I could never quite bring myself to ask Malorie Blackman what colour some of her characters are.
In Noughts & Crosses it was pretty obvious, because the plot required the reader to know whether someone belonged to the ruling blacks, or was an ‘inferior’ white person. What made your brain confused was to think of skin colour the other way round. Which, of course, is why Malorie wrote it like that.
In some of her younger books, about groups of children at school, maybe solving a puzzle of sorts; where they all black? And if I can’t tell – although why should I? – does it matter? There would tend to be one or more black children on the cover, which is important for black readers; to find themselves in literature.
This has been on my mind for years, and it wasn’t until the event with Tanya Landman and Reginald D Hunter the other week, that I suddenly realised that we’ve never asked whether Malorie is ‘allowed’ to write about white people. But of course she is.
And if the reader can’t actually tell, then someone must be getting things very right.
Besides, I feel really stupid writing this. What do I know? Why should we have discussions about whether or not someone has permission to write about what they are not. As Reginald said, stories have to be told.