'The Ethics of Quantum Colonialism': Navigating American Racial Anxiety in N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became

Carolann North

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N.K. Jemisin, McArthur fellow and four- time Hugo Award winner, is an expert in crafting alternate realities. Through personification of landscape, her work exposes racial division in America using the site of the metaphorical body as a contested space. In The City We Became, Jemisin explores contemporary racial and ethnic disparity in the United States, suggesting that its true signifier transcends physicality, and finds meaning instead in the unique diversification of it’s cultural, historical and contemporary existence.
Jemisin’s novel is published during a time of significant racial tension within America; an issue which she astutely negotiates through the sci-fi genre, exploring the magnitudes of white racial anxieties within a divided nation. Indeed, The City We Became exposes how the sci-fi genre itself has suffered from these same anxieties, and therefore becomes an apt site for interrogation. Jemisin has first-hand experience of these issues; her accolated success has been dismissed by her fellow authors as ‘diversity pandering’. Despite this, Jemisin continues to create and explore alternate realities which have at their forefront a refreshing diversity closely resembling our own world and, through using landscape as a site of metaphysical contestation, provokes essential discourse about contemporary racial division in America.
This article will explore how, by reshaping the American landscape through science-fiction to include the racial and ethnic diversity of its population, Jemisin both highlights the absence of such diversity in the history of the genre, and provokes contemporary discussion about systematic racism within the contested body of the United States.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberIssue 10
JournalIJAS Online
Issue number10 2020-21
Early online date19 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished online - 19 Oct 2021


  • Race and Identity
  • American Studies
  • speculative fiction
  • Science Fiction
  • Gender Studies
  • Queer Theory


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