by Evie Muir
This article was first featured in Bad Form: the Young Adult issue, which is now available for purchase in physical and digital formats from our website.
The Noughts and Crosses series should be on the National Curriculum. Considering the thousands of other books for Young People that teachers have to choose from, this may seem a bold statement. Yet this seemingly unpopular opinion (by many parents who have accused the author, Malorie Blackman of promoting racism and even pornography) is supported by Amnesty International, who recommend it in their ‘Using Fiction to Teach Human Rights’ directory.
The series should be integrated into the National Curriculum for many reasons beyond the fact that it’s impossible to put down. The storylines, which follow two families through generations of relationships, trauma, drama, and persecution are enthralling within their own right. Blackman writes beautifully. However, it is the complex, yet relatable racial narratives you find the book which for me, elevates it to necessary reading. In the books, there is a racial hierarchy that benefits those of darker complexion (Crosses) over those with paler complexion (Noughts). Noughts are oppressed under discriminatory social structures whilst battling for civil rights and equality, within a system that disproportionately distributes power, wealth and status to Crosses, who maintain political and social superiority.
I can vouch for the importance of these books on an individual level. Reading is key to development, but how are we meant to successfully engage young black and brown audiences when books which allow them to feel seen are not accessible? For young people who may not be avid readers, Malorie Blackman’s book may be the first time they have been exposed to black narratives, with black lead characters, by a black, female author. Comparatively, it may be the first time white children are forced to acknowledge and question their inherent racial privilege, and for this to become habitual at an early age can only be positive.
Often, being black or brown feels like you’re in a secret society for those who have happened upon what W.E.B Du Bois called the ‘second sight’: a vision and way of viewing the world through a lens of lived experiences grounded in discrimination, oppression, and persecution. Those without this second sight find understanding it, and their role within it difficult, which serves to only further disadvantage black and brown people as a result. At a recent panel discussion of which I was asked to be part of, a question was posed to the panel, by a white audience member, asking at what age children should be exposed to such concepts. This inspired a discussion whereby many fellow audience members commented on not being exposed to these topics until university – 18 years of age.
Being able to dictate when you or your children are ready to acknowledge what exists around you is one of the most overt ways a person can enforce their privilege, a perk not afforded to black and brown people whom are warned of the difficulties we may face growing up as “different”, raised to navigate this difference to the best of our abilities, and are reminded of our difference throughout childhood (most likely by the children whose parents are waiting until they are 18 to introduce them to these concepts). To us they are not “topics” to be debated; they are lived experiences which are exhausting to defend.
Books like the Noughts and Crosses series take the responsibility of educating those with privilege away from those who don’t. It challenges ingrained notions of whiteness and political apathy among people who so often discount and discredit our lived experiences. This series provides validation to those far too often invalidated. By flipping the script, by positioning white people as black, these books invoke white readers to step “into our shoes”, feel how we feel, think how we think, and see what we see. Without the examining, challenging, learning and unlearning of our own privilege, we will be unable to adequately dismantle engrained structures such as racism. So, I implore you, read Noughts and Crosses as adults, as parents, with your children or alone. Invoke discussion, debate and critical thinking and encourage self-reflection and social awareness beyond your own experiences.