Racialization and Power Dynamics  A Structural Analysis of The Fifth Season

The course epigraph is a framework for the thought-provoking and controversial concept of “race,” and is laid out as a strategic, political, and epistemological tool designed to demarcate and distribute power differentially among sects of humanity (Heng, 27). Geraldine Heng’s passage from The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages, serves as a theoretical framework to analyze the racial complexities of the book The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, providing the context for how racialization operates within the narrative, applied through realistic circumstances. Emphasizing how science, myth, and other power dynamics shape the narrative of The Fifth Season, this paper will prioritize the world of orogenes, and how their livelihoods are crafted by preexisting power dynamics.

Heng proposes in The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages, that “race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content” (Heng, 27). In The Fifth Season, racialization is presented beyond the notion of individual prejudices, or even inherent characteristics. Rather, racialization is a structural relationship designed to manage and disparate differences amongst humans. Orogenes, in particular—individuals in The Fifth Season with the power to manipulate the earth and its resources—become the targets of racialization throughout the narrative; their powers are selected through a process of essentialization from the Fulcrum—a place designed for orogenes to harness their power. Jemisin writes that, “the orogenes of the Fulcrum serve the world,” using the characters Damaya and Schaffa, arguing that “you will have no use name from here forth, because your usefulness lies in what you are, not merely some familial aptitude.” It is further exemplified that the Fulcrum is a place designed for the use of orogeny, where “from birth, an orogene child can stop a shake; even without training, you are orogene,” and that “within a comm or without one, you are orogene.” However, with training, “and with the guidance of other skilled orogenes at the Fulcrum, you can be useful not merely to a single comm, but all the Stillness” (Jemisin, 36). The orogeny is placed within a systemic hierarchy within their absolute and fundamental differences, reflecting the broader social tendency to construct hierarchies based on perceived differences. 

Likewise, myth plays an important role in how racialization is showcased throughout The Fifth Season. In a particular instance, Damaya is ridiculed under the notion that “orogenes don’t feel cold the way others do,” a myth that has plagued the existence of orogenies. As such, it is mentioned that “Damaya might have been faking it [the cold,” and that was what “she’d [Mother] said to Damaya that first day, after she got home from creche and while they were setting her up in the barn” (Jemisin, 33). The narrative of The Fifth Season draws on the power of myth to alter societal perception of orogenes, equally portraying them as saviors to society, along with threats, demarcating them to the periphery of society by imposing mythology upon them. This serves as a mechanism to justify the treatment of orogenes, and is used to perpetuate the inherent belief throughout the story that orogenic abilities are dangers and consequential. The manipulation of myths throughout The Fifth Season permanently alters the societal view of orogenies, establishing a racialized hierarchy that justifies the subjugation of orogenies.

The subjugation of orogenies becomes far more prevalent as science is incorporated into racist ideology, becoming wholly evident in the systematic control and exploitation of orogenies. Drawing back on the Fulcrum, a technologically advanced system of training and manipulation, is used to perpetuate racialized power dynamics. As such, the usage of orogenies in the conquest of suppression and societal stability demonstrates the usage of science to uphold racialized hierarchies—utilizing science as a tool for maintaining and reinforcing racialized structures, particularly at the Fulcrum.

The usage of eclipses throughout The Fifth Season exists as a layer of symbolism to the process of racialization. An eclipse is a naturally recurring event, defined as “an astronomical event that occurs when an astronomical object or spacecraft is temporarily obscured, by passing into the shadow of another body or by having another body pass between it and the viewer,” which is strategically employed during moments of heightened tension throughout the story (New York Times). Eclipses are linked to the suppression of orogenes, highlighting how celestial events are manipulated by those in power to reinforce the aforementioned societal hierarchy, subjugating orogenies to the periphery. Symbolically, eclipses emphasize the events that occur throughout the story, intentionally orchestrated to perpetuate the racialized structure.

In a real-word context, the structural context of racialization in The Fifth Season allows for reflection on how real-word events parallel the narrative. Jemisin emphasizes the notion of “Blackdar,” which is shared amongst orogenies. “Blackdar” is defined as “the ability to detect whether or not a person is of African ancestry by observing that person,” which is evident in The Fifth Season through the “sess” ability of an orogene—the ability to distinguish other orogenes (Wikipedia). Clearly, there are certain traits shared among oppressed groups that help understand the context of racialization throughout The Fifth Season, allowing the reader to better understand the world of The Broken Earth Trilogy. Jemisin writes:

“If the problem is that ferals are not predictable… well, orogenes have to prove themselves reliable. The Fulcrum has a reputation to maintain; that’s part of this. So’s the training, and the uniform, and the endless rules they must follow, but the breeding is part of it too, or why is she here? It’s somewhat flattering to think that despite her feral status, they actually want something of her infused into their breeding lines. Then she wonders why a part of her is trying to find value in degradation,” (Jemisin, 58).

Indeed, the symbolic language and intertwining of science, notions of race, and power dynamics are immensely prevalent as the story ensues, using these events to resonate with historical and contemporary issues surrounding racialization. Realistically, the world is heavily condemned by racist ideology, and Jemisin uses The Fifth Season to forward a sense of awareness to better understand the conditions of oppressed and marginalized groups by using orogenies as the periphery.

The Fifth Season, though a confusing narrative, employs intricacies in its world-building to better provide a lens in the examination of racialization and the pre-existing structures surrounding it. The interplay between myth, science, and other forms of power dynamics allows the recognition of the parallels between the fictional world of orogenies throughout the story, along with the complexities of real-world society and the racialization that is evident historically and contemporarily. Jemisin’s work throughout The Fifth Season allows the reader to question and challenge the systems that perpetuate treatment in regards to selective differences, and how society ultimately condemns the things they do not understand—rethinking and reshaping our understanding of race and power is essential to understand the narrative, and by employing the course epigraph, the complexities of The Fifth Season become quite distinguishable.

Works Cited

Heng, Geraldine. The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Print. 

Jemisin, N. K. The Fifth Season. Orbit, 2016.

The New York Times. “Science Watch: A Really Big Syzygy.” (March 31, 1981).

Wiktionary. “Blackdar – Wiktionary, the Free Dictionary,” n.d https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/blackdar.

Lithosphere Essay (The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, ENGL 111)

The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages by Geraldine Heng talks about race and how it was a social construct during times of historic Europe. She states, “Race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content,” (Heng 2018). Both Heng and N.K. Jemisin, the author of the book The Fifth Season uses racialization, a process of categorizing, marginalizing, or regarding according to race (Merriam-Webster dictionary n.d.) in their works to bring to light how race affects the way certain groups of people are treated. In N.K. Jemisin’s book she makes many parallels to race in our world regarding character and world-building. This parallel specifically surrounds a group called orogenes a group of people who have the power to control the kinetic energy to redirect or make seismic events. Orogenes are looked down upon by non-orogenes who see them as dangerous and must be controlled for their safety and well-being. Though N.K. Jemisin does not specifically hint at what race the orogenes are, the way orogenes are treated in her book is very similar to how many minorities in the United States are treated. On her blog, she mentions, “ Yet race in our world is a social construct, not anything related to actual biology, so it makes sense that a world which has such complicated feelings about orogenes would conceptually fission them off from the rest of humanity” (Jemisin 2015). What she says in her blog tells us that the orogenes are feared because of their power and the things they can do with it, and due to this non-orogenes fear them. Her words also tell us that orogenes are only feared due to their uniqueness from the rest and the way they behave is also different to non orogenes. Due to their fears and lack of understanding, negative stereotypes of the orogenes are created, so if one of them were to act “feral” it would feed into the negative stereotypes the non-orogenes created of them. This also relates to my thesis since many stereotypes that were created against minorities were only made due to our differences with one another whether that was by culture, physical looks, etc. Furthermore, stereotypes are also a type of social construct that justifies the social power one group has over another (Augoustinos, Walker 1998). All in all, Jemisin’s creation of stereotypes for her characters mirrors real minorities that are created from a group of people with more power who have a lack of understanding and fear against minority groups. 

However, it isn’t just stereotypes that Jemisin makes in her book to parallel our world, but also traits that oppressed groups have. By adding such traits to her book, specifically her characters it adds realism and meaning to them. The Fifth Season shows this with, 

“If the problem is that ferals are not predictable…well, orogenes have to prove themselves reliable. The Fulcrum has a reputation to maintain; that’s part of this. So’s the training, and the uniform, and the endless rules they must follow, but the breeding is part of it too, or why is she here? It’s somewhat flattering to think that despite her feral status, they actually want something of her infused into their breeding lines. Then she wonders why a part of her is trying to find value in degradation,” (Jemisin 58). 

This quote represents a parallel of racialization because Syenite, a female orogene knows that orogenes who don’t know how to control their power are considered feral and unpredictable which scares non-orogenes. In order to not be considered a feral, she goes to Fulcrum, a place where orogenes are taught to control their power to learn her limits, in order to protect herself. This quote also connects back to Heng’s words because the fulcrum is a structural institution that was made to manage the differences between orogenes and non oroegenes. However, creating such an institution, essentially makes her and many other orogenes degrade themselves for the sake of others in order not to be viewed in a negative light. A quote in The Fifth Season states, “But this is what it means to be civilized—doing what her betters say she should, for the ostensible good of all. […] That means her own apartment; no more roommates. Better missions, longer leave, more say in her own life. That’s worth it. Earthfire yes, it’s worth it,” (Jemisin 60). This quote shows Syenite degrading herself by doing things she does not want to do but does anyway to not get punished, to get stronger, and most importantly have more power and control over her life. This is similar to how minorities do code-switching, which is a way to change the way they talk, act, dress, etc for the comfort of others and to get job opportunities and fair treatment/service (McCluney et al. 2019).  Syenite’s words show code-switching because she degrades herself during a mission with Alabaster, a male orogene, where they have sex together every day to create an orogene offspring. Though she does not want to do this and feels disgusted with herself for doing such a task, she does it anyway to prove herself at the Fulcrum to get a higher rank among the orogenes and have a better quality of life. Another character that also shows this trait is Essun, and Jemisin states on her blog that she has that trait that oppressed people have due to her experiences where she can hide and protect herself like any other orogene/feral, but also act arrogant and eccentric if needed (Jemisin 2015). Jemisin uses stereotypes and code-switching as a form of racialization to add depth to her characters and make them relatable to our world. 

Furthermore, Jemisin uses racialization in other ways for her characters, such as creating their powers. Jemisin mentions on her blog that orogenes share traits of oppressed groups like “Blackdar” (Jemisin 2015). Blackdar is a way for African Americans to detect if someone has African ancestry just by looking at them (Blackdar definition n.d.). She shows that trait with orogenes by having them be able to tell who is an orogene by their “sess” which is when an orogene uses their powers to control or create seismic activity. Another example of this “Blackdar” racialization in her book would be with the character Ykka, a female orogene who has this magical ability to call orogenes to her. It also allows the character to know who is an orogene as well when she meets them because they respond to her call. Jemisin repeatedly uses racialization to create her characters, world, and powers for The Fifth Season which mirrors our world in terms of social power and people.

N.K. Jemisin also uses racialization for the setting of The Fifth Season, which mostly takes place in the Stillness, a supercontinent. Stillness can be compared to Pangea, which was a real supercontinent back during the late Paleozoic Era until the very late Triassic (USGS What was Pangea? n.d.). Just like Pangea is made up of the many continents we know today, so is the Stillness in Jemisin’s fictional world. N.K. Jemisin talks about the Stillness and the people who inhabit it who have racial phenotypes we have in our world, including eye shape, hair, skin color, etc (Jemisin 2015). The places on the supercontinent also resemble certain countries in our world like the island Meov, a place that has a lot of earthquakes and tsunamis. Meov’s natural disasters and geology are quite similar to Japan’s since it’s a string of islands (also known as an archipelago) with three tectonic plates rubbing against each other, causing a lot of earthquakes (Japan National Geographic Kids 2021). Jemisin mentions how certain parts of the Stillness would resemble certain races like the Artics would be White, the East Coast would be Black, the West Coast would be Asians, and so forth (Jemisin 2015). Overall, Jemisin’s idea of racializing the Stillness is a great way for readers to visualize the characters and make them more relatable to certain people in terms of real-world experiences. Not only that, but it makes it easier for readers to connect the dots of what kind of stereotypes she’s trying to make with her characters based on real people. 

In conclusion, Jemisin uses racialization to create her characters and setting in The Fifth Season allowing readers to make real-world connections to issues involving race and geography. As well as using Geraldine Heng’s research paper about race in historic Europe, Jemisin can show her readers that race is a social construct, which Jemisin mentions on her blog when writing her book series. For example, creating negative stereotypes that are associated with orogenes, causes them to have to code-switch to protect themselves and others for fair treatment. Another example would be how Jemisin uses geography and geology to create the events and setting for the book. Jemisin’s idea of using science and social construct to create The Fifth Season is something that allows readers to think and educate themselves while also enjoying what her book has to offer. 


Augoustinos, M., & Walker, I. (1998). The Construction of Stereotypes within Social Psychology. Theory & Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354398085003

Berlatsky, N. (2015, July 27). NK Jemisin: The fantasy writer upending the “racist and sexist status quo.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/27/nk-jemisin-interview-fantasy-science-fiction-writing-racism-sexism 

blackdar. (n.d.). Blackdar – Wiktionary, The free dictionary. Wiktionary. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/blackdar#:~:text=Noun,ancestry%20by%20observing%20that%20person. 

Heng, G. (2018). The invention of race in the European Middle Ages. Cambridge Core. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/invention-of-race-in-the-european-middle-ages/878223724345B49D515AA39DF3A0B617#fndtn-information 

Japan. (2021, September 2). Japan. Geography. https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/geography/countries/article/japan#:~:text=use%20is%20prohibited.-,Japan%20is%20an%20archipelago%2C%20or%20string%20of%20islands%2C%20on%20the,Korea%20and%20China%20farther%20south. 

Jemisin, N. K. (2015, August 13). Creating races. Epiphany 2.0. https://nkjemisin.com/2015/08/creating-races/ 

McCunley, C. L., Robotham, K., Lee, S., Smith, R., & Durkee, M. (2021, January 28). The costs of code-switching. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/11/the-costs-of-codeswitching 

racialization. (n.d.). Racialization definition & meaning. Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racialization#:~:text=%3A%20the%20act%20of%20giving%20a,act%20or%20instance%20of%20racializing 

What was Pangea? (n.d.). What was Pangea?. What was Pangea? | U.S. Geological Survey. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-was-pangea#:~:text=From%20about%20300%2D200%20million,a%20single%20continent%20called%20Pangea.

Lithosphere Essay- Emily Rechlin

In the trilogy “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin, the way individuals are categorized based on their race is an essential part of the story. This reflects on real world dynamics of power, oppression and identity. The first book explores how individuals are placed into certain groups and societal hierarchies based on traits they may have inherited such as orogeny, ethnicity and social status. The process of racialization in this book plays a large role in reinforcing the systems of power, oppression, and identity, as a central theme in this book follows the dehumanization of a certain group as well as exploitation and violence due to their racial orogeny. This book has allowed me to make a connection about how I view certain things in the ‘real world’ in comparison to how certain groups in the book are treated. 

A primary concept in this book follows the comparison of orogene individuals to “normal” individuals. In the world of the Stillness, orogene’s are individuals who carry certain traits that others do not, such as the ability to manipulate seismic energy. Due to the unique traits that they were born with, the orogene community are subjected to discrimination and stigmatizations that become marginalized within society due to the misunderstanding and fear that surround these powers. Moreover, they are given a discriminatory and vulgar word for orogene, which is rogga. “To be safe, the Fulcrum will treat any children born to any rogga as potential roggas themselves, until proven otherwise… But once they’ve proven it, after that, they’ll be… people” (page 111, online). These individuals are treated in the most disrespectful and prejudiced way due to an ability that they are not able to control. This is seen in society today, as an individual who is perceived as different (i.e. skin color, sexuality, ethnicity) are also treated this way. Additionally, the quote stated above explains the potential orogene child will not be treated as a person until they prove themselves to be “normal”, justifying societal decisions to create these marginalized groups, while maintaining their power and place in the hierarchy and ongoing the everlasting cycle. 

Furthermore, the process of racialization in this trilogy could be connected to both myth and science. The myth of the orogenes plays an essential role in this trilogy in that they are believed to be dangerous and uncontrollable, causing society to place them at the bottom of the hierarchy. They are placed in the fulcrum at a young age and are watched and exploited consistently. “The Fulcrum has a reputation to maintain; that’s part of this. So’s the training, and the uniform, and the endless rules they must follow, but the breeding is part of it, too, or why is she here?” (page 59, online). This myth justifies the oppression that they face by the upper class. Myth, however, can also play a role as a source of resistance and empowerment for marginalized communities, and this is shown through Essun, a character in the novel, who despite being discriminated against finds strength in the myths that have been passed down through her ancestors, which allows her to affirm her identify and find hope in a what seems to be hopeless world. The world that N.K. Jemisin makes it almost impossible for orogenes to fit in, and this goes along with Heng’s definition, “race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content”; ultimately meaning that race is not about the inherent qualities that an individual has, rather how the qualities or characteristics of that individual are perceived by society. Once again going along perfectly with the orogene community. Due to their unique characteristics that they were born with, they are treated and perceived differently and as a threat, therefore treated with disrespect. 

 Additionally, science plays a large role in racialization in this book. Science is used as a justification to distinguish orogenes from non-orogenes. This is done by the upper class society, as they make it a point for everyone else to be afraid of orogenes because they are dangerous and untrustworthy due to their differences that others do not have. As previously stated, this aligns perfectly with societal situations that play out daily, as certain groups who society has chosen to be marginalized against have differences that they were born with, causing them to be put at the bottom of the hierarchy of societal structures. Furthermore, science allows for the groups of power to justify oppression, as they can express that they are scared of what powers the orogene individuals may have that are still unknown to them. By going about the approach in a biased way, their opinions are not going to change even if the orogene community has not shown danger to them. 

The process of racialization is shown once again throughout the book when Syenite fears Alabaster due to his ranking being higher. It is hard for Syenite to defend herself when her ranking is lower even though she does not agree with Alabaster’s decision making. Again, proving that rankings in society are a pivotal factor in how you live your life as well as how you are ranked. Once again mirroring real life situations, as individuals who are minorities do not have the same amount of power or say that individuals who aren’t do. N.K. Jemisin took this idea from the real world and was able to perfectly portray it in the novel. Once again going along with Hugh’s definition, due to the fact that our society has predisposed racialization, it makes it extremely difficult from the start for those who are born as a minority or certain race to succeed, as they are already perceived as less than even though they have no ability to change the way they were born. Society separates people and determines how deserving they are of a successful life for no reason other than their race, gender or sexuality. The fifth season does an amazing job at mirroring this, although it is not about race, it shows the injustices that certain groups face only because of the way they were born. N.K. Jemison portrays orogenes as a perfect metaphor for this, and demonstrates the process of racialization throughout the book in a very unique and interesting way.  


Jemisin, N. K. (2016). The fifth season: The broken earth. Orbit. 

Societal Hierarchy of Race in Science Fiction and Our World

After concluding the first novel of N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy it’s truly not until the end of the book where I start to grasp the nature of this story and start to see it unfold. We can see just how divided each category of people are, especially as we are led throughout Essun’s whole life while not knowing that Damaya, Syenite, and Essun are all the same person. As I navigate this novel and the dynamics in it, I am drawn back to our course epigraph by Geraldine Heng and her hypothesis of race as something that is done to people to categorize them, rather than something that is internally human. It has nothing to do with our actual being and self. The process of racialization is a way of life in The Fifth Season, in one sense it provides structure to a world and society that is crumbling, but in a world with so many issues, structure and discrimination against race seem trivial. Which makes me reflect on the similarities of the science fiction world of The Fifth Season and the real-life everyday world that we experience.

The University of Winnipeg defines the process of racializing as “the processes by which a group of people is defined by their ‘race.’ Processes of racialization begin by attributing racial meaning to people’s identity and, in particular, as they relate to social structures and institutional systems, such as housing, employment, and education”. In The Fifth Season the main group of people who are discriminated against are orogenes, the appendix in the book defines orogenes as “one who possesses orogeny, whether trained or not” and orogeny being defined as “the ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events.” There are many instances in the novel where we can see the hierarchy of races presented to us, one in particular being when Binof leads Damaya into an off-limits corridor in the Fulcrum. Binof explains that she is not worried about getting in trouble because she gets in trouble all the time, but as a Leadership Yumenes the consequences are very minimal. Damaya’s response to this is the worry that she will get in trouble, “She isn’t a Leader, or a person; no one will save her.” (pg. 308) This moment stuck out to me as a perfect example of racialization, it shows how Binof is more privileged than Damaya as she is allowed to get in trouble without serious consequences while Damaya fears for her life every time she goes against any kind of law. In connection to a real-world scenario, the Black Lives Matter movement addresses these same kinds of racial inequality issues, specifically with discrimination against black people and police brutality instances. Black Lives Matter highlights how black people fear for their life when encountering law enforcement, while specifically white people are capable of getting in trouble with the law and getting out with a slap on their wrist. In both fictional and non-fictional scenarios, it’s clear to see the different behavior toward both races and the absurdity of it.

One line in Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages, taken from our course epigraph is, “’Race’ is one of the primary names we have – a name we retain for the strategic, epistemological, and political commitments it recognizes.” This quote reminded me of Essun’s versatility in her literal names and how those names were each a different version of herself. Damaya, the name she was given at birth by her mother, is her younger self, someone who went through hardships as only a child. When Damaya becomes Syenite she chooses this name for herself, and this is something that seems all orogenes in the fulcrum decide to do once they reach a certain level of orogeny or gain their first ring. Damaya tells Schaffa that she has chosen her name and that it will be Syenite. “It forms at the edge of a tectonic plate. With heat and pressure it does not degrade, but instead grows stronger” (pg. 331), Syenite chose this new name for herself and experienced parts of life as Syen, and no longer Damaya. As Syen, more was expected of her, she was essentially a new person, wiser and stronger. We have yet to learn the exact timing of when Syen changed her name to Essun, and why she chose Essun (perhaps this is something we will learn more about in the next book). Even in the different time periods of Essun’s life with her various names and each with a seemingly different personality we can relate this to Heng’s words of how race is just a primary name. It is something that is assigned to someone and created for a structural hierarchy and with that name comes expected attributes, or stereotypes. With each of Essun’s names we see how people treat her differently based on which version of herself she is in her life. While throughout the novel Essun is always an orogene, we see various people treat her differently based on that fact. This proves Heng’s hypothesis that race is only something assigned to people, and as Dr. McCoy put it in our class notes from February 22, “race” is not “anything that people have in them internally or on them externally”.

I think that based on the book so far and its use of racialization and very human like attributes to characters such as good and bad faith decisions, that there will be a major shift in the dynamics of racialization, but specifically regarding the Orogenes and Guardians. I predict that Orogenes will somehow come into more power than they have now, as they are currently used for training and treated unfairly, I expect there to be a revolt against the current conditions. However, when considering other parties such as Hoa and the stone eaters, I suspect that it won’t be as straightforward as two groups in a conflict. When we reach Hoa’s perspective at the end of The Fifth Season he says, “I am the one who found her first. I fought off the others and trailed her, watched her, guarded her.” (pg.443) This whole time Hoa has had a part to play in Essun’s journey, protecting her in a way we do not fully understand yet. Going forward, I suspect there will be alliances made and trust broken between those alliances. I look forward to learning more about the world that N.K. Jemisin has created and the surprises that she will shock us with. I also feel fortunate to have no prior knowledge of this trilogy, making the journey more exciting for me. I’ve always thought that stories with a map at the beginning are the most intriguing because it is evident the author took time in crafting the story and the characters in it, so much so that a definable map had to be curated to follow along.  

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.

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.

Google document including Works Cited

Seed Shape Essay

In Ron Eglash’s 2007 TED talk, he defined a seed shape as the starting point of a fractal, and to create a seed shape, “you start with a shape and iteratively integrate smaller versions of the shape back into the design.” A seed shape is a starting point that continually builds upon itself, making itself into a fractal. This simple design can branch into intricate and infinitely detailed patterns. This concept transfers over to our class reading of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, written by himself. We can look at these kinds of narratives as seed shapes on a fractal that represents injustice against African Americans throughout history, with the theme of both oppression and resilience in each of the many stories. These stories help represent the idea of a fractal, as these narratives serve as microcosms that reflect on the broader struggle of African Americans. Through his individual story, Douglas tells a tale of enslavement, adding to the complex web of oppression and resiliency that runs through African American history. 

This story falls into the genre of fugitive slave narrative. In one of our classes with Professor McCoy, we discussed how these stories often start with a sense of order and peace, then things progressively get worse and worse for our characters until they reach a point that we defined as rock bottom. Only once these characters have reached the bottom can they climb out of the hole they are in. This is the part of the story where Professor McCoy describes a shift in the narrative towards order being restored. The order is restored when freedom is reached, aka reaching the North. Both of these narratives build upon this theme of both oppression and resilience by adding seed shapes to this infinitely growing fractal that represents African American struggle.

We can say Douglas’s story helps build on this fractal of African American struggle through the mistreatment he experienced during his enslavement. In his story, he describes how one of his mistresses had been teaching him how to read and write. This mistress would soon be reprimanded by her husband, Master Hugh, stating that ‘it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read… ‘If you give a (slave) an inch, he wil l take an ell. A (slave) should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best (slave) in the world. Now,” said he, ‘if you teach that (slave) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.”  Douglas’s account of being forbidden to learn to read and write by his master serves as an example of the systematic suppression of education among enslaved African Americans, as this denial underscored the fear among slaveholders that knowledge would empower slaves to challenge their bondage. This seed of oppression continues to build upon itself as, after some years, Douglas would be sent to live on Mr. Covey’s farm. Douglas would describe that during his one year with Mr. Covey, “the first six months of that year, scarce a week passed without his whipping me. I was seldom free from a sore back….This woman was named Caroline. Mr. Covey bought her… He hired a married man, Mr. Samuel Harrison, to keep up with her every night! At the end of the year, the miserable woman gave birth to twins. The children were regarded as quite an addition to his wealth. We worked in all weathers. It was never too hot or too cold; it could never rain, blow, hail, or snow. It was too hard for us to work in the field. Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold, a man transformed into a brute!” This idea of “breaking a slave” was something Mr. Covey was known for, and Covey had succeeded in breaking the body and spirits of Douglas. From being worked to the absolute limit no matter the weather, being brutally whipped, and seeing women be raped on the daily just so Covey could make a profit, Douglas was, as he stated, “broken in body, soul, and spirit.” The atrocities inflicted upon African Americans under the oppressive system of slavery illuminate the connection between these various forms of oppression, whether it be physical brutality or sexual exploitation, this dehumanization is inherently rooted in the institution of slavery, which adds another layer to the fractal of struggle and resistance that defines the African American historical struggle.

Through all this pain and struggle, there was still a drive in Douglass to reclaim his humanity and defy the oppressive forces that sought to degrade and dehumanize him. Douglas’ would go on to describe how these next experiences would turn him from a slave into an. “All went well till Monday morning… I was called to go and rub, curry, and feed the horses. I obeyed and was glad to obey. Mr. Covey entered the stable with a long rope, and just as I was half out of the loft, he caught hold of my legs and was about to tie me. Mr. Covey seemed now to think he had me and could do what he pleased, but at this moment—from whence came the spirit I don’t know—I resolved to fight, and, suiting my action to the resolution, I seized Covey hard by the throat, and as I did so, I rose. I watched my chance and gave him a heavy kick close under the ribs. This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom and revived within me a sense of my own manhood.” Through all this pain and struggle, there was still a drive in Douglass to reclaim his humanity and defy the oppressive forces that sought to dehumanize him. This drive for freedom made sure Covey never messed with him again and eventually gave him the confidence to assert his autonomy. This pivotal moment not only deterred Covey from further mistreatment but also empowered Douglass with confidence. This would eventually pave the way for his eventual escape from slavery in the pursuit of a life of freedom.

Through this journey of Frederick Douglass going from a dehumanized slave to a resilient man reclaiming his humanity, we witness the resilience and determination in the African American struggle. Ron Eglash’s concept of the fractal provides a lens through which we can understand the connection between the various forms of oppression faced by African Americans throughout history. Douglass’s narrative serves as a seed shape within this fractal, representing these themes of oppression and resilience that define this struggle.

Lithosphere Essay

In the first book of the “Broken Earth” Trilogy, “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin, we are met with the manipulation of myth and science in both, good faith and bad faith ways that racialize orogenes. Orogenes are individuals that have the ability to feel the seismic activity, which gives them the power to control such things as earthquakes and volcanoes. Orogenes are feared by the rest of the population because of this power that they hold. In order for the non-orogene individuals to be able to feel safe from the orogenes, they are kept under close watch by Guardians. Guardians have a power that negates that of the orogenes, causing their seismic power to have little to no effect. Throughout this novel, we learn and understand that the orogenes are treated extremely unfairly because of their ability, and face oppression in emotional and physical ways. Our course epigraph explains how the term “race” is not used to describe how an individual appears or looks but rather a ranking in society based on essentializing a specific group of people, or race. These social rankings, are recognized as essential in the function of our society and is why there has always been a pronounced power dynamic, throughout history. Throughout “The Fifth Season” we are met with several examples of racialization, which can also be tied to real-world events and scenarios.

In “The Fifth Season” there is a caste system that has been established, keeping the orogenes at the very bottom. It is seen that orogenes are mistreated in several ways by other individuals of higher power. At the beginning of the book, Damaya is a young girl who is found to be an orogene by her parents. After finding out that Damaya was an orogene, she was forced to sleep in a barn outside of her family’s home. Even though Damaya had a family that loved her, orogenes are so frowned upon that the people closest and dearest to her pushed her away for the simple fact that she was an orogene. In chapter 2, Schaffa says to Damaya “Not all parents do the right thing … by the time a Guardian arrives a mob has carried the child off and beaten her to death. Don’t think unkindly of your parents, Dama. You’re alive and well, and that is no small thing” (The Fifth Season, Chapter 2). This excerpt exemplifies the fact that the orogenes were extremely oppressed, and families would even abandon or kill their children after hearing that they were orogene. Another quote that backs up this point is when Essun says to herself  “House empty, too quiet, tiny little boy all bloody and bruised on the den floor” (The Fifth Season, Chapter 1). Essun who is the oldest version of Damaya, is looking at one of her two children dead in her own home because her husband Jija found out that their son Uche was an orogene. Physically and emotionally, orogens experienced the absolute worst treatment by other individuals of different castes. They were beaten and tortured, and if not killed, they were given the worst possible living conditions. Later in the book, we learn that all orogens have different levels of strength when it comes to their power, a 10-ringer being the strongest. Stronger orogens have more important jobs but are still treated poorly, and do not get any special treatments for having these more important tasks. Later in the book, Damaya changes her name to Syanite, which is done to detach her from her past life as Damaya, and now as someone who works and does jobs for the Fulcrum. During one of her adventures, she comes across something called a node. The book states “It’s the sort of thing they give to orogenes who’ll never make it to the fourth ring—the ones who have lots of raw power and little control. At least they can save lives, even if they’re doomed to spend their own lives in relative isolation and obscurity” (The Fifth Season, Chapter 8). Although the purpose of using nodes was done mostly in good faith, to protect the Stillness and keep it safe from detrimental seismic activity, orogenes are kept in these nodes, stuck underground for the rest of their lives controlling seismic activity in the location that they are stationed in. These orogenes experience extremely inhumane treatment by the individuals who put them there, with no choice but to serve the Stillness as a tool instead of as an individual and a living working being. As we can see from these examples, orogenes were not treated with respect or fairness by anyone, not even by other orogenes. If there was no oppression from guardians or other caste members, it was by other orogenes who were constantly in competition with one another. This helps keep the hierarchy where it is by turning people against one another because it makes it hard to trust one another. This can be seen in the real world throughout history and still today in the present time.

As media becomes a larger and larger part of our daily lives, more and more information is at the end of our fingertips. People are becoming more and more polarized from one another, creating tension between individuals, or groups of people. This polarization and inequity creates beliefs that form systems and laws that allow some groups to be treated differently; better or worse than others. In our course epigraph this is explained when it is said “My understanding, thus, is that race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content” (Passage from page 27 of Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.) Race has been used as a factor in creating and maintaining a social hierarchy throughout history and even still today. As you can see in a majority of major cities, there are very distinct lines of segregation between different racial groups, with those who are part of a lower class in the system, living in the worst-kept parts of the cities. (A City Divided) This holds the individuals living in these areas to stay at their “spot” in the social hierarchy. Furthermore, it prevents these individuals from having the same opportunities that other individuals have in the nicer, safer, and more up-kept parts of the city because of where they live and the conditions they are almost forced to live in. This gives a perfect example of why we live in a hierarchical system, providing benefits in numerous ways to those who were chosen to be at the top of this system. While those individuals who are not as fortunate at the bottom of the system, are faced with more daily challenges than those who have reaped the benefits throughout history and their daily lives.

Throughout the first novel of the “Broken Earth Trilogy”, we are introduced to several examples of racialization. “The Fifth Season” gives us a unique perspective on how the social hierarchy is truly a long-enduring issue in the real world. Not only does it paint a picture in our head of what the extreme scenarios of racialization and a set-in-stone caste system could lead to, it also allows us as individuals to be more aware of the hierarchical social issues we are currently enduring, and the same issues that have been ongoing for several generations.

Work Cited

“The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin

Mini-Collaboration 1

A City Divided: https://ppgbuffalo.org/files/documents/data-demographics-history/a_city_divided__a_brief_history_of_segregation_in_the_city_of_buffalo.pdf

Lithosphere Essay ENGL 111

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin, is a science fiction novel that is the first book in The Broken Earth trilogy. This novel takes place in a futuristic world where different groups of people have power based on their physical traits and abilities, which is a common theme across the dystopian and science fiction genres. This is a genre that I have personally never read before, or explored the elements that accompany it. Throughout reading The Fifth Season, there have been many eye opening allusions to, and different perspectives related to the real world that readers can make personal or societal connections to. This novel conveys many real world topics such as structural inequality, racism, oppression, and the process of racialization. More specifically, according to the University of Pennsylvania, “structural inequality describes disparities in wealth, resources, and other outcomes that result from discriminatory practices of institutions such as legal, educational, business, government, and health care systems” (Mini Collaboration). This means that different groups and communities are treated unequally compared to others, due to countless power structures, levels of respect, and access to resources. N.K. Jeminsin, continuously highlights this concept throughout her science fiction trilogy and it has been interesting as a reader to pick up on and discover these connections to our society. 

Geraldine Heng, a social justice activist and author, who enjoys reading and commenting on literature related to social issues and oppression, has written many pieces defining racism and the process of racialization. From her piece, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages, Heng defines race and racialization as, “a repeating tendency, of the gravest import, to demarcate human beings through differences among humans that are selectively essentialized as absolute and fundamental, in order to distribute positions and powers differentially to human groups” (Course Epigraph). This means that race and the process of defining someone’s race is not something someone is born with, it is something that is socially constructed. Race is created by people in society and it is a process that is made by institutions to purposely give a certain group more power and privileges, while taking it away for others (Course Epigraph). Race is predetermined through history and is intentionally done to create a hierarchy within society where groups are treated differently. Throughout reading The Fifth Season, I was able to notice how N.K. Jemisin aligns her writing to this definition and topic.

One main way N.K. Jemisin conveys racialization and connects to Heng’s definition of the term through establishing inequality between groups and having a main group of people that are oppressed. The novel takes place in the Stillness where there are orogenes, people who have the power to control seismic events, and stills, who do not have any controlling powers. Orogenes are treated as less than stills due to their powerful ability of controlling seismic events. This group is feared and disrespected by the powerless people of the Stillness, making orogenes the minority group that is oppressed and discriminated against. For example, the main character Essun and her son Uche are orogenes and possess the seismic controlling powers (mini collaboration). Due to his powers, Uche is killed by his father, Jija, once he finds out this information. The book states, “these people killed Uche. Their hate, their fear, their unprovoked violence. They. (He.) Killed your son. (Jija killed your son.)” (The Fifth Season 58-59). Jija, who is a still, was terrified to find out that his own son is an orogene, and killed him instantly when he discovered this. This goes to show that there is deep rooted hatred and discrimination of orogenes and powerless people feel threatened by them, because Jija killed his very own son. Stills feel threatened by orogenes and result to violence towards them because they are considered dangerous. Thus, Uche’s death by Jija, his father, represents the fear and hatred that people have against orogenes (Mini Collaboration). N. K. Jemisin uses this as a parallel to racism within the real world through a fictional point of view for readers to uncover while reading the trilogy. 

Additionally, Jemisin racializes other groups within her trilogy as well. Even within the community of people with powers called orogenes, there is a systematic hierarchy. In the novel, many orogenes reside in the Fulcrum for a portion of their lives, which is a city that serves as a training ground for orogenes. They believe that it is important for every orogene to be able to control their powers and be able to use them correctly and safely when necessary. To break people up and create different groups there is a hierarchy of rings that categorize orogenes based on how well they can perform and control their powers. Orogene begin their training process as “grits” or have one-ring and eventually can reach the level of ten-rings. This sparked discrimination and hierarchy issues through one-ring orogenes being treated as inferior or less than, and ten-ring orogenes being considered as superior and the most powerful (Mini  Collaboration). To convey this, Jemisin writes, “For 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). Through this, she is highlighting how grits or one-ring orogenes are treated as less than and are unimportant. The grits have access to less resources, are treated with less respect, and are seen as the lowest group within the Fulcrum (Mini Collaboration). This also alludes to systematic inequality and racialization within our society, it is just highlighted in a fictional way for readers to pick apart on their own. 

In my opinion, after reading the novel The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin wanted to write this trilogy to parallel racism within our world and society with her own science fiction spin. She wanted to break down systemic inequality that is simple enough for readers to grasp and understand (Mini Collaboration). She highlights the concept from Heng’s definition of race being socially constructed through the creation of discrimination towards orogenes in the Stillness, and the hierarchy of orogenes within the Fulcrum. By doing so, she is allowing for readers to go into the story with no biases and see the discrimination orogenes go through. This sheds light on the greater issue or racism in our society today and could potentially make readers think differently about the world around them such as identifying their own privileges and unintentional biases.

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.