Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Bleeding Edge: Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses sequence (2001-2005).

I'm not sure what to do with these books: if I miss them out of the bibliography, or even the discussion, I'm going to get it in the neck because Malorie Blackman's series is one of the very few texts advertised as sf for younger readers by a Black woman.

The snag is that they aren't sf. They aren't even remotely science fiction. They barely even classify as allegory.

Noughts and Crosses (2001), Knife Edge (2004) and Checkmate (2005) are, when all is said and done, very straightforward, very well written stories of teens attempting to construct a life across an Apartheid divide. Noughts and Crosses is Romeo and Juliet, Knife Edge reminds me of Joan Lingard's 1970s Irish Protestant/Catholic sequence. Checkmate is a rather tense thriller.

I need to say the next bit, but before anyone's hackles go up, make sure you read the paragraph afterwards: in most ways it matters not one bit that the oppression of colour is reversed. Yes, there are nice asides about elastoplast only coming in brown, and Callie Rose (mixed race) having "lank hair" but almost all of the time these books simply replicate the situation in South Africa, although actually it's a country where the oppressed group is in the minority, and the immigration politics are those of the UK, which makes the role of the Nought Liberation Front a bit weird at times as they are acting like the ANC in a country where they represent the minority.

But there is one way in which the role reversal mattered enormously: it forced me to confront the casual "racism of assumptive vision" (someone give me a better term!) I found it enormously difficult to keep people's colour the right way round in my head. I have non-white step mom for heaven's sakes. My own siblings are the colour of cafe au lait. I work in one of the most multicultural universities in the UK. I live in an area where most of my neighbours are immigrants. And *still* unless I was careful I automatically "saw" the wealthy people in this book as white, and the poor as black.

If sf is fundamentally about cognitive estrangement, then despite everything else I said above, they are science fiction.


Blogger Legible Susan said...

I just came to your blog after writing down the address a while ago (via Strange Horizons), and noticed this post in the Recent Posts column; Noughts and Crosses is on my list of books I should read sometime.

Possibly useful terminology [tho I guess you know it and it doesn't say quite what you meant]: (i) Privilege - white privilege in this case; also male privilege, etc. Which is where we don't have to notice racism, men can choose not to notice sexism, etc., because it doesn't affect us/them unless we/they're paying attention. (ii) People who blog about white privilege refer to the "default white" assumption, which is where I tend to read characters as white unless I'm told otherwise, possibly in meta-text.

Assuming you read non-junior SF outside this project: have you read Polar City Blues by Katharine Kerr? (If so you'll know why this isn't a complete non-sequitur).

9:59 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home