Based on a report from “Repeating Islands”, on Dec. 12, 2011, I wrote a blog entitled “Black British Barbadian Born YA Author”. This referred to Malorie Blackman who has written a number of YA books in the UK, one of which is Naughts and Crosses. Although I was celebrating her as one of us Caribbean people, because we do ‘own those’ born in the Caribbean, but live elsewhere, at that time there was also another post somewhere else suggesting that she was born in the UK of Barbadian parents. However, we often claim those as well. And why not? Some of the children of Jamaican parents who were born elsewhere, just tried out for our Olympic team. So she was ours.
Now in July 2012, on researching Malorie Blackman again for this post, I see no mention of either type of Caribbean connection. She is simply identified as a Black British writer. Is she still one of us? If she was not born in Barbados, and not of Barbadian parents, can we claim her just because she is Black? Not really, because I know we might think that all Black people in Britain are of West Indian descent, but of course, this is not so.
My ordered copy of her book, Naughts and Crosses, finally came. (Remember the game we played at school, especially after exams in the lower school while we were waiting for marks – noughts and crosses.) This edition of the book is not called Naughts and Crosses but, Black and White, which I presume is its American name. The premise of the story is that the group in power are Black and they are called Crosses; the other group, White, and they are called Naughts, and they were once slaves. It’s an interesting twist, and no less distressing and frightening that if it were the other way around, the way it is in real life. Prejudice and the ramifications of it are awful no matter who is involved. The story is well written, the characters totally believable, the situations gripping, the friendship and romantic relationship fraught with danger (we know that from past experiences in books, films and real life), the tragedy, as it unfolds, sad. You feel sad for the characters and you feel sad for the world, because even though some YA stories have perhaps moved on to an exciting future world with different prejudices and different tragedies, this one, as depicted in Naughts and Crosses, we know has not yet really been solved.
I looked at Malorie Blackman’s blog and the comments from teenagers reading this book (and other books written by her) show that she has reached these children. I could see from one comment, that at least one child was Black and felt that this book helped to explain things not previously understood. I don’t think that I saw any comments (and it was not an exhaustive search) that could be identified as coming from White children, and what, if any effect, the story had on them. Does it matter? Well, it might be interesting since the story does deal with an aspect of major group-conflict in our western world, but no, it does not. However, I think this is the sort of story that should be read by everyone, because prejudice amongst other ethnic groups, which we may think homogeneous, and religious groups, exists, and already is the basis for tragic or violent acts.
So, can we claim Malorie Blackman? Can we claim her story? Of course, you know I’d like to do both. However, I think that just as we might read an American story which deals with African American teenagers, so should we find interesting a similar story out of the UK. Our young people need to understand what happens in the world when different ethnicities come in conflict. We so often talk about our children being our future. This book gives them something to think about, because in this case the future is already upon them; they will decide that there is no room for prejudice in a world facing so many other threats; or not. So whether we can claim Malorie Blackman or not, it’s an emotional story which makes us consider things to which we may not have otherwise given a thought. Most of all, it’s a great read.