What colour?

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.

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2 responses to “What colour?

  1. I will never forget my first reading of ‘Noughts and Crosses’. I think you get about fifty pages in before it becomes apparent that Sephy is black and Callum white but there is no creeping awareness, it hits you straight between the eyes. I was stunned. Not because of what Blackman had done but because of what that one moment taught me about myself and my own attitudes. I hope it was a lesson well learnt.

  2. I know. I’m at my most prejudiced when reading Noughts & Crosses, and it’s not a comfortable feeling.
    And thinking about my post, maybe all Malorie’s school child characters are black. No reason they couldn’t be. It’s merely my OCD that makes me want to know, one way or another, and the statistical expectation that even in a ‘black’ area, there must be others. Not that we can’t have a completely black story.

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