See Yourself: Malorie Blackman and diversity in children’s books

I’ve already mentioned my love of Malorie Blackman and her work. I grew up on books like Hacker and Thief, and it’s no exaggeration to say that her Noughts and Crosses series literally changed my life – it’s influenced my studies, my writing, and my activism. I’ve seen her at several talks, and always been impressed by her wit, her friendliness and her dedication to making writing and storytelling fun, inclusive, and true.

About a week ago, Sky News ran an article on Malorie Blackman speaking about diversity in children’s books, calling for a greater number of characters of colour. She made the point that “there is a very significant message that goes out when you cannot see yourself at all in the books you are reading.”

A reasonable point, you might think. Uncomfortable, perhaps, for a white reader, who might never have considered this before. But if you’re in a position of privilege, feeling uncomfortable about things you’ve taken for granted is the first step towards thinking critically about inequality and your own role (however unintentional) in perpetuating it.

However, thanks to an inaccurate quote in the banner, and massive amounts of racism and ignorance from certain readers of the article, Malorie Blackman, instead of critical and reasoned responses, received an avalanche of abuse.

Apparently, some people interpreted ‘more characters of colour’ as ‘no more white characters ever’. And, I mean, I guess that might cause some anger. After all, if we had no more white characters ever, then white readers would have no-one in their books who looked like them. Apart from Harry, Ron and Hermione, that is. And Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. And Lyra and Will, Artemis Fowl, Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Peter, Wendy, John, Michael, Pod, Homily, Arrietty, Mary Poppins and the Banks family, Tris, Tobias, Hazel, Augustus, Matilda, Charlie, James, Danny, Violet, Klaus, Sunny, Gale, Peeta and (according to the movie, anyway) Katniss. And a few thousand more. But, you know, that’s all.

(Incidentally, I love all of these books and characters. I’m not saying that any of them shouldn’t exist – I’m very glad they do. But they’re not the only characters whose stories deserve to be told).

Let’s be real here. Even if there was a worldwide embargo on publishing new stories about white characters for the next year, or even the next ten years, white readers would not be hard-pressed to find heroes and heroines that looked like us. And that’s not even remotely what Malorie Blackman was calling for. More characters of colour – or disabled characters, LGB characters, trans characters – doesn’t mean fewer characters from any other group. It just means more opportunity to read stories from walks of life that you haven’t taken, or can’t take, yourself.

Malorie Blackman is calling for more stories to be told, not fewer. It’s a call I’m happy to lend my voice to.

 

Alice’s stories are available at Amazon and Smashwords. She also writes a webcomic, Footloose. Further ramblings can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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About Alice Nuttall

Alice Nuttall is a caffeine-guzzling knitter who divides her time between Oxford and the various worlds in her head. She is the author of a YA fantasy novel, Spider Circus, and three webcomics, Footloose, Cherry, and Black Market Magic, as well as several short stories.
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