The Parallels of Racialization in The Fifth Season and Our Society

Race is a reason for society to designate a difference between groups of people. This is examined in Heng’s definition; “race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content.” Race is a way for society to separate people based on a singular characteristic. This divide in society creates a structural hierarchy of power, wealth, and respect. All of which are used to set a certain group of people “above” others. N.K. Jemisin exemplifies this concept in her book, The Fifth Season but this is not our society, it is fictional. However, the structural racism roots that exist in the fictional society are greatly inhabited in our own.

The society in The Fifth Season is structured in a way that is unfamiliar to our society. Orogenes, the ones with the power to create seismic events are seen as unworthy and a nuisance to their world. On the other hand, stills are people without powers and are seen as the ideal members of society. N.K. Jemisin created this fictitious world with the powerful ones as unworthy and the regular people as extraordinary. Uche is an orogene who was killed because of his powers which is a single characteristic that made him different than everyone else; “these people killed Uche. Their hate, their fear, their unprovoked violence. They. (He.) Killed your son. (Jija killed your son.)” (The Fifth Season, 58). This horrible event that occurred was not a coincidence, it was fueled by predetermined notions about an orogene. Uche was discriminated against due to something that was out of his control, it was a characteristic that was a part of him and what made Uche an orogene. This majestic power can create chaos in their world through seismic events. The unexpectedness of what an orogene could do threatens the non-orogenes. This extreme hatred contributes greatly to the violence that ended Uche’s life, all because he has a characteristic that differs from others. Many discriminatory events have created a society that fears and limits orogenes to feel worthless. This action of several events happening over and over to create an environment that favors stills and not orogenes can be related to seismic events. The continuous discrimination of the orogenes can be considered “small” seismic events that lead to a catastrophe. This society has parallels to our own, except our society’s discriminatory factor is the color of one’s skin. Our society has found itself with racism deep in our roots due to a characteristic of a group of people. Furthermore, the society we inhabit makes a certain group of people feel unworthy and less than others due to this ideology that if people don’t appear as the majority then they are not worth the same. Although this is a fictitious world, there are many discriminatory events and structural racism that align with our society.

The process of racialization in The Fifth Season continues into other regions of this fictitious world. There is even racialization and structural inequality within orogenes. The Fulcrum is a training ground for orogenes. This place allows orogenes to earn rings, which distinguishes them from other orogenes. Therefore, orogenes are racialized further, even within their kind. An orogene that has earned ten rings has demonstrated excellent performance and control of its powers. They are now seen as superior to other orogenes that don’t have as many rings. There is inequality that exists between ten-ring orogenes and one-ring orogenes. This inequality is demonstrated through the level of respect and treatment an orogene receives based on their ring count. The value of the individual is based upon the level of the orogene; “[f]or the other grits—and that’s what she is now, an unimportant bit of rock ready to be polished into usefulness, or at least to help grind other, better rocks—”(The Fifth Season, 191). Within this society, there is a vivid inequality structure that exists. Grits is a term used to describe worthless orogenes that are considered nothing more than who they are due to their lack of rings. Therefore, they are treated differently from other higher-ranked orogenes. Their treatment is predetermined by the structural racism that has been crafted by society. This world has made it difficult for orogenes to be accepted by society, but also within their kind. This relates to our society through job occupations. For example, a minority in our society is already discriminated against by predisposed racialization. However, this may go further within their group of people by the occupation they hold. Two men have different occupations, one is a businessman and the other is a plumber, so society will treat them differently. This is because if you are seen as unwealthy and holding an occupation that is not seen as prestige, then you are not seen as worthy. Our society has predetermined notions about what you look like and what you do but hesitates to pay attention to who the individual is. This goes back to Heng’s definition, that racialization is a way to manage differences and not by substantive content. Racialization is a way for society to separate people by differences and use that to determine their worthiness. However, our society fails to acknowledge people beyond their physical characteristics. Without skin color and occupations, we are all human. 

Racialization within The Fifth Season continuously lies within orogenes and their ring rank. This society places a connotation that if you are not highly ranked in the Fulcrum, you are not as worthy. This places low-ranked orogenes into a position of continuous submission to the higher-ranked orogenes. Syenite, an orogene discusses with Alabaster, a very highly-ranked orogene; “[i]f they ever fought, he could turn her torus inside out and flash-freeze her in a second. For that alone she should be nice to him;…”(The Fifth Season, 121). The process of racialization forces the minority to fear overcoming the racial hierarchy created by the majority. N.K. Jemisin exemplifies this in the book by having Syenite fear Alabaster due to his higher ranking. Therefore, even though Syenite doesn’t agree with Alabaster and his decision-making, there is no possible way she could defend herself. This is because Alabaster is stronger both in ranking and in society as well. This parallels our society by the minority fearing what could happen if they were to defend themselves against the majority. The minority is forced into making the decision that trying to defend themselves might cause more harm and chaos for them and in turn, not be successful in trying to make the society equal. N.K. Jemisin took in the aspects of racialization within our society and created many parallels throughout The Fifth Season. This was an action that was purposeful and intentional. The parallels between our world and the fictitious world are meant to be easily digestible by readers reading about racialization and then comparing it to our world. Overall, the process of racialization that occurred in The Fifth Season was not based on skin color but it was based upon a defining characteristic that made a group of people different from others. The many instances of the orogenes being discriminated against represent the minorities that are consistently discriminated against in our society. This book has brought attention to the continuous process of racialization that heavily impacts many lives. Overall, racialization is a process based on finding a structural hierarchy, not about the content of the individual.

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