guardians and even the Earth. Jemisin didn’t give their histories upfront allowing me to choose how to view each character. From the beginning, I was sympathetic of everyone, yes, including Schaffa—even though his smiling creeped me out (click here). Something gnawed at me when I was introduced to them. Their frustrations, pains, constant need to smile, or apologize had to be rooted in something, I just didn’t know what it was yet. You can get that, can’t you?  

I needed more, because people don’t just get that angry. There had to be something.

I wasn’t just angry.

I’m not just angry. There is something.


It was while considering this normalized injustice of retelling history that I was led to Egypt, one of the few African countries not polluted with a past entirely centered on enslavement. For a second I had hope in this new venue of exploration, I mean, after all, everyone knows Egypt. But what of Egypt? With my newly skeptical mind, I was able to realize that knowledge of Egyptian history embodied an active attempt to idealize—and ultimately separate from the concept of blackness— specific “truths”. The incompletion of its past is rooted in the renaming of the actual people with the actively racist—yet maddeningly familiar—intention of a separation of ‘blackness’ or ‘African’ from associations like success, complexity, and beautiful. (For a full rant please click here). The fact that if I was to acknowledge Ancient Egyptians by use of their actual— in a non-Euro-approved- ‘corrected’- renaming-of-a-civilization-sort-of-way— identity as people of Kemet I would be greeted with blank confused stares is a problem. Recognizing that there needs to be a reason behind including Egyptian art as a branch of African art is a problem. For my blackness—something society tells me to never forget—to be solely centered on a history of enslavement is a problem.


“‘So you were slaves, so what?”’ they whisper. Like it’s nothing.” (7)

“Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built  doomed in the first place’” (7)

The Earth had all right to demand reparation (proof). The Niess deserved rest (proof).  And if given the opportunity, like Hoa, I too would have ended the world. But I’m here. In this world. A misinformed narrow-minded world that caps my learning by making me think that the journey into understanding African ancestry must start with slavery.  The identity crisis of a lifetime, but it’s all okay, because this is the start of something with limitless potential. The re-start. I have an opportunity here, to become something so much…more.

I’m not broken…

“Because we are fragile at the beginning, like new creatures. It takes centuries for us, the who of us to cool.” (282)

….I’m just cooling.

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