Lithosphere essay- Ashley Tubbs

Racialization, a word often associated with contentious points in history, is essentially applying meaning to certain characteristics a group of people have in order to create a hierarchy. Because a hierarchy is created, it means there are those deemed to be at the top and those unfortunately deemed at the bottom, which often leads to unjust treatment. Racialization is a purely human-constructed concept, and it is heavily emphasized in the novel The Fifth Season by N.K Jemisin. She creates a fictional world that has concrete connections to this one. She artfully creates characters that fall into two categories: the racialized and the ones doing the racialization. The process needed to racialize requires imperfect humans and differences between said humans. The difference that is racialized in the novel is orogeny, which is “the ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events” (Jemisin 462). This means that there are orogenes and there are non-orogenes, often referred to as “stills”.  Orogenes are placed under the “stills” control because they are regarded as dangerous and thus a lot of the prevalent issues in the novel are created. Orogenes are controlled by the empire, government institutions, and even their peers thus creating the perfect environment for racialization. In the novel and in real life, control over others is essential in the process of racializing them. 

Orogenes, in the novel, act as a symbol for minorities residing in the United States. Jemisin creates a direct parallel between the U.S and her fictional world called “The Stillness.” A powerful empire resides within “The Stillness” and it controls orogenes and their way of life in direct and indirect ways. The empire, called Yumenes, controls a vast majority of “The Stillness” and has created institutions and laws in order to control orogenes. The main institution that controls orogenes is called the “Fulcrum” and it is a “paramilitary order created by Old Sanze after the Season of Teeth (1560 Imperial) … Fulcrum-trained Orogenes (or ‘Imperial Orogenes’) are legally permitted to practice the otherwise-illegal craft of orogeny, under strict organizational rules and with the close supervision of the Guardian order” (460). The Fulcrum acts as an oppressive institution to control orogenes. The Fulcrum acts much like colonial America and its treatment of people of color. The Fulcrum, powered by Yumenes, spreads the Yumenescene culture throughout all the comms, Even the poorest comms lives in reverence of Yumenes, much like the U.S and its colonial ways. Jemisin masterfully creates a fictional world that has very real ties to my world. Not all orogenes are trained by the Fulcrum, there are those who are untrained. Unfortunately, untrained orogenes are often excommunicated from their comms or brutally murdered. There is no winning if you are an orogene, you are forced to choose between two evils. The creation of the Fulcrum may be passed off as a safe place for orogenes to learn their craft, but truthfully it is more like a fictional internment camp.  Orogenes are ripped from their families because they are viewed as dangerous and are put in a heavily guarded building in order to protect everyone. The logic here really is not far off from what the U.S did to Japanese Americans during WWII. This parallel may be a stretch but the connection is there. The true purpose of the Fulcrum is to control and exploit orogenes all for the glory of the Yumenescene empire. This exploitation is very much like the enslavement of black people in the 17th century to build a powerful America.  A big part that plays into the exploitation of orogenes is the fear surrounding them due to myth in order to racialize them. 

Orogenes are being controlled because of the “myth” that orogenes are dangerous. There is a story told to all Fulcrum-trained orogenes and even “stills” with the purpose to make orogenes and “stills” alike be fearful of what an untrained and uncontrolled orogene can do. Damaya, an orogene being taken to the Fulcrum, is told a story by her guardian Schaffa. He begins to explain to Damaya the story wherein: 

an orogene named Misalem decided to try to kill the emperor…Most orogenes had no proper training in those days; like you, they acted purely on emotion and instinct, on the rare occasions that they managed to survive childhood. Misalem had somehow managed to not only survive, but to train himself. He had superb control…which Misalem promptly used to kill every living soul in several towns and cities, and even a few commless warrens. Thousands of people, in all (88).

This story is specifically told in order to villainize orogenes and keep people fearful of them forever. If people are afraid of orogenes then it makes it easier to control them and keep them submissive to the empire. 

One of the main issues with this story, apart from the harmful image of orogenes it creates, is that the story is severely taken out of context. One recurring theme within this story is that history, called stonelore in the novel, is passed down from generation to generation. Much of the stonelore is incorrect, doesn’t add up, or is straight up missing. Several characters have questioned the stonelore, including this story told to still and orogenic children alike. Alabaster, an extremely powerful orogene who has been in the Fulcrum since birth, becomes privy to knowledge other orogenes aren’t. Alabaster is so powerful that he is left to his own devices often and this led to him gaining knowledge the empire wouldn’t want him to have. For instance, he knows the truth behind Misalem the “evil” orogene. Alabaster explains to his mentee that at the time of Misalem, cannibalism was running rampant because of a previous season that caused starvation. Apparently, many powerful people developed a taste for human flesh, and this is the truth of Misalem. Alabaster explains:

All the accounts differ on the details, but they agree on one thing: Misalem was the only survivor when his family was taken in a raid. Supposedly his children were slaughtered for Anafumeth’s own table, though I suspect that’s a bit of dramatic embellishment (418)

This means that Misalem killed the emperor due to revenge. Misalem’s family was taken and murdered for the cannibalistic emperor and his supporters. This is a story of revenge not of a crazy orogene killing for no reason. The death toll is also very inaccurate. Misalem attacked the emperor, he didn’t kill thousands of people for no reason. I am not defending what Misalem did, but I am saying that there is a logical reason behind what he did and truthfully most people would likely seek revenge for a horrendous act like cannibalism. Unfortunately, not many know the truth of Misalem and those that do don’t want it shared. Time and time again the Fulcrum and Yumenes rewrite history to paint orogenes as evil and dangerous. This harmful myth is not easily dismissed and is used to racialize and control orogenes. If orogeny wasn’t considered dangerous, it is likely a different trait such as skin color would have been racialized to create a hierarchy, like in the real world. Because of the myths surrounding orogeny, it is viewed as negative and thus racialized to place those with this undesirable trait at the bottom of a hierarchy. 

Throughout Jemison’s novel, she creates fictional racialization that parallels chattel slavery, racism, and even internment camps in order to show how racialization happens anywhere, even fictional worlds. She uses myths of the orogenes to further establish racialization and show the ugly truth that as long as there are differences between imperfect humans, racialization is unavoidable. Orogenes essentially serve as a metaphor for minorities that have existed throughout the U.S’ history, and institutions put in place in this fictional world have very real-world implications. A corrupt empire and institutions that treats many of its people badly is something that has been done in the United States. Jemison’s entire novel demonstrates the process of racialization and shows how it truly is unavoidable. 

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