Before I begin to review this book, I feel that it’s important to
disclose that I chose to read it simply because each time a conversation
has begun about the negativity of discrimination flips, Noughts & Crosses has been referred to repeatedly.
In the world that Blackman has created, Noughts (read: White people) are
institutionally oppressed by Crosses (read: Black people). At one
point, Noughts were enslaved by Crosses and now, Blackman’s society is
at the stage Jim Crow segregation, with Noughts fighting violently for
inclusion. This is the world into which Sephy, a Cross and Callum a
Nought have been born. They become friends as children, when Callum’s
mother is employed by Sephy’s family as a nanny/maid. When Callum’s
mother loses her job, the two are told that they can no longer interact
but Callum and Sephy continue to sneak away to spend time together,
determined to preserve their friendship.
When Callum is one of the few Noughts chosen to integrate into Sephy’s
Cross school, she is excited about the chance to spend more time with
her best friend and to show him around the campus. Sephy has no idea
that this will wipe away the last bit of innocence she possess about her
racial privilege and the oppression Callum faces as a Nought man. The
two struggle to maintain a relationship, even as the pressures from the
outside world seem determined to rip them apart. Can Sephy and Callum
overcome the odds?
This is a typical discrimination flip, in that Blackman has taken real
historical events like slavery and Jim Crow and placed White people on
the receiving end of oppression. Because Blackman is a woman of colour,
she is able to discuss these issues from a position of expertise and
therefore imparts a strong sense of realism to her story. For instance,
the scene in which Callum talks about how Noughts have been erased from
history and how this is a purposeful act, to suggest that Noughts have
not significantly contributed to society, is something that minority
students continue to face today.