Racism — An Issue for Everyone
I am a 33 year old white male, who is also heterosexual. I am privileged.
I teach Literacy at a secondary school in Kent, and at the beginning of the school year, our new Year 7s read a book I had not heard of: Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman. Part of my job role is to assist teachers in English classrooms. So I thought I would borrow a copy of the book and read it; so that I knew what I was talking about when it came to helping the students understand what they were reading.
Most Important Book I Ever Read
What I discovered was the single most important book I have ever read. A book about racism set in an alternate reality. The premise drew me in immediately, as someone who cares about equality. As I began reading about this world where black people and white people are completely switched, I was shocked by a lot of the issues brought up.
I researched Malorie Blackman and was very surprised that I had not heard of her sooner. I learned that she had written more than 50 children’s and young-adult books. She was writing in the same field as myself and doing very, very well. She has an OBE and held the position of Children’s Laureate from 2013 to 2015. I read everything that I could find about her.
Malorie Blackman — Superwoman
She began writing Noughts and Crosses because of the death of Stephen Lawrence and the lack of justice for him. The more I read about her, the more I admired her and I promised myself that I would read more of her books. I am currently reading Pig-Heart Boy, which is also a very important book. Blackman explores social issues in a way which I endeavour to do myself.
Back to the book, it is essentially a tragic love story between Sephy — a black girl from a wealthy family; and Callum — a white boy from a poor home. Indeed, Callum’s mother used to be Sephy’s maid. Sephy’s father is a politician, high up in government and Callum’s family get caught up in a terrorist group whose goal is ultimately equality but through any means necessary.
Themes from ‘Noughts and Crosses’
There are a few moments in the book that will stick with me. But, there are two big ones which I want to discuss a little here.
1. A white girl in the book attends a black school, as one of six white students in a ground-breaking, history-making change in law within the book’s world. She is injured during a protest outside of the school on her first day and requires a plaster on her head. No big deal, right. Except that plasters are skin-coloured — for people of colour. So this student has no choice but to wear a plaster on her forehead which really stands out from her white skin. This was not something I had thought about before. As a white man, I’ve never had to. I had also never seen a plaster as a child, or even as an adult, that wasn’t peachy in colour or blue. It’s shocking to me that plasters are not made to suit everyone. After all, plasters are made to be discreet, right? Just not if you are a person of colour.
2. Towards the end of the book, Callum says that he wishes things were the other way round and white people were in charge of the world. This made me grimace, literally. It was maybe the most important line in the entire book. After all, he was wishing for the world which we live in; a world full of racial injustices — a world where coloured people suffer every single day on different levels, especially in the ‘enlightened’ West. It also shows that inequality would probably remain if things were switched, as in the book.
Opened My Eyes
Reading Noughts and Crosses and then the other books in the series has opened my eyes in a way which few other things outside of my university studies have achieved.
It will stick with me for the rest of my life.
That’s how powerful it is. I read about racial issues a lot more and strive to raise awareness as much as possible to those around me. It is a book which every school kid should be exposed to. The discussions it led to are as invaluable as the text itself.
I find myself watching out for people of colour in movies and TV, looking at how they are portrayed, how much screen time they get, and looking at their dialogue — both what is said and how important it is to them. I seek out writing by people of colour and write my characters as people of colour as often as possible. Inclusion is so important.
Racial equality has become as important to me as gender equality. I recently saw The Secret Life of Pets 2 at the cinema and was so disappointed that every single animated human was white — except a teacher at the end — who did not speak.
I also recently saw Noughts and Crosses on stage in London, and it was fantastic. The audience was pretty evenly split between white people and people of colour, which was wonderful to see. On the very same day, I went to see a comedian named Jimmy Carr, who is white and rather middle class. The turnout was probably 90-something percent white. The difference was staggering. I guess because his audience and his type of jokes encourage a white audience?
I cannot recommend Noughts and Crosses or Malorie Blackman highly enough. I went to see her speak recently, but unfortunately she had to cancel last minute. I really hope that I get another opportunity to do so.