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a book, film + chit chatty blog

Saturday, 24 June 2017

libraries, diversity + Malorie Blackman



I got into reading when I was 8 and discovered my school library. Free books? Everyday? Yes please. At the time, I was reading a lot Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Morpurgo, Judy Blume, Enid Blyton + Mary Kate and Ashley. Our school librarian would give us "recommendations", and always tried to point me in the direction of non fiction about "African drums" (obvs noone was reading her token diversity picks). Like babes, I just need to know who Mary Kate picks to prom do you have the next instalment of So Little Time or not?

Anyway, all these books were my gateway to literature and in many ways, I was spoilt for choice. Between them, I found diversity in themes, genre and style. Judy Blume taught me puberty and being a girl, Enid Blyton gave me my detective fix (those Famous Five, such thrill chasers) and I'm pretty sure up until 14, everything I knew about the Second World War was based on like 2 Michael Morpurgo books - probably not great but we all start somewhere.

After a year a so, I did start searching for characters I could identify with. I'll give you a little bit of context, I'd just moved from Ghana, straight in a very white world. I was one of 5 people of colour in my entire primary school and I just wasn't fitting in. I wasn't making friends, I had people feeling up my hair all the time, asking me how I spoke such good English, if I used to live in a mud hut and I just got increasingly pissed off tbh. That's the thing about experiencing racism + ignorant comments, the first time you encounter it you don't really know what it is. It just doesn't feel nice and it's so hard to communicate as to why, even to yourself. So books became my safe space. And now, I wanted to read books with characters that looked like me. Characters I could identify with from a racial/cultural perspective. Simples 😊. Not that deep 😘. Not a big ask 😎.

Things are improving now but finding  POC in YA was a real struggle. Or maybe they were there but our school didn't see the need to stock them because obviously, books with POC are only for POC and white characters are the norm - they're for everyone.

When looking, I found Bali Rai; whose stories are set in this multi-cultural Britain that I hadn't seen before. It wasn't around me, it wasn't in books or on TV. Rani and Sukh was a revelation - where. were. these. people. And then one day, I was scouting the shelves and found a book with a black boy on the cover, and the book had nothing to do with race. It was A.N.T.I.D.O.T.E by Malorie Blackman: a detective story, with a main character who just so happened to be black. Mind = blown. And it was a great read?! #Spoilt

In case you haven't read anything by Malorie Blackman, her books are YA but don't baby their audience; he's covered ghost stories, thrillers, race, identity, family dramas, teen pregnancies, health - no subject is off the table.

I remember reading Noughts and Crosses for the first time and being completely hooked. It's set in an alternate society where Sephy, a member of the ruling dark-skinned ruling class falls in love with Callum, "colourless" from the underclass and the two  navigate this world of distrust and prejudice. It's such a thought-provoking, emotionally charged, complex, thrilling, sad look into racism and I've never read anything like it since. Malorie Blackman just opened up my world. I grew up with some of the characters in these books and I felt seen.

It is so powerful, so important, so empowering, to see yourself in literature. For a long time, when POC appear in fiction, they're either dropped in  passing or given fairly linear side plots loaded with stereotypes. It's really hard to dream, aspire or have self esteem when the culture around you just fails to acknowledge your existence. I've  seen a shift in the YA being published; it's a lot more diverse than when I was at school but it's still nowhere near where it should be. The stats I found ^ are actually US figures from 2015, I couldn't even find UK stats but I know it's a lot harder to find BAME authors from the UK than US.  We're still at a stage where we have to be actively looking, to find them, especially in UKYA. So I'm going to leave a few links I use, to help you find some! And  guys, do yourself a service and read Noughts and Crosses πŸ’—πŸ’ž




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