When millions of people across the globe must put their lives at risk by taking to the streets in protest during a global pandemic, you know something is severely wrong. The recent murder of Mr George Floyd by a US police officer has sparked an eruption of some of the most widespread and powerful protests the world has seen in recent years as the message is cried louder and louder; black lives matter. The fact that there must be protests to show that a human life matters in 2020, over 50 years on from America’s Civil Rights Movement, is simply abominable. As the cries of ‘black lives matter’ grow louder, so do the cries for a decolonisation of British school’s curriculums… and rightly so. In the UK, black men are 9 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white men and black women twice as likely to die in childbirth than white women. The list goes on. Whilst it can be easy for us to point the finger at America’s undeniable immense racial issue, a simple glance at the facts is enough to topple us from our artificial self righteous-throne. The UK is not innocent by any means.
But how can we start to tackle the problem that lies within? We have been recommended the ‘big nonfiction ones’ such as Renni Edo Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race or bell hooks’ ain’t i a woman. However, no matter how wonderful and important these texts are, non-fiction books on any topic can often be intimidating (even to people who have put themselves through the ordeal of an A-Level in English Literature, trust me.)
“(Queen) Malorie Blackman achieves a masterpiece which is nothing short of ground breaking”Izzy Copestake
If you start anywhere let it be with Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses. I mean, it’s Stormzy’s favourite novel for goodness sake. By reversing the typical racial stereotypes placed on black people and presenting the white population as the oppressed race, (Queen) Malorie Blackman achieves a masterpiece that is nothing short of ground breaking. It is an absorbing and thought-provoking tale of love, told through the frowned-upon relationship between Callum, a white ‘nought’ and second class citizen, and Stephy, a black ‘Cross’ and member of the perceived superior race.
Although growing up I was always taught that racism is wrong, nothing had allowed me to recognise my white privilege quite like this book. I read this for the first time when I was fourteen and it genuinely allowed me to see the world through a different lens. Suddenly, seemingly tiny things I took for granted, such light pink plasters in Boots catered to blend into my skin tone, became glaringly obvious as a sign of a world catered to suit people who look like me. Blackman had taken the phrase ‘how would you like it’ and made it a reality in her world of Noughts and Crosses in which the ‘Aprican Empire’ colonises ‘Albion’.
Whilst Blackman discusses the most chauvinistic forms of prejudice such racially motivated police brutality and politics, she also tackles racism in its more implicit form. As a white person, this incredible author had the impact of opening my eyes to the subtle forms racism can take which I had never seen before. From unofficial rules placing arbitrary restrictions on black hair in one school I attended, to the hugely restricted shades of foundation available to women of colour at the makeup counters I knew and loved. She was the first women who truly made me see that racism is not an issue of our ancestors solved with the abolition of the slave trade, but an issue that lives and breathes in today’s society under a falce facade of ‘equality’.
This book was more than just a good story to me, it had latched itself onto my brain and fundementaly changed the way I thought.Izzy Copestake
Malorie Blackman allowed me to question the systemic racism which manifests itself in many forms. I have never walked into a room in my own country and been the only person who ethnically looks like me. I have never stepped into a lift or train and seen hands tighten around handbags in fear of robbery, never experienced a racial slur, never been stopped and searched, never been followed around a shop by a security guard. Suddenly, shopping for flesh coloured ‘summer school tights’ was no longer an exciting sign that lunchtimes spent sunbathing on the school field were fast approaching, but a reminder that not a single pair of the pale beige tights lined up in front of my eyes would suit a black woman. This book was more than just a good story to me, it had latched itself onto my brain and fundementaly changed the way I thought.
Above all, this book is brilliantly written and if it was up to me I would have it put on every GCSE English curriculum up and down the country. However, if reading really isn’t your thing but you still want to do your bit, the BBC has released it as an incredibly moving series starring Blackman’s number one fan, Stormzy himself. https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p082wbb5/noughts-crosses-series-1-episode-1
It’s not the first time that Stormzy has been known to show his love for the author. From naming Noughts and Crosses his ‘favourite book of all time‘, to paying tribute to Malorie Blackman by using quotations from her novel in that iconic Glastonbury headline set and namechecking the author in his song, Superheroes: ‘I’m Malorie Blackman in the way I sell books’. The Artist has now even announced that Blackman’s autobiography will be released by his new publishing venture; Merky Books. If Stormzy can’t convince you that this is a book worth reading, then I really have lost all hope.