Traveling to the Core

At the beginning of the course, we were instructed that everything we learn and do in class has a purpose. I never understood how this could be possible, but my learning development has allowed me to deepen my thinking and understanding of societal issues and racialization. Geraldine Heng defines race as follows; “…race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content”. This definition and understanding of race have deep roots in the Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, the course, and our society.

The lithosphere essay investigated the trilogy’s first book, The Fifth Season. The lithosphere is the outer part of the Earth (National Geographic) which can relate to the surface level. At this point, our understanding of the connection between Heng’s definition and the trilogy was surface-level. I understood the definition and the connection it had to the book, but I didn’t go any further with how it connected to a bigger picture. Within my lithosphere essay, I addressed how orogenes were racialized due to their possession of powers to cause seismic events. Orogenes possess the powers but are seen as unworthy and dangerous which causes them to be discriminated against. Stills, who are people without these powers are superior in their society. A character named Uche was an orogene; “these people killed Uche. Their hate, their fear, their unprovoked violence. They. (He.) Killed your son. (Jija killed your son.)” (The Fifth Season, 58). His death was a causational effect of predetermined notions about orogenes that were crafted through racialization. This process of racialization has correlations with the process that occurs in our world. However, in ours, it is based on the color of one’s skin. Specifically, black people are victims of this process and continuously are pressured by society to feel less than other groups of people. Structural racism allows society to be structured strategically, where there are groups of superior people and groups that are inferior. Within the earlier part of the semester, I viewed racialization as only involving the color of one’s skin. My previous educational experiences taught me racialization and how this has structured society to separate people based on race. However, throughout the semester, this understanding has broadened and deepened. Heng’s definition of race identifies that human differences are managed but not substantive content. Race is based upon viewing the lithosphere of a person and not their core. In our society, race is determined by the color of one’s skin, but not the characteristics that an individual possesses. We see people on the outside but fail to acknowledge the characteristics on the inside. Going deeper into the class, we traveled deeper into the core and found connections between the trilogy and the racialization that occurs in our world. 

As previously stated, race is a way for society to structure the differences among humans and determine who is seen as powerful and powerless. To understand this further, we discussed as a class what it means to have excellence and be hated for it. The second book in the trilogy, The Stone Sky, described a fictitious world called “Syl Anagist”, a highly advanced and urban nation known to be dominant. Sylanagistines, members of this nation, built a plutonic engine that was known to be highly developed and powerful. This threatened others and led to people becoming jealous which grew into hatred. These feelings of hatred and jealousy caused the failure of this nation. The people of this nation possessed the craft and skill to produce something so powerful, and this threatened people. Individuals in a society may feel threatened because of jealousy and fear that the inferior will become the superior. This idea is connected to the hatred of Jews. Throughout history, there has been a consistent hatred of Jews. Jews are known to be successful and intelligent, which as seen in Syl Anagist, threatens people. This jealousy fuels the hatred people have towards a specific group of people. Race allows society to pinpoint certain characteristics of a group of humans and use that against them, for one group to be seen as superior to the other. In the trilogy, orogenes and sylanagistines have power and intelligence but are seen as less than the others. They are seen this way because racialization has structured society to pick out groups who are superior and inferior. This concept allowed me to think deeply about racialization and what goes into this process. It is not just about the color of one’s skin, it is about any characteristic that can be seen as different. Society uses this to construct groups of people based on certain characteristics. Furthermore, this can be seen in our society with certain professions. Jobs such as doctors and lawyers are seen as elite and ultimately considered more important than other jobs such as janitors and plumbers. The treatment of these different groups of individuals is consistent with the eliteness of the occupation. In the trilogy, the fulcrum is a place for orogenes to be trained in their powers. Ykka, an orogene is known as “feral” because she is not fulcrum-trained. Essun, another orogene is fulcrum-trained, which means she is seen as higher ranked than non-fulcrum-trained orogenes. Essun says to Ykka, “‘[w]hat, now you want to adopt…’ You shake your head, incredulous. ‘Violent bandit ferals?’”(The Stone Sky, 71). The language used by Essun clearly shows how society feels about ferals. Fulcrum-trained are seen as superior compared to non-fulcrum-trained. Essun is stating that she doesn’t trust ferals to do the needed job because they were not trained in a valued institution. This shows a difference in the treatment of people based on their training and profession. If you possess a profession that is seen as elite in society, you are treated as superior. This day in society, everyone is expected to attend college and receive a well-respected occupation. There is a different level of treatment based on your salary and occupation. This concept of our society connects to racialization on a deeper level, and this process goes beyond the color of one’s skin. Racialization infiltrates every sector of society from skin color to occupation. This deeper level of thinking allowed me to open my eyes to the many factors that go into racialization and how society can orient itself to idolize one group over the other.

The collaborative essay with my peers discussed how small events can lead to a catastrophe. This was connected to earthquakes and how small seismic events such as fault movements can create something big and impact many. This allowed me to go deeper with my understanding of racialization and the parallels between the trilogy and our society. The primary concept of how many small events can lead to bigger ones led me to connect to the layers of the earth. As you go down deeper into the core, you are passing through many layers. This can represent the levels of thinking I endured throughout the semester. At first, I viewed Heng’s definition as just that, structuring society based on skin color. However, this transformed into thinking about the many sectors in society and how racialization can influence more than skin color. Furthermore, once you reach the core, there is a great amount of intense heat and pressure (Core). Beginning of the semester, I never realized the impact of these small occurrences and how they can add up to an enormous amount of pressure on a group of people. The class discussions of the trilogy and other societal connections allowed me to view the world critically. This brought me to the conclusion that as a society, we are feeling the pressures of the small injustices that lead to racialization. Understanding the injustices that have been crafted and executed by society due to uncontrollable characteristics. Furthermore, I have reached the core of my understanding because I have learned that thinking deeply and carefully has allowed me to change my way of thinking. Before I entered this semester, everything I learned was very prominent and evident. My previous educational experiences taught me to think about what is right in front of me. My thinking strategies were very cut and dry and my thinking was done in a manner to get the job done and make a conclusion. However, this has changed heavily. Now, I think about the implications of everything and think about the connection to a larger meaning. I have broadened my understanding of society and the process of racialization. I have learned that racialization doesn’t always occur with skin color, but it also occurs in educational institutions and job occupations. 

Over the semester, I have grown as a student and as an individual. I have developed the skill of looking at multiple perspectives when learning. This has allowed me to dig deeper into the meaning behind this class, the trilogy, and societal issues. This difference in my thinking matters because it has allowed me to develop as a person and an intellectual. I have learned that taking on multiple perspectives when I am viewing an issue in our society has allowed me to realize how many moving parts play, like tectonic plates. These moving parts can represent small yet significant instances of injustices and how they can construct a society to have superior and inferior groups of people. This adaptive way of thinking has enabled me to slow down when thinking and consider the moving pieces of the topic. Overall, I have developed many skills throughout the semester that have transformed my thinking and way of learning.

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.