Books Pop Culture

“Noughts and Crosses” is the tragic love story you need to read in the time of BLM

Whenever I see an “All Lives Matter” comment I immediately think of Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman.

I think of it because I understand that the majority of the people who say this have never been targeted for the color of their skin. They’ve sat in a position of privilege for so long they believe anything that doesn’t include them is oppression.

To that comment, I say: go read Noughts & Crosses. I hope that if they see in fiction their skin being treated as unjustly as George Floyd was treated they’ll realize that “all lives matter” simply can’t make sense.

If they saw a character who looked like them be treated the way this society treats black people, they would understand the Black Lives Matter cause better.

Noughts and Crosses is set against the backdrop of an unequal society, like the one we live in now. The big difference is that black people ‘Crosses’ are in power and white people, ‘Noughts’, are treated as second class citizens.

Noughts and Crosses is provocative in the way it highlights racial tensions, by pushing the narrative with the tragic coupling of Persephone the daughter of a powerful Cross family, and Callum, a Nought whose mother worked for Persephone’s family as a maid before being fired. Persephone grew up with immense privileged while Callum grew up in poverty. The difference in their lives is solely due to their skin.

The book uses significant historical events such as the desegregation of schools to highlight the complexities of their relationship. Persephone and Callum have always hidden at Persephone’s private beach, where no-one disrupts them. Persephone young and naïve to the world’s prejudice believes her and Callum going to the same school will be fun. The reality is far from it.

A mob reminiscent of Little Rock Nine waits for the Noughts, because they don’t want their school desegregated. Imagine this in 1957: black people protesting they do not want white people in their schools.

This hatred was something Callum had warned Persephone about, but her naivety didn’t allow her to understand. Persephone did not see color. This was the problem. She did not see the history of Noughts when she looked at Callum, and that resulted in her telling the mob ‘you are acting like blankers’ in a bid to stop the abuse. This word is derogatory in the book as it is the equivalent to the N-word. Persephone’s privilege blinds her to Callum’s hurt, to his history and identity.

For brief moments in the book we are introduced to Callum’s sister Lynette. Who was beaten up while she was on a date with her Cross boyfriend and ends up committing suicide. Again I pose another question, to commenters of “All Lives Matter”. Can you imagine being that tired of the hatred, anger and violence thrown at you because you look different than those in power? Lynette simply represents the weariness the BLM community feels from having to defend and fight and protest day in and day out.

They grow up and Persephone eventually understands that the world they live in will not allow them to be together. So, Callum joins the Liberation Militia to find justice for Noughts and Persephone goes away to boarding school. Their lives taking different directions. Callum one of advocate and Persephone a life where she can afford to ignore the things that make her uncomfortable.

When they reunite, it is as though nothing has changed. As though time was waiting for them to fall back in love, but this is not a happy love story.

In this book, white and black do not mix.

Persephone ends up pregnant. In a world where miscegenation is illegal. A world where Persephone and Callum can’t get married because it is forbidden. The book parallels with issues that have happened in real life. Like the case of Loving V Virginia, which forced the court to allow interracial relationships in the USA. Though, this doesn’t have the same ending as that of the Loving’s.

Noughts and Crosses touches on race, in a way that makes me want to send the “All Lives Matter” people a copy of this book.

At the end of the book Callum is lynched, I mean hanged, by the government for being part of the militia.

The Noughts and Crosses novel does not just teeter in the realm of fiction, but it is a depiction of reality. A reality we have created and one we must demolish. This does not have to be a society we subscribe to.

They say reality is merely a construct, so why can’t we construct our own?

Get the series on Amazon here, or on The Tempest’s own bookshop supporting local bookstores.

By Danai Nesta Kupemba

Danai Nesta Kupemba by nature is a storyteller and a by product of this is her pursuing a Journalism and Media Studies degree Rhodes University. She's published a piece about war and family in Al-Jazeera, and hopes to be an advocate for Africa, by telling African stories. When Nesta isn't satisfying her wanderlust by stalking travel blogs, she's probably watching period drama's or reading Americanah for the thousandth time over.