These divisive labels dictate one’s position in society. The noughts subsist whereas the crosses attend the best schools, live in affluent areas and hold all the positions of power and esteem in society. The noughts engage in menial work, aspiring only to be servants to the superior crosses. They have no hope of social advancement or bettering themselves because of the colour of the skin. They are often referred to by the Crosses derogatorily as ‘blankers’, a dehumanising term that robs them of their humanity and dignity.
There are many key moments in this novel wherein the theme of racism is made manifest. One of the most disconcerting is the riot outside Heathcroft High School because some of the noughts had managed to pass the entrance exam. Callum McGregor, one of the novel’s protagonists, is one such student. Ironically, Callum managed to pass the entrance exam with the help of his Cross friend, Sephy Hadley. Blackman describes this scene in such a way that the violence is clearly palpable. We see the events as they unfold through the eyes of Sephy. As she pulls up in her chauffeur driven Mercedes, she hears the racist mantra ‘No Blankers in our school’ being shouted over and over. Sephy describes how ‘There was roaring in my head which matched the roaring in my head which matched the roaring all around me. I was in the middle of chaos’. The scene is one of anarchy. She describes how ‘the crowd surged forward at that, the palpable wave of anger hitting me almost like a punch’.
Blackman evokes the tense and dramatic scene by her adroit use of verbs, adjectives and similes: ‘The police lines trying to hold the crowds back were knocked to the ground as the crowd rushed forward like air into a vacuum’ and ‘and I’ve never felt such fist-clenching, teeth-gritting fury’. This tense scene reaches its climax in a violent assault against a young nought girl ‘Blood trickled from her, and her eyes were closed’. This scene is made all the more disconcerting when one considers the fact that this horrific act of violence occurs outside a school, a place of learning, where children are supposed to feel safe and secure.
Another example of the unjust status quo is conveyed in how the noughts students are treated in Heathcroft. We are told by Callum that ‘the teachers had totally ignored us, and the Crosses had used any excuse to bump into us and knock our books on the floor, even the noughts serving in the food hall had made sure they served everyone in the queue before us.’ Only what Kamal Hadley deems as the ‘crème de la crème of nought youth to joining our educational institutions’ highlights the injustice and disparity between the two races.
However, Callum makes it explicitly clear that even those who are allowed to join Heathcroft are treated in a condescending manner: ‘They all looked at us noughts through their nostrils’. The fact that Callum lies initially to his father as to how his first day went underscores his growing awareness of how unjust the status quo is. It is Callum’s pragmatic realist of a mother who points this out to Callum ‘But I think you and your father are underestimating how much of a……………challenge it’s going to be’. Callum who is quite a resilient character by nature, assures his mother: ‘I’ve got into Heathcroft now and nothing, not even dynamite, is going to get me out’. This remark underscores the tragedy that lies at the heart of this novel in which idealism, hope and optimism are crushed by bitterness, parochialism and prejudice.
Again the theme of racism is blatantly made evident in the miscarriage of justice against Callum’s father. Callum’s father is wrongfully accused of planting the bomb in the Dundale shopping centre.
He is made to confess to a crime that he hasn’t committed because he is told that the authorities had his son in custody: ‘Those bastard! They said they had him’. He tells his wife Meggie and Callum that ‘I had no choice,’ Dad repeated. Anger held is body tense and rigid’. Callum’s father is aware that ‘the crosses had set him up, framed him’. Ryan, unintentionally has become embroiled in the injustice and corruption declaring ‘No Meggie. I’m guilty . That’s the truth and I’m sticking to it. I won’t let them put you and Callum in prison for this. Or Jude………..But at least my confession means he won’t die.’ This is a huge miscarriage of justice as an innocent man is hung for a crime that he didn’t commit. It is highly farcical that Ryan McGregor conforms to the unjust the status quo in order to save the lives of his family.
Furthermore the divisive nature of this society is conveyed in the fact that Callum and Sephy cannot be together because of the colour of their skin. Sephy’s family find it totally incredulous that she would willingly sleep with Callum. Callum is accused of rape despite Sephy’s repeated attempts to clear his name. Sephy is adamant that their baby will know of and love her father.
‘And our child will love you’.