Bad Faith in a Racialized World 

In light of Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages, the process and result of racialization emerges when we as a people culturally accept race as an important name to have. Heng notes its “repeating tendency” to shape what we hold selective importance for—in such a case it is human difference. As a system we are involved in whether innocently or not, we look at what this does for us as we consider others as well as ourselves. When we “essentialize” based on a quality, we choose to ignore the rest of what makes someone a person as we attribute said quality to their “absolute and fundamental” being. It becomes clear to us then how power is held through “practice and pressure” by those who present with a quality or imply a lacking of a quality. The concept of applying meaning generated from one’s position in a culture suggests that race is constructed, it falls upon people to sort them without ever having a meaning alone. And yet, we stay in the face of its consequences for how we’ve accentuated its meaning within relationships and institutions. Racialization as an experience done to others is brought to our attention throughout N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season

Notions of good or bad faith return to us in our discussion of Jemisin’s novel as the author incorporates the idea of racialization to convey how layers of structural and interpersonal experiences overlap. In the class notes from February 21st, Professor McCoy highlights Heng’s reference of race shows up with the “substantive content” that is the cultural script assumed in racialized societies. A society that we could draw upon is that of the novel, the Stillness, which orders its people into a handful of comms and use-castes among the Sanze—the nation that was founded before the events of the preface and forward. Of these use-castes or socialized groups, we are asked to closely analyze and read the encounters of orogeny and non-orogeny. 

As ultimately a metaphor for the world we find ourselves a part of, Jemisin asks readers to consider how the humanity of some is denied and even lost at the hands of systems that compose many of our current societies—how we are constantly implied in those systems regardless of our individual actions to reject it. Constantly on the edge of rift, the Stillness reminds us of the arbitrary systems that distribute power and privilege to some and keep it out of reach for others causing tension and a burden for those. Counter-intuitively, orogenes who are the only people that possess the ability to manage and control the energy of seismic events experience a loss of attributed power. The orogenes’ power becomes the presented quality in their racialization from the stills of the land; it then effects a “strategic essentialism” to this quality to induce the oppression we know the orogenes are subject to. 

The myth that lingers across their continent is frequently manipulated and managed out of well-intentioned acts and bad-faith. In more specific terms, the Stonelore that the children are conditioned to learn “in creche” brings about the belief that orogenes are to be feared and controlled if it were to be proven as truth (Jemisin 15). As I stated in Mini Collaboration One, even the possibility of what orogenes could do with their ability generates unfounded assumptions amongst the non-orogenes who then “rationalize to commit bad-faith practices,” including isolation and cruelty toward the orogenes. It is further addressed how these instances of intentional deception affect the orogenic youth. A complex system that contributes to this falsity is the Fulcrum as it facilitates orogeny legally to demonstrate that it is a trait that should only be managed and repressed. Mostly it is an institution that is rather “condemned by society,” but meant to operate the utility of orogeny for the rest of the Stillness (Dion). We see this motive to control the orogenes when Damaya is sent to the Fulcrum to become an Imperial Orogene as it is suggested in a transaction-like giving over of her, “[t]here she will be trained to use her curse. Her sacrifice, too, will make the world better” (Jemisin 24). The thought that the force that she will be subjected to during her time at the Fulcrum being portrayed as a sacrifice is misleading since it conveys a meaning that orogeny removes one’s humanity, so for the sake of others denying its quality is in good-faith. In this sense, we must look onto the text with a skeptic glare of how good-faith actions can fall into bad-faith ones as the myth and tradition claim it is necessary in order to stay in good-faith and to survive to then perpetuate the bad-faith purpose of these cultural scripts. 

The concept of possession of people and controlling them based on ideas of fear and antagonism flows with the myths people maintain to make sense of eclipses, resistant to accept scientifically accurate study for an accustomed cultural belief. I would suppose the faulty cycle of Sanze is most relevant to this incessant belief since the depths of its history are founded in its manipulation of power to dominate the Stillness using potent methods. The standard of the Sanzed being as well as the placement within the hierarchy is alluded to as it is recorded as a standalone comment, “Tell them they belong among us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default” (Jemisin 55). The line traces to the peritext dedicated to “those who have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question” (Jemisin 4). The emphasis of its reference makes us reconsider the people of our world that are immensely mistreated, yet fed this narrative that they should nevertheless try to abide by the system that promptly hurts and kills them senselessly. I could parallel this cruelty and falsehood with industries and complexes that build themselves on labor of disproportionately Black bodies. “Then they’ll break themselves trying for what they’ll never achieve,” feels as though a collision to everything that this same society has told the orogenes that they can hold the opportunities and free life the stills have just by breathing. The fate of how the people on the Stillness are racialized belongs in the hands of those with power; those in power form the representation of what is true or not leaving those not having power immobilized to free themselves or resist. Noticing this should make us critically attentive to how representation in society throughout history, oral teachings generationally, and literature even including The Broken Earth trilogy has a lasting influence on our involvement in these systems that reflect much of our own world—and its erasure of art as well as effacement of traditions and lessons that come from non-dominant cultures. 

Opening up this concept of working within the system involuntarily seeing as there isn’t much of a way out of it or to radicalize it, I wonder about the rest of the trilogy and our course. I have a hope for the novels to come as their very existence challenges a remark from Alabaster, “You can’t make anything better…The world is what it is. Unless you destroy it and start all over again, there’s no changing it” (Jemisin 270). As “strategic essentialisms” in a racialized society such as that of The Fifth Season work in bad-faith, those who are given power based on their lack of a quality actively disallow the agency of those with it. The context of a novel that is worth analyzing since we can relate its context to each of ours. For what is to come, it’ll of course continue to be significant to overlay texts and sources for how we interpret the meanings of racialization, myth, and scientific findings. Though I believe it’ll be even more important to recognize the position I take in the course as a reader, how we look upon what we read and conceptualize those experiences through the lens of our world.

Works Cited

“Eclipse Misconceptions.” NASA, NASA, Accessed 23 Feb. 2024. 

Jemisin, N. K. The Fifth Season. Orbit, 2016.Heng, Geraldine. The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Print.

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