When We Say Black Lives Matter – Blog Tour

The first thing that you notice when picking up Maxine Beneba Clarke’s new, and hugely relevant, publication When We Say Black Lives Matter is the contrasting use of colour to depict scenery around the people that feature. The people are silhouetted in black, and this gives them the focus on the page, particularly against the bright coloured backdrops. The book begins with a scene of a baby and parents, and builds the story through the years of life it self, and those that are impacted by racial divide, and the black lives matter movement.

The text rhymes, and has a lyrical feel and flow to it, always repeating ‘When we…black lives matter’ with the missing adverb used detailing the relevant emotions and actions of the scene. The words are simply beautiful and really touch you deeply, and the illustrations compliment the text with an iconic and traditional feel to the content.

There is one illustration that I go back to time and time again within this book, one that shows peaceful protesting, with one of the people holding a sign, and the text says “we’re saying enough is enough, is enough”, and that one single page sums up the entire BLM concept and conclusion for me, because enough is enough, and it has been far too long for things to change. We are all equal, and as John F Kennedy once said in a presidential speech ‘For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal’. That was 1963, we are now in 2021.

The beauty of this book is that every single scene within its pages comes to life on the page, with an energy that is immersed within the colour palette and iconic artistic style used. You can see the newborn wriggling within its parents arms, hear the music from the drum being beaten further into the book, and hear the protestors chanting “No justice, No peace” too. You can also feel the emotions of the respective characters in the book, of which as the reader it really is a rollercoaster ride, from enjoyment, happiness and love in the initial pages of this book to the fear, sorrow and loss towards the end. One book doing all of this is incredibly powerful, evocative, and truthful as it reflects the injustice to members of society because of the colour of their skin that they are born with.

Even if the reader is unfamiliar with the Black Lives Matter movement, the protests of 2020 across the world, the awfulness of George Floyd’s death, and so many black people all of the news and social media that have been unfairly treated and prejudiced against because of racist undertones and believes, this book makes references to those events in a careful way that is considerate to the intended audience, such as the outline of riot police in scenes of peaceful protest, and using crime scene tape colours and body chalk outlining to show the severity of how things have escalated. The word ‘monster’ is used in one sentence, it couldn’t be more appropriate, and yet it is used to reference a rhetoric in people that has lasted for generations, not a scary creature under your bed.

The book concludes with a message of hope combined with an image of success, depicting a black university student, a scholar, an achiever, a success against all the odds stacked against them. They haven’t had it easy getting to where they are, especially if this book is reflecting the journey from newborn to university student, which I feel it does, but they have fought all of the injustices in the world and achieved against the odds.

This conclusion lifts readers spirits, and makes them realise that those that have reached this level of success have walked a much harder path, and through sheer determination have come out of it finally being shown the respect they deserve. They do remain a minority even at this stage though, and much still needs to be done to bring awareness to this hugely relevant topic, and this is a much needed and welcome book that does just that. There is also an image depicting children of all ages, not being defined by skin colour. It is the image that shows children do not see skin colour, they see companions, friends, and how it should be. We do not choose out skin colour at birth, we should not be prejudiced against for it.

This is a book that not only belongs in school libraries, but shouldn’t be allowed to sit amongst other books to reach some children, but used across the school curriculum to reach all children. There can be much conversation and debate that would come from sharing this book, and that is very much needed, because it is only through educating people from an early age as to how we shouldn’t be treating people any differently just because they have different skin colour to us, just like children are taught that we do not treat others that have disabilities any differently either, that things will change for the better. I will be advocating its use in the school I work in, and promoting it far and wide, because if my actions change one persons misconceptions and prejudices for the better, and we all did that, the world would finally become one we can all be proud to live on.

When We Say Black Lives Matter is published by Wren & Rook (Hachette), and available to buy in hardcover from all good booksellers. For more content and reviews check out the blog tour via information on the tour banner below.

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