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Noughts and crosses – a quintessential novel about race, justice and privilege

Jenin Al Shalabi, Hartland International School, Dubai

Racism is ingrained into the DNA and structure of our world.

We witness videos of injustice on our Twitter timelines, we read about it in news headlines, and we can
access it with the mere click of a button. It is this impactful use of the media, that has ignited one of the
most striking civil rights movements in history. Throughout this movement, there has been one nagging
argument that I have heard repeatedly.

“All Lives Matter”

Whenever I hear this phrase, I am immediately reminded of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses. I think that people who preach “All Lives Matter” have been in a position of privilege for so long, that they mistake anything that doesn’t include them as an act of oppression.

Noughts & Crosses ask a crucial question – what if the roles were reversed? What if Black people were superior to White people? If those who say “All Lives Matter” saw a character that looked like them being treated cruelly as George Floyd was treated, would the phrase “All Lives Matter” still make sense to them? Would they still stand by it so stubbornly?

The book is set in a dystopian society, filled with racial injustice and bigotry – much like our own. The one major difference is that Noughts (White people) are considered to be inferior to the Crosses (Black people). Noughts are second-class citizens, who continued to be beaten down by the racism that is built into their faulty justice systems.

The story shifts between the perspectives of our two main characters – Callum, a Nought, and Sephy, a Cross. Callum and Sephy resolutely fight for their friendship in a society that is adamant to tear it apart. The narrative of the novel is pushed forth when Sephy’s school – a private school – begins to admit Noughts as students. Large mobs await the new students at the gates of the school – making it clear that they do not welcome Noughts at this school.

This huge mob is reminiscent of the Little Rock Nine – A group of nine Black students who attended a formerly all-white High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The nine students were met with such tremendous amounts of violence – prompting President Eisenhower to send federal troops to ensure the students made it safely into school.

Blackman skillfully uses this desegregation of schools to highlight the racial tension in Sephy and Callum’s friendship. Throughout the book, Sephy and Callum’s friendship becomes even more complicated as their perspectives of the world change with time.

No matter your age, race, or gender – Noughts and Crosses is a must-read for anyone seeking to better understand today’s Black Lives Matter movement. Noughts and Crosses is not just a piece of fiction, set in a world far away from our own reality. It is a direct depiction of today’s society. It mirrors our society’s injustices. It makes us realize that we can do better. We must do better.

This does not have to be a society we subscribe to.

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